How To Build A Retouching Portfolio

How to build a retouching portfolio


A solid portfolio is the backbone of every retouching business. Building, maintaining , and updating the portfolio is very important – even if you already have a solid amount of clients.


In this article, I will  try guiding you through the process of building a portfolio and improving it over time.

How to begin


Let’s say you’re a photographer who wants to transition into retouching, or you’re just a person who wants to get into retouching – how would you start building your portfolio?


If you’re a photographer, you likely have tons of your own photos that you retouched. Do not use them all in your portfolio. Pick a few of them to start reaching out to other great photographers and get them to collaborate with you.


This goes for retouchers as well who don’t have anything to start out with. There are plenty of practice files available online, all of which I’d also never use in a portfolio, as there are simply too many people using the same images. But they can be good for showing off your skill.


Oh and about skill, make sure you practice first – a lot. It’ll help tremendously with getting collaborations.

How to find photographers to collaborate with, you ask?


My go-to was the collaboration thread in Natalia Taffarel’s group. Linked below.


There are plenty of great photographers in there who post their sets in order to find a retoucher to collaborate with. These sets are exclusive for one retoucher, so always keep an eye out for new sets and be quick.


I found many photographers to collaborate with in this group and this is what kickstarted my portfolio and resulted in my first publications.


One thing to look out for when collaborating with someone is that the set is actually a set. There is no point in retouching 8 photos with the same look. Make sure there is enough variety in it to be able to show off your skills.

Building the portfolio and mistakes to avoid


Now that you have retouched a few sets by other photographers, it’s time to actually set up the portfolio.


When you start out, I recommend not using categories like fashion or beauty. You simply won’t have enough work to show off separately yet – so to avoid the portfolio looking empty, don’t do categories just yet.


Do not show off the entire set. I usually pick the 3 best images out of the bunch and show them. Just as with a music album, there are always 1 to 3 images that stand out more than the rest. Find them, and show them. Nobody needs to see the rest to get an idea of what your skill is – it could actually backfire, because if the image itself isn’t great, it will be bad for you and will give the viewer a bad impression.


Make sure you let someone experienced take a look at your portfolio first, to get a second opinion and some guidance and assistance when it comes to tweaking your portfolio.


If you want to show off a list of clients or magazines you worked for, be picky. Don’t just add anyone you ever worked with.


Listing every photographer looks like you collaborated with, looks like you’re not getting any other jobs. So avoid photographers in that list, unless they are REALLY well known (not just Facebook-known).


Same story with magazines:  It’s very very counterproductive to list submission based online magazines. It looks unprofessional.


This, by the way, also counts for tearsheets and covers. Only use them when it’s a high quality magazine. 


If these two examples would be the only things you can list for now, ditch the list entirely and be patient, until you can show off actual companies (with companies / brands, it doesn’t really matter how big or small) and magazines worth mentioning. That doesn’t mean just Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar, but also high quality indie magazines. 


Do your due diligence. is a great source to find good magazines.


Absolutely DO NOT EVER use before / after photos.


Clients could not care less about what the before looked like. Your skill isn’t determined by how big of a difference the after is to the before.


Professionals can tell by looking at the final image whether it’s retouched well or badly and thinking that they can’t, will just show your own inexperience in the industry.

So again. Don’t do it. No matter how tempting it may be.


Maintaining the portfolio


So you’ve built your portfolio and are all set, got some clients, and life is good!  The last thing you want to do is stop collaborating with photographers.


Collaborations are an essential part of this industry. Working for now money will likely end you up with more paid jobs, recommendations and more enjoyable paid work. Plus it’s a ton of fun working on editorials.


Try finding photographers that are above your level of experience that have publications in big magazines, and big name brands for clients and just do super cool images that are trending right now. Keeping up with current trends is pretty important too. 


Sometimes you will get lucky and get those collaborations by recommendation from other photographers, but you’ll also have to put in work yourself. Find photographers you really like and email them, reach out to them on Instagram or Facebook and try pitching them a collaboration on one of their upcoming projects.


I’ll tell you right away, that you will probably end up with no reply 99% of the time, but that one positive reply has the potential to make your career. So don’t give up and don’t be lazy.


I’m trying to do at least one collaborative project per month. For once to get in touch with new clients, to keep my portfolio up to date and because it’s just a ton of fun to work on a project that excites you, without having an entire board of marketing people breathing down your neck, changing their mind in a u-turn every other minute.


Last but not least…use a white website. Black is tacky and outdated. 😛

Thank you for reading!


I wish you all a very merry christmas despite the difficult times we currently live in!

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.