I’m going to ‘touch on’ (haha, no pun intended) a subject that is a little controversial among wedding photographers – photo retouching. Each photographer will have their own way of addressing this issue, so I can only speak to what works in my own business at the current time.
What we’ll cover in this blog post focuses on what retouching is, whether retouching is included, what happens when you ask for images to be Photoshopped, any costs involved, and how to avoid the need for photo retouching altogether.
We certainly do not encourage you to find fault with your images, or how you looked. The images have been prepared for you in a way that a professional has deemed to be complete and correct. There is no need to think of your wedding photos as something that should be ‘perfect’ or ‘flawless’ – that’s just silly.
Your wedding photos are a reflection of reality – the way you looked, the way it felt, the silly, human moments that are full of imperfection and authenticity. It’s not a Vogue photoshoot, it’s a human celebration of life and love – both of which are messy and real! You, your guests and your wedding day, are worth celebrating just as they are.
This blog post goes hand-in-hand with this other post I wrote, linked below. Read that article if you’d like an overview of the entire post-production process.
Table of Contents
What is retouching in photography?
Photo retouching is the process of digitally altering the appearance of a final image, so that it appears more pleasing than the original. Retouching is performed using photo editing software such as Lightroom and Photoshop.
Words like ‘retouching’, ‘editing’, and ‘post-processing’ get thrown around a lot. They are used almost interchangeably by some. That’s a whole other debate, but I’m going to explain my terms carefully so as not to add to the confusion.
Is retouching the same as editing?
There is really no fixed consensus, so I use my best judgment to define these terms. I use the following definitions:
Retouching: Local adjustments, typically using Photoshop. It’s ‘fine-image’ work. For example: zapping a fire alarm from the background or liquefying a person’s waist to make it look smaller, remove eye-glass glare.
Editing: (or post-processing): Global adjustments, typically in Lightroom. For example: cropping, straightening, adjusting the color temperature, applying noise reduction.
So, when I’m talking about ‘retouching’ in this article, I’m referring to the first definition, using Photoshop to manipulate or alter a small area of the image.
What level of image editing is standard?
All photographers should perform some level of editing. When you hire a photographer, you are not only paying for the raw ingredients, but the way that they process the ingredients. Just like you wouldn’t buy flour or DIY cake batter from your cake maker, you would expect your final files to be finished to a standard that makes them consistent and polished.
Being able to add polish and finesse to basic RAW files using Lightroom is what makes a photographer a photographer. RAW files are intended to be edited, and in fact have a ‘flat’ profile, typically looking very dull straight out of camera.
What are the charges for extra requested Photoshop work with Zoe Larkin Photography?
I offer the first 10 Photoshop retouching requests per wedding for free. Simply let me know that there are some photos to which you’d like further adjustments made*, as well as detailing what the adjustments are. Edits can be requested on final photos only (not sneak peek images on which no advanced retouching is performed).
Then, instead of listing the photos in an email, give me a heads up and I will set up a preset list on your finished wedding gallery. The list will be entitled ‘FOR RETOUCHING’ or similar. Then, when you ‘select’ a photo by favoriting it, the software will ask you which list you’d like to add it to.
Please scroll down to find out to the subheading ‘Using the Pixieset gallery system to request which images you’d like retouched’ section of this article for detailed information about how to work with your preset list and what to do when you’re done.
Each preset list is linked to an email address, so please ensure you’re using the correct list (i.e. your email address supplied to me vs your partner’s email address).
When you’re done, please shoot me an email and I’ll be able to easily grab those photos and send them to my professional retouching firm.
The prices beyond the first 10 edits per wedding (which are offered without charge), are shown in the table below. Here is what you would pay for subsequent retouching requests. This is for photography clients of Zoe Larkin Photography only, whether you had me or an associate photographer.
***FIRST TEN PHOTOS – FREE OF CHARGE***
|Number of photos for retouching after the first 10 complimentary edits per wedding / shoot (must be sent in one order to qualify for bulk discount. Pricing resets for each subsequent retouching order, so be sure to include all requests in one submission!)
|Price per photo
*Please note: each request is judged on a custom basis – not every request can be accommodated.
Examples of when retouching has been requested
Do I, as a wedding photographer, retouch photos?
In my business, I have come to understand that some level of fine-detail retouching is required for almost every wedding.
The sorts of things I commonly Photoshop out without the client asking might be:
- People in the background
- Ugly items like garbage cans
- Light switches and fire alarms
- Distracting elements at the edge of the frame
The important thing to note is that this work is done at the photographer’s discretion.
