Photo Retouching

What Is Photo Retouching?

Not everyone is perfectly flawless. In fact, no one is flawless at all. Even the models in magazines and on billboards, although gorgeous, have their flaws as well. In recent years, partly due to media, so-called ordinary people have come to understand that the seemingly perfect appearance of the majority of models is partly due to the work of talented photo retouchers.

Photo retouching, sometimes called retouching or airbrushing, refers to the process of manipulating photographs in order to slightly change the looks of a subject. This includes basic “fixes”, like erasing pimples or making a ruddy complexion appear even. Some talented photo retouchers can also perform more complex “fixes”, such as making a subject appear slimmer or even morphing two or more subjects seamlessly.

Work Environment

In some cases photo retouchers may work as photographers as well. Photo retouching as a career generally involves using advanced computer imaging software to change the appearance of a photo or other digital image.

There are a number of different changes that a photo retoucher can make to these images with this type of software. Sharpening images or causing them to become blurry are two of the most common ways to retouch a photo.

Hiding blemishes, like pimples and scars, is another common way to alter a photo. In some cases, a photo retoucher might also need to retouch all or most of a subject’s skin in order to give it a smoother or more youthful appearance.

Some photo retouchers may also be called upon to make a photograph subject appear slimmer. This may be required on certain parts of the face or body, such as the chin or legs, or it may be required on a subject’s entire body.

At times, it can be difficult to get a photograph of a subject in a particular background. In these cases, a photo retoucher can often remove a subject from an image and, using layers, superimpose them on a different background.

After all necessary changes have been made to an image, a photo retoucher might also be responsible for printing it. This generally requires the use of a high quality printer, along with photo paper. When printing the photos, refinishers need to ensure that the properties of the image remain optimal for printing.

Education Requirements

A degree from an art school or traditional university can often be very helpful when pursing a photo retouching career.

Aspiring photo retouchers may want to consider taking classes in photography as well as graphic design. Computer courses are also helpful.

In general, excellent computer skills are essential for a successful photo retouching career. Individuals pursuing this type of career should be able to understand how to use several different types of software and hardware.

Attention to detail is another very important skill for aspiring photo retouchers to have. These professionals must be able to notice even the most innocuous detail.

Photography skills are also a plus. In fact, many photo retouchers are also photographers as well.

Salary and Job Outlook


The Bureau of Labor Statistic does not record data regarding the salaries of photo refinishers in particular, but they do keep track of salaries of other professionals in similar fields. For example, in 2017, the average annual salary of photographers was around $32,490. The average salary of a graphic designer was around $48,140 in the same year. Photo retouchers can also be classified as photographic process workers, who made an average salary of $26,010 in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Outlook

A photo retoucher can often choose to work anywhere, including at his own home. Some photo retouchers, however, may work in photography studios. Some large companies might also hire staff photo retouchers or work with freelancers on a regular basis. Fashion magazines often work with photo retouchers, for example. Other companies that may invest in the services of a professional photo retoucher may include advertising agencies and graphic design firms. Many photo retouchers choose to go into business for themselves, and work as freelancers or open their own studio. In recent years, the increasing popularity and ease of internet access has made realizing this dream much easier.

Helpful Resources

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Photo Retouching Jobs