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.

Zoom Out

Hello retouchers! So, today’s tip regards zooming out, or macro or whatever you want to call it and its benefits throughout our workflow.

So, let’s begin with some issues we commonly have. First, sometimes we work on an image for the longest time, brushing, layering, adjusting and masking but never seem to reach that point of satisfaction. Sometimes we have a million layers, then hide them only to realize that we’ve completely strayed from the photographers story, gone in the wrong direction or even made the image worse! Sometimes we work for an hour with a specific task in mind, then look at the before and after and notice almost no difference between the two. Sure, we try to justify it by thinking “Well, every detail counts…” and to that I say, whatever helps us sleep better. Sometimes, we try to perfect an image so much that we heal brush the life out of it, and end up having to dial things back significantly.

Now, we’ve probably heard of the concept of macro vs micro a few times throughout life but I feel it isn’t promoted enough in retouching. There are quite a few different ways to zoom in & out in Photoshop, the simplest might be Alt/Option + Scroll-wheel. In any case, first, fit your image to the screen and take a good long look at it. After a good long look, zoom out until the image is a little less than the size of a credit card (or even less if you prefer). You should notice that, well, suddenly the image makes sense, or perhaps you feel a bit more at ease while looking at the image, or maybe it feels a little softer on the eyes. Well, all these feelings or observations all have something in common: the image is simple when zoomed out. It only seems to become more complicated or complex the more we zoom in and notice details. Now, I’m not trying to suggest that details don’t matter in life, however, ironically, in order to see the big picture, we need to look at the image in its smallest form, which would be close to thumbnail size.

If you know me, you know I have an audio background and use various audio techniques in tandem with retouching. In audio, we don’t zoom out, but we do turn the volume down really low. Now, in a healthy studio, mixing volumes aren’t really much louder than the volume of a TV, however, to see the big picture or be it, to hear what pops out of the mix and really catches our attention, we lower the master volume significantly in order to reduce the details (and noise). By doing so, we’re able easily and quickly identify what leads and what simply serves as a filler. It’s a golden rule; if the mix plays well at a low volume, it will kick ass when it’s loud.

Back to using our eyes, after we complete a phase in our workflow like dodging and burning or colouring or even after doing some masking, zooming out to check our progress would be great practice.

If you’re not convinced that such a simple concept might be the key to better retouching, you might consider the following. First, often the client includes details such as where and how the image will be published. Often enough, due to certain print qualities or digital platform requisites, things like pores won’t even be visible. Sure, get rid of pimples, but inconsistent pore patterns are sometimes ignorable. Imagine if you heal and clone for a few hours only to realize that at the size of the client’s request, all that healing and cloning made absolutely no difference. Try billing them for those hours and see what happens. Furthermore, I always heard people say that they would rather the client ask them to do less than to do more. They said it looks better professionally. Personally, in my humble experience, any time a client asked me to do less, it was accompanied by shock (not the good shock). Instead, when asked to do more, the client felt like he or she still had control over the image, which is a great thing, and simply had a few more requests than I had anticipated. So, zooming out assists us in not overdoing things. Second, at the beginning, I always used to just jump into the image and start fixing things that I felt obviously needed fixing. However, after going in a million directions, I’d find myself with an image that still looked like it was right out of the camera. This is mostly due to the fact that I hadn’t taken time at the beginning to truly comprehend where exactly I wanted to go with this certain image. Honestly, given the right tutorial, anyone can quickly fix a dirty lens or questionable lighting setups, or shallow make up, but it takes some patience and technique (and a bit of fore site I suppose) to successfully retouch an image without straying from the photographer’s story-line. Last but not least, if you haven’t noticed already, everyday the world is moving closer and closer to super scaled down images sizes. What I mean is, personally, I’m not a big fan of it, so I say, unfortunately, thumbnails are the future. Sure, we see the use of thumbnails in a lot of places, even in print now, but in the future, due to devices and platforms, thumbnails and featured images will be everywhere. So if you think you can get away with an image looking great in large scale but looking insignificant when used at the size of a profile pic, think again. If it looks great the size of a credit card, it’ll look amazing as a poster.

In the end, the removal of little imperfections can and will be automated. However, artificial intelligence wouldn’t be artificial if it could define distraction. The one thing that separates us from the machines, is abstract judgement. Practice well, be patient, and zoom out so that you yourself don’t get distracted while editing.

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