I’m someone who has been eating, breathing and sleeping wedding photography for over 6 years. As a result, editing and delivering wedding photos are skills I’m very accomplished at.
While I’m not an expert photo retoucher, nor do I have time budgeted to perform all editing/ retouching tasks personally, I outsource anything that is beyond my skill set. I have a team that edits all of my weddings (and those of my associates), and another team that handles all our retouching needs.
What I’m getting at in this post is that there’s a big difference between Photoshopping that we do behind the scenes according to our own discretion; and additional requests that you make.
It’s possible to change anything you’d like, yes! However, any requests that go beyond the scope of what we choose to deliver at our own discretion (and in accordance the scope of work as outlined in your photography contract) incurs extra fees as outlined in the table above.
Remember, we never Photoshop anything to do with your clothing, appearance, body shape etc without it being specifically requested. This kind of work is a paid extra, as it falls beyond the scope of your contract.
Only final photos are retouched. Sneak peek images are not subject to retouching requests.
Using the Pixieset gallery system to request which images you’d like retouched
All Photoshop requests must come through the gallery where your final photos were delivered (Pixieset). Here’s how to add your requests using preset lists
If you’ve told me you’d like to get something retouched, I’ll set up a list called ‘For Retouching’.
Go to the photo in question. Select the ‘heart’ icon. When you click it, it will say in the snackbar below ‘Added to For retouching’.
If you already have your own lists created connected to your email address, it will ask which list you’d like to add to, so select ‘For retouching’.
If I haven’t already made your preset list ‘For retouching’ yet, you can do it yourself with the instructions below.
Go to the gallery view (not the individual photo), which is the view that looks like this where you can see a bunch of photos and the heading tabs:
Scroll down and select ‘Create new list’.
When you’re completely finished with making your selects (remember, each time you submit a request by any means, it cannot be added to so the pricing would reset each time you add more photos), please use the ‘Send to Photographer’ option, under the ‘Share’ button in the top right corner of the screen that shows you your lists:
That will send me an email and the work will begin of getting your requests off to our retouching team. Please allow 7 – 10 business days for the work to be completed.
Big and small jobs in Photoshop (the difference)
It always surprises couples to learn how much goes into photo retouching. My contract even contains specific examples so clients are aware of what constitutes ‘extensive’ vs. ‘minor’ retouching. Minor basically means no big deal. Myself or a member of my team can zap that in Photoshop in a matter of seconds.
Anything in the ‘extensive’ category typically takes anything from 10 minutes through to an hour or more. Oftentimes, requests are outsourced to a photo editor or some photographers perform all retouching themselves in-house if they happen to have this specialized skillset.
Remember, these are just examples and final determination of what’s possible and what can be undertaken gratis lies with me and my team. This is more just in case you were curious = )
- Removal of fire alarm
- Removal of garbage on the ground
- Removal of single zit
- Spot removal on clothing
- Correcting color fringing effects
- Correcting lens distortion, for example, wide lens on a tall building (may not always be possible)
- Removal of people in the background
- Removal of eyeglass glare
- Liquefying to appear slimmer
- Reduction of wrinkles and under-eye bags
- Skin smoothing to create flawless complexion (for example, acne or uneven complexion)
- Head swap (for example if a subject blinked in posed shot)
- Wardrobe malfunction (something was showing or didn’t look to your liking)
- Lessen reddening in the skin (can be easy but depends on what technique must be used)
- Altering the color of single element
- Altering the lighting (dodge/burn; lessen highlights/increase shadows)
- Recover highlights
- Flyaway hair or hair smoothing
Can you ask your wedding photographer to Photoshop something?
Here’s the thing. We want our clients to be happy with their wedding pictures. In my business, I try to do everything I can to make sure the client’s not just satisfied, but thrilled.
First thing is – if you do have a request for some fine-image editing to be performed, I suggest bringing it up with the photographer pretty quickly. Photographers cannot leave your file open forever. After a set amount of time, usually around 4 – 6 weeks after image delivery, it will be assumed you’re happy with your photos. Our transaction is concluded.
However, please remember that each photography business operates differently. You will have to ask them directly. The information in this article will hopefully help you to keep any requests in line with what’s reasonable.
Do you have to pay for extra retouching of wedding photos?
Yes! Expect to pay more if you would like more work done beyond the scope of what was agreed in the contract.
Sure, we want you to be super happy. But that’s work we will have to charge for – even with the best will in the world. Luckily, with me the costs are not super high.
Because I work with an amazing team of expert retouchers already that do work behind-the-scenes on almost every single wedding gallery we deliver (without you even knowing it!) custom requests are also easy to accommodate.
