Photographers vs Retouchers

Jul 24, 2016

Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in the UK that provides cinematic photography and ounces of humour. Follow him on Instagram for stories and kick ass imagery.

Photographers vs Retouchers

Jul 24, 2016

Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in the UK that provides cinematic photography and ounces of humour. Follow him on Instagram for stories and kick ass imagery.

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This is something I’ve been pondering for a while now and man has it got me excited! What happens when you get a photographer who retouches his own images vs a retoucher who does it for high end clients as a living? Let’s find out the results!

So I contacted the awesome David Neilands about joining me on this nuts idea about us “battling” if you will over an image. In all honesty this was DEFINITELY not a battle, I was just genuinely excited and interested at the idea of what happens when you take someone like me who treats retouching and post processing as a part of the final image look and aesthetic, vs a retoucher who fixes things based on a more “there is an issue here” / logical approach.

Not to say that retouching isn’t an art or even that me doing it as “The Artist” makes it any more of an art at all, I’m just simply saying that when I take a photo I have the final look in mind, whereas for a retoucher without my mindset within his own I wanted to see how he would approach the same image.

Here’s my result vs SOOC :

And now David’s (Retoucher):

Now Mine in comparison to David’s:

The first thing that struck me was David’s approach to “fixing” the issues in shapes, (collar of the dress, shoulders, hair on the top right etc), followed by a much more “modern” look due to the depth and colour choice.  My approach is a much “flatter” look and deliberately so, as for me it adds to the painterly look. Colour grading wise I also prefer my own here, which is interesting as it shows me that colour toning is a VERY personal thing.

I know this because I pretty much prefer David’s in every other way, the fixes to the shapes, the depth etc I like it a lot, but I still prefer the colour toning of my own. Perhaps blending the two would be a killer combination! Hard to tell without some more experimentation!

I have much more micro contrast within my skin which is either an oversight or a feature depending no what you prefer as an output, personally I would like to develop my dodging and burning a little more to get it closer to David’s flatter look, but I still prefer a more natural skin look as opposed to flawless. It really surprised me how different our approaches were and perhaps where the lines between taste and technical collide.

Does something automatically become “wrong” when you prefer it based on taste, even if it’s technically worse? I guess that’s the decision for the creator / client, in this instance I shot the photograph for PixaPro with a huge 11 man crew (5 of which were models). In the sidelines as main assistant and 2nd photographer was my best friend Clinton Lofthouse, if you don’t know his work or articles yet, get on it! He’s REALLY awesome and genuinely worth your time if you’re into composite photography.

What do you guys think? Do you prefer one wholly over the other? Do you like bits from one and bits from the other? Was the result what you expected?

Let me know! Thanks so much for your time guys! And a huge thank you to David for chiming in on this! Thanks brother!


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Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry

Joseph Parry is a Commercial and Editorial photographer based in the UK that provides cinematic photography and ounces of humour. Follow him on Instagram for stories and kick ass imagery.

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40 responses to “Photographers vs Retouchers”

  1. Lorie Parker Wade Avatar
    Lorie Parker Wade

    I’m both, if needed.

  2. David Hovie Avatar
    David Hovie

    David changed the size of her eyes.
    But well done to both of you. :)

  3. Adam Frimer Avatar
    Adam Frimer

    This is a great article!!!

  4. Daris Fox Avatar
    Daris Fox

    When I did retouching over a decade ago it was mostly about doing the grunt work such as adding/removing elements from other images, the skin work and so on, the styling of the images was either left to the art department (if it was publication) or the photographer. Most of the work is always in skin, but the difference shown here reflects what a retoucher does, we’re often more worried about Presentation rather than Art.

    These days it’s a lot more blurred.

  5. Lord Autumn-Bottom Avatar
    Lord Autumn-Bottom

    I like what David did with the dress, but otherwise your version is entirely better. I’m put off and frankly baffled by his desaturation of her eyes and the smoothing of her skin, and I don’t like the smoothing of the eyebrows. I prefer the de-emphasized cheekbones and nasolabial folds in your version as well.

  6. steven_nc Avatar

    After looking at both for some time, I think either works as I like parts of each. My concern is delivering 15 portrait images that match across an album. This is more difficult as retouching becomes more detailed. I would love a followup article on how you each approach consistency.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      I’ll look into it for next week!

