Retouching photographs involves the editing of images to change their contents. This is usually done in a subtle manner so those who see the photographs are unaware that there was any work done to it. Typically retouching is done to remove any imperfections that a photographer might see in the raw originals. These days photo retouching is done mostly with software and can be used to manipulate images in any number of ways.
How Photo Retouching is Used
Retouching is widely used in fashion photography and it is safe to say that most images displayed on commercial websites or in magazines have been retouched in some way. A model’s perfect skin tone or the perfectly glistening coat of paint on a car’s exterior are not natural and may require hours of work by a photography lab to accomplish. Photos can be retouched to sharpen the features of the subjects, or to remove the evidence of poor lighting. These days skilled retouchers can even change such elements of a photograph as the backgrounds and the colours, transforming a flawed image into something that will be admired.
Exaggerated Flaws and Digital Photography
The fact is that digital cameras often heighten flaws. Their function is to capture as much information as they can detect and they are very good at it. The higher the quality of the camera, the more flaws it will capture. These flaws are often not readily visible to the naked eye, and therefore subjects (including both people and objects) may often look worse in digital images than they do on film or in real life. A professional photographic lab can eliminate those blemishes and other elements that may distract from the subject.
Retouching is Not Just for Professional Photographers
Photo retouching is not only important in the commercial world as even home photographers will find it useful. Most people hold on to personal photographs as their only tangible links to the past. Photographs are tied to memories and as therefore have much sentimental importance. The problem is that these photographs may degrade over time. Having them retouched by a photo lab enables images to be preserved so that people get to hold onto those keepsakes that remind them of the past. These pictures capture a single moment that cannot be duplicated so their loss is usually both permanent and profoundly tragic.
Retouching in Artistic and Commercial Photography
When it comes to commercial or artistic photography, retouching is all about creating a picture that appears perfect and yet does not have the appearance of having been retouched. Professional photographic shoots can be costly, and therefore it can be prohibitively expensive to retake pictures. In the hands of a skilled professional in a photographic lab, retouching software can create a seamless image that is devoid of those problems that would otherwise require pictures to be retaken. Since goal is to complement the work of the photographer, not to diminish it, retouching must be done with restraint and finesse.
Critics will complain about the unnatural look of many fashion photographs. In some cases, the critics are right. The aforementioned “restraint and finesse” is missing from many professional photographs, but these should not be taken as examples of how best to use the techniques. In many cases, it is possibly to remove flaws in such a way that the retouching is not noticed.
Good photo retouching involves a trained eye and a clear vision of how the finished photograph should look. It will also require lots of experience and skill in using retouching software including products like Adobe Photoshop. There are many different types of retouching software on the market, and each will have different strong points. A professional photo lab should know how to expertly use these programs to create the desired product.