Stefan Kohler of RAWexchange recently came to realize that his oldest .psd file is 15 years old. That’s a lot of retouching, isn’t it? This led him to contemplate everything he’s learned from all these years of retouching, and he came up with five essential tips that will help all of you who still don’t have much experience in this field.
While Stefan mainly retouches portraits and beauty photos, these tips are the essence of his 15-year experience. And no matter the type of photos you usually edit in Photoshop, you’ll find these tips useful.
1. Keep an eye on the whole image
Always keep the whole image in mind, or even better – keep it on screen.
With modern cameras that capture a lot of detail, you can get lost in all the small things. When zoomed in at 100%, your work can look good; when you zoom out, you may realize that you’ve messed the whole thing up.
What you can do is open a new window for your photo, then go to Window > Arrange > 2-up Vertical and you’ll get a split screen. This way you can work zoomed in and you’ll always have the preview of the whole image so you can see how it looks zoomed out.
2. Let the image decide
Let the image decide what kind of editing is good for it. If you photograph people, there are two main categories for retouching: one is the portrait, and the other one is beauty or fashion. Stefan explains it like this: in portraits, you are not allowed to change the character of the person, while in beauty shots you can get away with a lot more changes.
Here’s an example: in the left image (portrait), there are some things that make the image more “believable.” You can see birthmarks, stray hairs, some color variation, and everything in the photo is about that person. In the right image (beauty), the emphasis is on the makeup, so you need to remove all the distractions.
3. Have a reference
When you’re color correcting a photo, your perception might trick you. You may not be able to determine the tones correctly after looking at the photo for some time and messing with settings. To avoid this, always keep a reference image open. Use a photo that has the similar color scheme to the image you’re working on, and with the skin tones you want to achieve. Keep it open as you color correct your image. This is something I struggle with a lot, and not only with portraits, so I find this piece of advice is especially useful.
It’s as simple as it sounds – practice! Retouching isn’t something you’ll learn just by watching tutorials or reading books or blogs. It’s a craft and you need to work on it. Stefan suggests it’s good to practice constantly. It’s much better to spend 15 minutes each day working on an image than spend 14 hours once a month.
5. There are no magic tricks
There are plenty of Photoshop tutorials online, and many of them are truly comprehensive and helpful. However, always keep in mind that there are no “magic tricks” that will turn you into a Photoshop master overnight. So, just keep practicing and finding the techniques that give you the best results.