What Is Retouching?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2019
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Retouching is a process by which a photograph is altered or manipulated to appear differently than how it originally looked. This may be done in a number of ways and for a variety of reasons, though it is often used to make a photograph appear sharper or to alter the appearance of someone in a picture. While this type of work was originally done physically, most is now done through digital manipulation of images using computer software. Retouching is often used in advertising, though its use in news and political images has been the source of a great deal of controversy.

A lot of retouching is utilized for photography in advertising and fashion magazines, often used to make objects and people appear more perfect than they really are. This is similar to older techniques that often used airbrushes and other methods to touch up, or retouch, photographs. Most of this work is not meant to be deceptive, but to simply make items appear as perfect as possible. There is some criticism of the use of retouching in fashion photography, however, and some argue that it creates an unrealistic standard against which actual people are unfairly compared.


Most retouching is currently done using computer software and digital images. While the program Photoshop® is perhaps the best known photograph manipulation software, there are a number of other programs that can also be used to digitally edit and retouch photographs. These programs provide users with a number of tools to alter images, including the ability to crop a picture, lighten and darken parts of an image, and digitally airbrush images to appear more smooth or perfect. This software even allows those interested in retouching to easily place the face of one person onto the body of another.

The use of retouching in fashion or advertising photography has been somewhat criticized, but far more controversy has arisen from retouched photographs used in politics or the news. As digital manipulation of images has made it easier and faster to alter photographs in a number of ways, some critics have railed against news outlets that feature edited images. This can be seen as a form of deceptive journalism, as an image can be represented in a way that may not be accurate to the original scene captured in it. Retouching has also been used throughout the history of photography to alter images for use in political propaganda, which is often seen as manipulative and deceitful.


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Post 3

Where is the best place to go for photo retouching services?

I am trying to help my friend who just got married find someone who is capable of doing some photo retouching jobs for those in the family who took wedding pictures recently. As they had a budget wedding they simply asked everyone to share their digital photos.

I think that retouched photos would give some of his wedding pictures a more professional look. There are some great shots that the family got, but they just need a little something extra before being printed and framed. We already checked, and no one in his family can retouch photos, so that is out.

Post 2

@manykitties2 - If you are looking for free software I would check out the open source photo retouching program GIMP. The program has a lot of the features that the high end retouching software Adobe Photoshop does, but it does have its limitations. I don't find it nearly as intuitive as the professional photo retouch software, but as a beginner it should be perfect for you.

Another option is for you to buy something like Adobe Photoshop Elements which is designed for retouching photos on a casual basis. You can have lots of neat filters and get rid of blemishes et cetera, but don't expect miracles.

Post 1

Does anyone know some good software for photo retouching?

I am a total beginner at image retouching and would like to find something cheap or free that allows me to do things like remove blemishes and fix the contrast in photos. As I recently purchased a digital camera, I think it would be fun to play around a bit with photo retouch software.

Some of the things I would like to eventually be able to do is take an image and make it look old, and perhaps even get the cartoon effect going. I have seen some really great images where the original picture was turned into something that looked like a hand drawn sketch.

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