How To Retouch With Photoshop

by William Lulow

Retouching is an art unto itself! There are some great retouchers out there still, who can command high fees for what they do. Back in the day…I was doing some interior shots and inadvertently left a Polaroid print on a table in the shot. Not me or either of my two assistants that day, spotted it. It cost me $650 to have it retouched out of the shot. First, my original 4×5 transparency had to be copied and enlarged to 8×10 so the retoucher could see it better. Then, the actual retouching had to be done with an airbrush and ink. The finished version then had to be copied so that another 4×5 transparency could be made.

These days, a Photoshop artist basically has to do the same thing, except it can all be done at a computer instead of copying, retouching, copying again and remaking an original. I have seen some Photoshop professionals charge the same kinds of fees today for the same thing. Even though it may be physically easier with the computer, there’s still a skill that has to be acquired in order to affect changes like this.

When I was learning about retouching (and I am certainly no expert), I found out that one of the secrets is that you need to build up tone slowly, brush stroke by brush stroke. This is no less true with Photoshop. Pixels and whole areas of the canvas need to be added back slowly in order to retain the “look and feel” of the original. I begin with the Healing Brush and sample a little bit of the surrounding pixels. Then, using the brush with a small tip, I begin to add the sampled element. When I’m trying to get the overall tone right, I sometimes use the Paint Brush to get the tone and then use the Healing Brush on top of that to add texture. When working with larger areas, I often begin with the Clone Stamp to see if I can add larger areas. Then I refine those areas by going back to the Healing Brush. With a PC, the “ALT” key will let you sample pixels. Select the brush you want, then hold down the ALT key to pick up a sample. The trick in Photoshop is to build up layers, each with a small bit of the retouch job, and merge them when the task is completed. You’ll need to use several layers so that you can see the job as it progresses using the LAYERS box. If you retouch with layers, you can also delete a layer that isn’t just right and start again.  So, even though the tools may have changed, the technique remains the same.

Here is one of my “amateur retouching” jobs: