Retouching Rundown

Breaking down the (post) process


New week, new article!

Hi everybody, this week we’re gonna switch it up a little bit and give you a video!


In this video you can see me editing a photo that I challenged myself to do within an hour to Facebook quality.

It is sped up by A LOT so it should be easy to watch and to digest. In this post, I will go through my process step by step.



I’m starting with the RAW-Conversion in Capture One.

You can use Lightroom or any other RAW converter just as well, my personal preference though, is Capture One.


The photo is really dark to begin with, so I brightened it. A tad of Exposure and quite a lot of Brightness.

If you wonder what’s the difference between those two – Exposure tackles Highlights, Mids and Shadows linear, whereas Brightness only affects the midtones. Imagine a curve being pulled up in the middle, while the nodes at the highlight and shadow corner stay attached.


That way I can increase the brightness a lot more sensitive and don’t risk burned highlights as easily.


Topping it off with pulling back the highlights a bit and increasing the shadows, I got a well exposed and flat image, which is what you want to achieve during raw conversion.

More on that in a different post.


After being done with the RAW-Conversion, I’m transferring the image to Photoshop.

C1 converts it into a 16bit AdobeRGB PSD and I’m good to go.



In Photoshop, the first thing I do is create my healing layer and start cleaning up.

I usually begin with the background and stray hair as it annoys me the most and it makes the image already look a lot cleaner. Might be a personal preference.

When done with stray hair, I’m doing the hair in general – at least the things that catch my eye, like hair that doesn’t go with the flow, in this case glittery product that’s not supposed to be there, and single strands of hair that the stray hairs were attached to.

Remember: When you remove fly away hair, you also need to address where it’s coming from. The hair doesn’t just magically stop at the outline of the model’s head.




From there I’m going to clean up the skin. 

When it comes to this part, I have a very impulse driven approach. I know, many people work their way from area to area – I don’t. I start somewhere and jump over the entire image to what catches my eye next. It is like a priority driven process that eliminates the next most prominent issue next. I didn’t plan on working that way, I just developed like that and it works very well for me.


Now is a good time to mention that I always retouch in a very natural and not artificial way. This is what the majority of my clients come to me for.

You can see quite a bit of facial hair on the model’s face which is a super normal thing to have and was made visible by the lighting – nothing bad about it. That’s why I only removed hair that was distracting the eye and disturbed the consistency of the image.


One big issue in this photo is an area camera right of the mouth that is out of focus. Doesn’t look good as it’s totally out of context – meaning, there is no other area in this image that replicates this. I gotta get rid of it. I basically just remove it with the Clone Stamp, sampling surrounding areas that make sense to have a good consistency of texture that doesn’t look out of place or fake.


I tried the same with the dark lines under her eyes – didn’t work. But it is always worth a try. Just make sure if you try butcheresque approaches like this, that you keep a critical eye on it and dismiss it if it doesn’t work. Because the majority of times it doesn’t.


To round everything up, I took care of the makeup, her lips and the white in her eyes.


Dodge & Burn


After cleaning up, I create my Dodge & Burn layers from my Retouching Toolkit. I use those with curves and saturation adjustments most of the time as – despite what some Youtubers with the “ultimate new technique” tell you – it is absolutely necessary to adjust the saturation together with darkening and lightening areas.


When I dodge & burn, I start with zooming out. Way out. This allows me to make transitions smooth and the image look clean. And frankly, most of the work is done after that part. 

Of course, there are other frequencies that need to be taken into account – medium and high frequencies. So I work my way into and keep zooming in and out in order to be able to see the image as a whole.


It’s very important to not do too much while zoomed in. If you’re not that experienced yet, you will inevitably get carried away and end up overdoing the high frequencies which will make the photo look filtered. You also might overdo a part and then get bored and end up with an image that looks half overdone and the other half not.


Color grading


After that is done, I’m doing some minor color adjustments before creating the direction in which I want the look to go to. 

This I do with the Luminosity Panel’s Blend-If to separate the highlights from the shadows. 


We roughly have Orange, Green and Magenta in the image. 

As the make up is Green, I want Green to be the main color in the image and set the mood, so I decided on an “Accented Analogic” color scheme. Meaning, Green is my main color, analogous to Cyan and Orange, accented by a splash of Magenta.


We don’t have Cyan in the image yet, so I picked my highlights pocket in the Luminosity Panel and gave them a good amount of Cyan, using the Color Wheels. 

In the shadows I’ve added more green and darkened them for contrast. 





The mood is set, now I switch back to Capture One, where I usually go about my color grading. I increased the contrast, desaturated a bit, adjusted the colors, made the darker eye a bit brighter, added some grain and took another good look at the image.




As so often, I have to go back to Capture One first, in order to see some issues that I for some reason didn’t see in Photoshop. Probably because the final look brings out certain areas more and I need to give them some more love.

So I’m going back to Photoshop, adjust them, go back to Capture One to check again and am finally happy with the result.


So there you have it. A quickly retouched beauty portrait, following my personal workflow, targeted for a specific medium within a given time frame.

I’m looking into making this some sort of challenge in the future. Either for you to retouch an image within certain parameters, or for myself, doing the same. Or both – we will see.

Let me know in the comments, what you think of those ideas, if that’d be something you’d be interested in or maybe even have a better idea?

So long…

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.