  7. pincherio Avatar

    Yours is too flat while his is too processed. Somewhere in the middle would work for me. I like her face being brightened up a bit but smoothing out all the imperfections just made it look fake. And why did he have to enlarge the eyes? Or is that just my imagination? I do like how he toned down the highlights of her hair and I understand why he did it.

    Very interesting experiment/challenge. Much appreciated.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      NP at all! Thanks for reading!

  8. Chung Dha Lam Avatar
    Chung Dha Lam

    One major thing that strucks me is that your version she looks much younger then the Retoucher version. However I do prefer the skin and colours of the Retoucher more as it fit more into commercial photographs look, but he did made her look older.

    1. Angela Perez Avatar
      Angela Perez

      The photographer actually made her look younger the original shows a much older model

  9. Ryker Vorton Avatar
    Ryker Vorton

    I like more the photographer version, looks more natural, has better texture on the skin, didn’t kill the lips and the hair, David’s version has no detail on the hair shadows. The work on the dress is nice, but not fundamental to the image.

    I often like to do a similar “test”, we would exchange picture among photographers and edit each other’s images. Oh you don’t wwant to see what a portrait photographer does to a landscape shot…. lol

  10. Margaritas Ante Porcos Avatar
    Margaritas Ante Porcos

    one thing is missing here. the original non-retouched image.

    1. Kiel MacDonald Avatar
      Kiel MacDonald

      He might have added it later, but for me the SOOC image is the first one (compared to his edits he made)

  11. Dan McDougall Avatar
    Dan McDougall

    Reshaping the eye and dress satisfies my OCD eye, but it makes a human into a thing. Cars are symmetrical, faces are not. Seeing this side-by-side comparison has a nice reminder to let people be human.

  12. Mark Niebauer Avatar
    Mark Niebauer

    As both a photographer and an adobe certified digital artist. I feel there is no good nor bad. It’s merely what the artist wants to convey from his minds eye. It is his final performance. Original or re-touching . . .Who cares? Very few photographers study art, so most would not know good art if it bit them in the arse. .lol

  13. Henry Rodgers Avatar
    Henry Rodgers

    The retoucher version feels “finished” while I personally wouldn’t be happy presenting the photographer’s final.

  14. Vincent Walker Avatar
    Vincent Walker

    Very interessant.
    I prefer david’s results.

  15. Valerie Provost Avatar
    Valerie Provost

    I like the dress fixes that David did and his skin retouching could be toned down a bit, I like your eyes better. I love the pop of color and wouldn’t change that, nor the size of her eyes. But tell me why he added a stud? And am I the only one who noticed?

  16. Frank Nazario Avatar
    Frank Nazario

    There is no right or wrong, retouchers are the digital photographers “dark room” labs… every photographer that shot film had a preferred lab, where to develop their work based on the “recipes” that where concocted by that lab tech.
    The same thing happened with the printers. some printers where “flawed” but gave the print a character unique to that shop and differentiated the final work.
    Today that has been compressed into individuals that have a keen sense of vision. We as photographers should approach them not as “flawed” version but as photography “labs” with different views.
    I like BOTH version each has their merit and at the end is a matter of client approval, if the photographer is the client then it’s his final, but, if it is a photog client then its theirs.
    To admire a photographers work has the same value to me as to admire the post editing done to a known photo both deserver merit as an artist in their craft and both deserve respect.
    ALL masters retouched each with their own team and techniques … i believe that retouchers are those options.

  17. Anthony Cronin Avatar
    Anthony Cronin

    Its a difficult image to get good results, there are no specular highlights or shadows, the light is too soft, should have used an image with more contrast on the face, you would have had more detail, pores etc. the skin tones on the retouchers version are really bad though, inconsistent tones over the face, plus a massive yellow patch on the forehead.

  18. David Magee Avatar
    David Magee

    It’s pretty tough to come to a conclusion without seeing the original.

  19. Elèav Sirrom Avatar
    Elèav Sirrom

    He changed the color of her eyes. Everything else, is subjective.

