Perspective, lighting and color. Shadows, midtones, highlights and contrast. You can dodge and burn. You can heal or clone. You could paint or even isolate frequencies. Photoshop is there for everyone. The tools are there for everyone, but if everyone uses the same tools, why do some images stand out among others? Well, because tools don’t make the difference, the retoucher does. Photographers and directors aren’t just clients, they’re people.

I work with people. Photographers put their heart into a photograph. When a photographer gives you an image, they’re entrusting you with something precious to them. I think, the most important tool that a retoucher should have in the box, that no software gives you, and that you only learn how to use over time…is caution. It sounds simple, but subtlety, nuance and finesse are all key qualities that take time to develop.


receiptVAT# 03601830833 is owned by Alex Harris. I am an independent retoucher and provide invoices to both domestic and international clients.

XP-Pen Deco 1 v2

Hello retouchers! This is a message to all of you without a graphics tablet. I refused to get one for years, so I thought we should talk about it.

Let me start out by clarifying who this article is for. This article is for every single person who retouches photos with Photoshop but doesn’t use a tablet and is dubious about getting one.

So, you have doubts. Everyone says it completely changes everything and they would never go back to the mouse. If you’re anything like me, you get a little skeptical when you hear people make such claims. So if you don’t have one already, that might be the reason. Another reason might be that you don’t have the money yet, that you can’t afford it. Well, my situation was a bit unique, one wouldn’t think so but the fact that I couldn’t find anyone with the same doubts as me, made me feel somewhat alone. My dilemma was simple: I don’t know how to draw. Now, I’m not saying that I can’t draw something simple, I’m just saying that for someone working in visual arts, my drawing abilities would never pass for professional. You’d look at my drawing and say, “Aw how cute.” Thus, my doubts revolved around why I should spend money on a tool that requires you to…draw.

A brief story-line on how I got started.
I got into music production and retouching 20 years ago merely because, well, sure, I was interested in it, but if you had no experience or money, it was suddenly accessible thanks to computers. It was a blast, I could create things and all I needed was a keyboard and mouse. I didn’t make any transition from the piano to a mouse, or from a sketch book to a mouse, in fact I wrote midi piano arrangements with a mouse long before I ever actually played a piano, and I never really cared about drawing but fixing bad photos I had taken was exhilarating. So the mouse, became my most valuable tool, and I got fast at writing and designing with it. Years went by and I made some money, so I went ahead and gave a master keyboard (88 keys USB piano) and drawing tablet the benefit of the doubt.

Within the audio world, I was able to talk to a lot of non pianists who had already invested in master keyboards, and it was thanks to all those opinions that I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though there are a lot of people who get into visual arts, don’t know how to draw, but still buy a tablet. So I always felt pretty alone with this dilemma and felt that unless I tried one, I was never going to find out. Now, a decent master keyboard runs at in and around €350. I won’t comment on whether that’s a lot or little. But I will say that you can get a decent tablet…for about €50. That’s a big difference. So, obviously, I got one.
Today, I’m writing this, most of all for anyone who finds themselves in the same predicament as I did. I didn’t know, I tried it and my answer is…get one!!!

Ladies and lads, like the master keyboard, the tablet is definitely worth it! There are so many pro’s. The only con is, I spent about €70 on a mouse that gave me the precision and sensitivity I needed specifically for retouching…and now all of it’s glory (Model O) is wasted, because I’d never go back to using it in Photoshop. After only a short time of using the tablet, I had already lost my touch with the mouse, and depended on the pen. That was a faster transition than I had anticipated.

Though I’ve given you the answer, I feel the need to elaborate just a bit on the benefits of using the tablet. So, lets look at dodging & burning which is a task that requires you to draw. This is just a quick example but a good one. I used to resolve some issues regarding the way some colors or tones blended using frequency separation. It’s not a bad idea but it can limit your options afterwards and/or start to make your file heavy after making so many copies of the image. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it wasn’t the correct procedure, but lets just say that perhaps dodging/burning would’ve have been better. Now, with the mouse, I dodged correctly and accordingly, but when I started using a pen, I painted with that brush in a completely different way. My hand just, kind of, moved by itself. Even if you’re only using a mouse, you should always vary you strokes using the Flow as apposed to Opacity. However, once you get a tablet and take advantage of pen pressure…the game changes! My portraits looked more natural than before and any task that required a lot of painting suddenly took half the time. In fact, I don’t really use frequency separation that much anymore because I just deal with everything by dodging & burning. I even use dodging/burning to deal with pores now without any problem. Like I said, that’s just one short example that comes to mind.

Practically speaking, once I’m done with painting, I put the pen down and use the mouse. Say for instance, when I’m just adding an adjustment layer, well, I just need the pen to paint more natural looking strokes. So I set parameters, deal with blending options or perform functions with the mouse. I’m not obsessed with using the pen. When you first get a tablet, many people advise you to use it instead of a mouse for everything, even browsing, in order to get used to it. All I did was to open up an image and do a whole edit a few times, and that worked for me.

The one thing I want to make sure you understand is that using a tablet won’t make you better, it will simply allow you to move more freely and this will manifest in the form of a more organic strokes and efficiency. Consequently, things might look better.

Obviously, for my first tablet, I wasn’t going to just risk a lot of money with a big dog like Wacom, so I went for XP-Pen. Today, I use the XP-Pen Deco 1 v2. I’m really satisfied with this remarkably cheap alternative to Wacom tablets. I’ve heard great things about Wacom, but nothing that honestly persuades me to pay that price…at least, for now.

I won’t say that I guarantee that you’ll never go back to the mouse…but almost. At these prices, a few images will pay for the investment, which is well worth the return.

As always, remember, if you’re reading this, you’re asking the right questions!