Developing A Retouching Workflow




Hello everyone!  In this week’s blog post I am going to talk about developing a workflow for retouching that you can internalize and use in most of your work.


I will describe my personal workflow, but please be aware that this isn’t the be all end all, and many retouchers have many different workflows that work for them.

The RAW Conversion

Everything starts with the RAW conversion. You will get RAW files from the photographer / client and you’ll put them into the RAW converter of your choice. My personal preference is Capture One, but for this step, Lightroom works just fine.


When it comes to the RAW conversion, it makes sense to aim for the photo to be as flat as possible. Often photographers shoot underexposed to get less burnt areas, which in return makes the shadows a lot darker. 


Shadows are easier to recover than burnt highlights where texture is lost.


These shadows need to be addressed during the RAW conversion process, otherwise you won’t get the chance to recover them later on.


Go easy on the highlights though – if you lower them, you’ll quickly get unpleasant grey colors.


Some retouchers already develop the color look during the RAW conversion and push it into that direction for the obvious reason of having more room and information to work with. I usually don’t do that because I’ve experienced too many people changing their minds multiple times later on about the direction of the project or look.


After the adjustments are done, I’ll convert the file into Photoshop as a 16bit AdobeRGB PSD.


The Retouching 

After switching over to Photoshop, I take a quick look at the image, decide whether I need to liquify something or not and then either do that – using the Smart Liquify from the Retouching Toolkit – or I don’t.


As you probably already know from a previous article (, my workflow is rather minimalistic.

So next up, I create the layers that I need with 100% certainty, which is the healing layer, the D&B layers and the eye help.


And from there, I start working my way up from the bottom to the top. Which means cleanup, healing and cloning and then Dodge & Burn.


When you create your own workflow, you first want to develop habits. See what you do all the time, what you have memorized already and find things you can implement either at a more convenient place, replace one step by merging it into another or leave it out entirely, if not absolutely necessary.


Your workflow should (in my opinion) be convenient and easy to follow through. Build that “muscle memory” and you’ll quickly be able to breeze through your work, following the workflow you’ve internalized.


After the retouching, I play around with the colors to get them into the direction I want. I usually use the Color Wheels for that. 

When this is done, I save my file and it automatically updates it in Capture One.


Back to Square … Capture One

Back in Capture One, I’ll go for the finalized look. I do this because I can easily open all the images next to each other and adjust the look to every individual image so their looks aren’t off from each other. 


This can be done in Photoshop as well, but I personally prefer doing it in C1 out of convenience and habit.


From there, I will also do the export of the files. Be it previews, web version or finals.

Capture One allows me to have several export recipes prepared that I can conveniently click on and export any option I need with one click. 


This can easily be prepared in half an hour and will be helpful and save a lot of time everyday.


Now, this was a rather short one, but I think it’s quite important as I often see photographers and retouchers not having a workflow at all or copying someone else’s.


While the latter is good to learn, you shouldn’t rely on it. Figure out your own workflow, tweak it and internalize it. You’ll ultimately do better with that than with the retouching workflow somebody else thinks is better.



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.