• Philip Brett King

Retouching isn't all about flawless skin

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

Here we see the before and after images of a beauty retouch removing blemishes to reveal the perfect pores of the skin.Plus we add a glow to the skin for aesthetic effect.
A beauty retouch.

Retouching or 'Photoshopping' as most people who aren’t in the industry know it as

gets some bad press from time to time. Funnily enough, the main reply I get when I ask someone, "Can I take your portrait?" Is usually, “Oh, only if you can get Photoshop all of my bad bits out” followed by a nervous laugh, or “Hell no, I haven't been in front of the camera since my wedding day!”

Anyway. . . the most common way to get people in front of the camera nowadays is through a filter and we can thank Instagram & Snapchat for this. Having a filter over images gives people the confidence to put themselves out in the world (or Social Media at least). I know my mum won't even leave the house until she (in her words) has “put-her-face-on”!

When I work on retouching my images, I like to think of my style as 'Retouching Responsibly' but there are many variations of retouching that isn't just for beauty shots.

Here are some of the ways we can retouch images:


Restoration retouching can save an old photograph by making some aesthetic retouching choices so that your damaged or poor-quality image will be ready for print and won’t look out of place on your wall.

Here we see a very old photograph that has lots of damage be restored to its original beauty ready for printing and framing
A restoration retouch

A few years ago my Uncle went to the Government to claim his Uncle's (my Great Uncle) British Military medals; he was a pilot and was shot down in WWII. My uncle lent me his photo plus his medals and I was able to restore his image and created a graphic to remember him by.

Obviously, we are all very proud of our family and our heritage, so to restore the photo meant a lot to my family.

As you can see, with just a bit of imagination we can give our old photos a new lease of life with the help of restoration retouching.

Here you can see my long lost Uncles photograph be restored and added to a graphic showing off his medals
My uncle got shot down in World War 2


Creative retouching is what I do after I have cleaned up the image and have a good base to start creating a style or aesthetic that is artistically pleasing.

I'm a great lover of the old Renaissance painters like Caravaggio and Rembrandt, who influence a lot of my lighting set-ups plus ideas on colour, tone, texture and other aspects that can bring feeling and connection to a portrait

Here you see the Commander receive a Creative retouch to emulate the old military portraits of old and bringing it up to a modern day contemporary portrait style
Commander Richard Stephens of her Majesty's Royal Navy

This image (on the left) is what I call a dirty frame, I had to get more in the shot than I would have liked so that I could achieve the composition I wanted. I needed to step further away from the client but that also meant capturing “distractions” in the shot, in this case, the light and the background. I knew in my mind's eye what I wanted the final image to look like and I knew the distractions could be removed later on in Photoshop.

I only allow my clients to see the final edited image because, in my mind, until the photograph is printed it has not finished the whole creative process.

To finish this particular image I chose to take on a more creative approach to have a contemporary take of the military theme. With most of my images, the focus usually is with the face and expression first but this approach created a different feel for the final image.


Beauty retouching is using specific tools and techniques in Photoshop to remove spots, blemishes, flyaway hairs and skin colour differences. Balancing the tones of the image and making sure the colours are corrected also come into play. It all depends on what the client wants. It doesn't have to be people either, a lot of product photographers use the same skills to make their products look the best they can in advertisements.

Here we clean the skin from blemishes, hairs, spots and balance the tonality of the skin
Beauty Skin Retouching

This type of image and the one at the start of this blog are usually the type of photo that comes to mind when we say “retouching a photo”. A typical beauty image in a magazine, close up, so you can see the pores of the skin and all the details.

Using studio lighting, certain camera settings and of course, the technology of cameras nowadays, can pick up so much detail. That is why the retouching process is needed to remove the details the client doesn't want to see, ie. blemishes, spots etc and to balance out the skin tone while leaving the actual texture of the skin intact.

Obviously those who “abuse” Photoshop can take retouching too far and distort the body and features, which causes the controversy we have seen over the years. That is why I 'retouch responsibly', I always communicate with the client to find what they do or don't want to remove in their image.

There are things in-camera that I can do before any retouching, for example, by adjusting the lighting and camera settings I use, I can take away some wrinkles by lighting the shadows caused by them. Another simple skill to make my client appear slimmer is to get the client to pose in the right way and for me to position myself correctly. Then if the client wants a few extra lumps and bumps removed then their wish is my command with the help of Photoshop. We all have things we would like to improve upon in our photos, personally I always like adding some more hair to my head when taking a self-portrait (ssh... don't tell)

What I can't and most importantly won't do is turn someone into somebody they are not! I won’t be turning someone who is a size 18 into a size 8, but I'm sure there's a filter on Snapchat that could do that for you (if you really wanted).

Retouching is a beautiful skill to have and can create the best quality images. If you have any old photos you would like to be restored or snaps that you would really like retouching, please feel free to contact me as I would love to work on your images during the lockdown.

Remember; stay indoors, protect the NHS and save lives.

Best wishes,


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