Other photographers may charge per hour. Some may simply pass on to you the costs to you based on what their image outsourcing company charges. Other photographers may be determined to complete the work themselves, at no cost, but it may take a while as it has to fit into their existing schedules and current client weddings.
Simply ask your photographer! It’s usually a bespoke arrangement, not a one-size-fits-all.
A lot of it depends on the pricing structure of the photographer. Do they charge bargain basement pricing? Then don’t expect any freebies.
My business has a little wiggle room with being able to throw in additional items for free, and producing the work to a high standard in the first place. I don’t charge rock bottom rates, so that I can use some of that buffer to make sure the client is completely happy.
What to do to make a Photoshop request to your wedding photographer
Instead of an overwhelming request, why not narrow it down to the top 5 photos that you have earmarked for a purpose – for a wedding album or to create some wall art, for example?
If you use your wedding photographer to create those products, and they are benefitting from some extra income, then more likely than not, they will throw in the retouching on those photos for free, and let you have the updated digital files.
Basically, be reasonable about it and respectful of the photographer’s time.
As small business owners, that’s time that they didn’t plan on spending on your wedding, which may have been weeks, months or even years prior. That’s time they could have spent with their family, current clients, or drumming up new business.
The way it works with any service business is that each client is expected to take up a certain set maximum amount of time. Obviously with it being weddings, this expected timeframe can be very high.
But anything that goes well over what’s considered standard (and the price you’ve paid goes into that), now qualifies as potentially extra billable hours.
Setting expectations around editing and retouching in wedding photography
The first thing to think about is that ‘perfection’ isn’t necessarily the goal here. Especially with the more candid style of wedding photography that is the norm now, it’s unreasonable to expect that every one of the hundreds or even thousand+ photos, looks like a spread from Vogue.
I for one deliver quite a lot of photos, not because I value quantity over quality – I don’t.
But, to be fair, what you are getting is a large number of moments that will vary a little in their significance, their technical perfection and ultimately how much value they hold to you.
I would always rather give my clients more.
Part of my value proposition is that I will give you a wide range of artistically captured moments. whether candid or posed. You can then pick and choose the ones you want to memorialize in printed images, which become the more ‘keeper shots’.
So, let’s talk about expectations. It’s so hard to talk about this without it sounding patronizing, so if it sounds like that I apologize. That isn’t my intention.
Brides who are not clued-up about what to expect with their wedding photography may mistakenly assume there’s no need to diet because ‘the photographer can make me look slimmer’.
Or a groom who’s spilled a drink down his shirt may not worry about tidying himself up because ‘meh, the photographer can Photoshop that out’.
Now, it’s not for me to interrupt the day. Plus, I don’t know which couples will love the fact that I captured every darn thing and how it really felt, in all its beer-soaked, rosy-cheeked glory!
Others may later tell me, with chagrin, ‘why didn’t you tell me I had spilled beer down my front?’. This is why it’s important to feel comfortable with your photographer, so they can get a better sense of what kind of person you are.
There are times we need to step in and adjust something or tell you you have spinach in your teeth, and other times we just snap away without interfering.
I’m getting better at judging which course of action to take. What looks like a wardrobe malfunction to you, may appear to me like an intentional part of your outfit.
What looks to me like a blemish, might be a scar you rock with pride.
How to avoid the need for retouching your photos
Choose outfits that fit you well
Before we even get to the wedding day, you need to think about how your outfit will photograph. If your clothes sag or gape, this will not only look bad in the photos but you’ll be yanking and tugging at your clothes all day which also doesn’t make for great photos and great moments.
If something is too short, too tight, too big, too long, too anything – this needs to be fixed by tailoring or switching up your wardrobe choices.
Remove all tags, labels and loops from your clothing
I can’t tell you how many times these stupid little loops from dresses kept poking out every time the bride so much as moved. The problem is, you can’t remove them on the day as you need scissors to do so!
So if you failed to prep your outfit, you will have to deal with the annoyance of tucking in your loops every 10 seconds and also paying more and waiting longer when the loop inevitably makes an appearance in your photos.
Same with tags – many expensive outfits have tags that must be cut off only, which is impossible once we’re out on location!
Make sure underwear is NOT visible
This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine! I think that when a lot of folks try on their wedding outfit, they do so without the same underwear they’ll be wearing come wedding day. Big mistake! You want to make sure that you’re wearing both the bra and the panties/ spanx/ stockings you’ll be in on the day itself.