  20. Sada Avatar

    Yeah please embed the SOCC image too ;)

  21. Henk Prins Avatar
    Henk Prins

    I think David has overdone it. Imo The dress is altertered too much. Probably to get a symmetrical look. But what really bothers me is that he not only changed the shape of the eyes and mouth, but he also enlarged the head of the model by approx 1%. All this seems to make the picture bit too unnatural to me. Your version could use a tad more overall saturation, but I guess that’s a matter of (personal) taste.

  22. Seagram Pearce Avatar
    Seagram Pearce

    I think David definitely approached his retouch as a photographer would. He created symmetry, depth, shaping. He spent more time on the hair. I don’t *hate* your version, but as a photographer, I don’t like the flatness of the image. Unless that is what I briefed you to do: we making painterly images to be printed on matte archival paper, etc etc. As others have mentioned, a halfway mark on the cheek/face shaping would have been perfect, but the rest, I prefer David’s touch.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      I create painterly based work, so it’s my brief in every shot ;)

      1. Seagram Pearce Avatar
        Seagram Pearce

        In that case, spot on retouch. :) Thats what makes post so awesome. It really does bring out the artist’s (photographer/retoucher) flavour. We all have our different spice we add.

  23. Waldek Avatar

    Excellent job. I just notice that if you move slider before and after few times you can actually see that Joseph’s girl is a teenager and David’s girl is about let say 25. This is a good example how by move few things we can actually change the personality of person not just the tonality of skin.

  24. Jeremy Christopher Avatar
    Jeremy Christopher

    I definitely like the processed image more, but I agree that the desaturation and tone is off. David looses the youthful organic feel, but sculpts a less sophomoric poise from the model. Cleaning up the garments helps too. Overall, David’s work is stunning, it would be amazing to see if he could keep that youthful feel, while sculpting with the more dramatic facial detail.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      Both are processed.

  25. bartom Avatar

    some day perhaps all retouchers will be done away with like they are trying to do away with unhealthy thin models. Neither reflects reality which is what photography should do.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      We see in 3D and forever changing motion, a photograph is 2D and forever frozen. Capturing the way someone is perceived to look is actually a VERY difficult thing to do.

      You notice things that make them not look like them, such as spots they won’t have forever, dandruff, marks from where they scratched an itch earlier etc.

      Retouchers aren’t going anywhere, anything past fixing issues is taking it into the realms of artistic choice and personal preference, even pre-artistic choice or stylistic approaches we are only human, so even those first initial “flaws” such as spots etc are still based on personal preference.

      Photography does not need to reflect reality. That’s purely your taste. Photography comes in many styles much like music does. You;re claiming that one way is the only way to shoot.

      What a shame it would be to kill such wonderful digital art and compositions we couldn’t otherwise achieve.

      There is art and there is recording history, different things entirely. Though there is still art to be found in the recording of history if you;re good enough ;)

  26. Guthrie Ward Avatar
    Guthrie Ward

    I definitely prefer yours over David’s only because I like to keep true to the subject of the photo. So no digital surgery, just cleaning up blemishes, adding colour and what not; does it for me.

  27. Thomas James Killmess Avatar
    Thomas James Killmess

    Nobody mentioned the piercing in the lips retoucher put.

  28. i9zero Avatar

    I see it as different style for different needs. Refined portrait for portrait client vs Editorial.

  29. Tomek Wesołowski Avatar
    Tomek Wesołowski

    Throughout the article, I miss the discussion over where the boundary between the photographer and the retoucher is. Whether images can be staged as some of famous photos from India by Steve McCurry or we can copy-paste a Jumbo Jet in the sky over the yard as Yu Wei did in one of last Nikon contests?
    Call me a puritan, but in my personal opinion, both of examples presented in the article because of the amount of graphical intervention ceased to be a photography as such.
    On the other hand nice work done by both of you in terms of retouching.

    1. Joseph Parry Avatar
      Joseph Parry

      I guess it depends purely on what your definition of photography is. I don’t particularly consider myself a photographer. Just someone who wants to create imagery and can’t draw or paint.

      So for me a camera is a quick and also the only viable option for me to create things I enjoy.

  30. ShotByJacob Avatar

    Nice idea, thanks for sharing the information. I like both. I like each of the color blendings. Each photo has its place.

  31. luke Avatar

    I think that the best outcome would have been something in between the two works. Anyway, I was wondering how to get that grainy skin, even though I would not go that far :-)