Beginners Guide To Start A Retouching Business


In today’s blog post I’m going to guide you through the process of turning retouching into a business and growing it as such.


It goes without saying that if you expect a client to pay you, you can’t completely suck at what you do. Go and learn how to retouch and practice as much as possible before you start charging people.


It seems like a catch-22. You need a portfolio to convince photographers and other clients to work with you, and you need photographers to work with you in order to get a portfolio together.

If you absolutely cannot get a photographer to pay you for retouching, there are three things you could be doing wrong, and luckily two of these are simple to correct.



1. You’re not networking

This is the number one way to get your first clients. It helps to know a few creatives from your local “scene” to get started. All it takes is to know one good photographer and an opportunity to do a great job with this photographer to get your name out there.


Luckily, in the age of social media, it’s easier than ever to build a global network of people while not leaving the place you’re most comfortable at – the front of your screen. Although it pays off big to meet these people in person every once in a while.

If you can build relationships with them, it shouldn’t take long for them to book you for a job.



2. You’re not punching above your weight

You get comfortable with the people you frequently work with and things become kind of stagnant. You’re constantly working with photographers and clients who are kind of on your level of experience or lower, the work could be greater, the payment higher, but you’re not anxious about messing things up anymore. 


This will stop you and your business from growing. Aim high, you want to be in Vogue (the print, not Photovogue Italia), you want to retouch a Gucci Campaign or work with the biggest names out there. You’ll always feel like you’re not quite there yet, but the trick is to start working with people who are there, or at least a few levels above you. 


This will make your portfolio better, your work more exciting and yourself more confident in your work as a retoucher.


This, by the way, is a huge advantage of being a retoucher. We can latch onto creatives who are successful and who consistently create great pieces of work. All we need to do is be great at what we do and choose from an abundance of all the great creators out there.



3. You’re not hustling

So you don’t suck at retouching, you’re networking and you’re trying to improve yourself, but you still can’t find clients to pay you for your work.


This is a sign you might not be hustling enough. Step it up a bit, do more free collaborations, send more emails and do whatever you can to convince a client that you are the right person to work with them on their next campaign.


If you can’t get past this part, leave a comment or a post in our group and I’ll do my best to figure out what it is you’re doing wrong. Chances are, your retouching isn’t quite there yet. Go practice.



How much should I charge

This is completely up to you. Run some calculations of your expenses and then figure out how much you need to charge in order to cover your expenses and save up excess money.


As a beginner I would suggest charging on a “per image” basis. You’ll likely spend more time on an image than somebody more experienced. You’ll have to google stuff, haven’t your workflow quite figured out yet or might simply not be used to retouching for 10h a day. Trust me, I’ve been there. My first paid job of 10 portraits took me a week, whereas now it’s done in less than a day.


Nowadays, I work on an hourly as well as on a per image basis. Both have their pros and cons and I don’t prefer one over the other. It just depends on the kind of work.


Charging per image is great for the client as they know exactly what they’re gonna pay in the end. It’s great for you as you can outsource part of the work like clean-up to an assistant and leverage the money you make by spending a fraction of your time on this particular set of images.


If you’re not doing that, you’re kind of stuck with your rate – no matter if it requires more work than expected or not. If you calculated with taking one hour per image and it turns out to take 1.5 hours, you might even get lazy and think “ehh…it’s good enough”, because you have less of an incentive to make it perfect. (Or you’ll work yourself up for too little money and will ultimately burn out, which is quite the common thing amongst retouchers).


Charging by the hour makes sure you get paid exactly what you worked for. It also eliminates the possibility of leveraging your revenue.



Where to get the work from?

There are tons of options as for where to get jobs from.


First of all, obviously, there are photographers. Working closely with a bunch of photographers and developing a relationship with them pays off, as they or their agency will work hard to get their clients. This means, your great contact to one photographer paves the way to a multitude of clients. 


Then there’s retouching agencies. Again, they will find the clients and forward the work to you. However, they will obviously take their cut off the budget and you’ll likely not get as much as you could and work comes in very inconsistently, from my experience.

It’s a nice thing to be part of when you don’t have a filled schedule to earn some extra money, but I wouldn’t rely on it.


Production agencies on the other hand, are way more fun to work with – at least in my opinion. They organize the entire production process for usually high profile clients, source all the parts needed to produce a campaign and make sure everything will turn out great.
There’s almost always enough budget to cover the retoucher’s rates and the projects are SO much fun, as you get the opportunity to work with very talented and oftentimes world renowned people.


And last but not least, next to basically every other creative part of a team – because it’s often delegated to a stylist or MUA to find a retoucher, or it’s their own project – you can get hired by the company itself. This is something that rarely happens to me, especially when it comes to bigger brands. If they don’t produce in-house, then they will likely not want to micromanage every little gear in the production process. That’s why they hand that off to production agencies.


I feel like there’s going to be a Part 2, so stay tuned 😉



Kai Gut

Kai Gut

Kai Gut is a full time retoucher and the founder of Aurora Retouch, a high end retouching house based in Germany. Aurora Retouch specializes in the post production of fashion photography as well as beauty and portraits, for editorials and commercial purposes.