Move around. Throw your arms up in the air. Imagine hugging onto your partner, dancing, twirling and dipping.
Is your underwear still in place or has it shifted to the point where you need to pick your bra strap up or hoist up your underwear?
If it does that now, it will do the same thing on the wedding day. Make sure nothing is visible – no underwear lines across the butt, no pantylines at the midriff, no bra hooks or straps, no boob tape or nipple covers.
Use a professional bridal hair & makeup artist
Many of the requests I get are for skin retouching, where a bride has chosen to do the makeup herself, but the makeup coverage has been patchy, shiny, or not long-lasting enough (for example on a hot summer day or the year-round heat of City Hall).
One of the most important investments you can make for your photography is the makeup artist you choose.
While you may be great at doing your day-to-day makeup, bridal looks are specifically created to stand up to extremes of temperature, tears and a long duration. The looks are also on-trend yet timeless, meaning you won’t look back on your photos and wonder what you were thinking.
Bridal makeup is also designed to be photographed, so the artists know exactly how to style you specifically for photography. I know nothing about makeup as I don’t wear it myself, but the difference between a self-styled bride and one that’s been professionally made up is night and day!
Make sure you have a makeup touchup kit
Whether or not you use a professional, make sure you have a touchup kit for reapplying the essentials. You’ll be kissing your partner a lot, so lipstick needs to be kept fresh!
A small makeup touchup kit can even be carried by your photographer. Even better, have your helper (see below) attend to checking your face to see if anything needs to be reapplied, especially after there’s been tears, kisses and in hot weather!
Have someone on hand to make sure you look your best!
A photo helper, mom, or bridesmaid are all worthy contenders to make sure you look your best. While this is partly the photographer’s job, we can’t check every aspect of your appearance for every single shot, while also directing you, coaching you, adjusting our settings, taking excellent photos at the same time!
Honestly, I’m looking at people’s eyes when I’m photographing them – that’s it! That’s the part that shows the emotion and also that needs to be in focus.
I’m not always able to also check out whether you have spinach in your teeth, if your bra strap is showing, if your necklace is on correctly, how the stain on the dress looks, the placement of the train and how your breasts look in your dress! I’ll do the best I can but sometimes it’s simply not possible to catch every little detail.
Photographers should take well-timed photos!
Of course, there needs to be a commitment on both sides, for the photos to be as good as they can in the moment. That may mean the photographer waits 20 seconds to ensure there are no people in the background of the photo. So if you notice your photographer tapping their foot while looking past you, this is what’s happening.
Inform your photographer if you’re insecure about your appearance
Each individual should tell the photographer if there are aspects about their appearance they are insecure about. That way, photos can be taken that flatter your perceived imperfection, by utilizing certain angles and skillful posing.
Embrace your ‘flaws’ and let go of ‘perfection’.
Hair is going to get messed up every time you move. The dress is not going to sit perfectly for every photo. Clothes will bunch up and the boutonniere will wilt. Wine will be spilled and white shoes will be brown by the end of the night. Makeup might even run in the heat or the rain.
There’s no such thing as the ‘perfect body’ or the ‘perfect wedding’. So stop trying to chase perfection, and instead embrace reality! You are beautiful and everything was exactly as it was meant to be.
Photographers basically feel that their clients are perfect as they are. We love all our clients of every different size, shape, gender expression, ability, age, color and creed!
We’d never dream of shaving 10lb off you, or trying to make you look 10 years younger! It’s always best to address anything you aren’t comfortable about at the time, rather than trying to fix it later. This is yet another reason to choose a photographer you feel good around – there is a certain vulnerability involved when it comes to events as intimate as weddings.
Fixing photos ‘in post’ – by retouching – is likely to cost you money, take a lot more time, and still will never be as good as getting it right in the moment.
The important thing is, you did it!
Like everything in wedding photography, retouching is a bespoke arrangement, but hopefully this guide helped you understand how it works with me (or one of my associates) as your photographer. It’s always good to have an honest conversation with your photographer if there’s anything you’re unhappy about beforehand.
It’s even better to have a conversation before entering into a contract so you are absolutely sure what to expect from your wedding photography experience. And to read your contract carefully before you sign.
I am always happy to throw in some retouched images free of charge, at your request, once you receive your final wedding gallery. I can do 10 wedding images (or 5 engagement images) before I will have to start kicking the fees back to you.
Ultimately I want you to be thrilled with your wedding photos, so let’s have a chat if there was something you didn’t like about your wedding photos that could be fixed with Photoshop.
Happy with the work? Don’t forget to write a glowing 5-star review for your wedding photographer!