Top 5 Portrait Retouching Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

If you’re like me and have been retouching for quite a while, no doubt you have also noticed certain retouching trends that have come into effect over the years. Some of these trends unfortunately, tend to lessen the quality of some photographer’s work and have hung around for an extended period of time.

I would consider many of these trends to be popular with beginner photographers, and some of the mistakes I’m about to go through I’ve most definitely done myself!
However, as with all photography and post-processing, each to their own. There is no “right” and “wrong” way. Though if you are looking at potentially earning money from commercial photography, I do feel there’s a few trending retouching techniques that are considered seemingly unprofessional.

Before we start the article, I will be listing a few of the retouching elements and programs I currently use for reference:

Adobe CC Subscription – Photography & Lightroom
Wacom Intuos Pro Medium
Wacom Art Tablet

And without further adieu, let’s get into it!

1. Smoothing and Blurring Skintones

This I will admit, is my number one pet peeve as far as retouching mistakes go! Maybe it’s because I spend so much time with retouching beauty photographs and skintones that overly smooth skintones are something I notice immediately.

From my personal experience over the years with retouching for e-commerce, campaigns, editorials, weddings and portraits, they all have usually had the same retouching requirements. Most importantly, keeping the skin natural.

I’m not saying a lot of work doesn’t go into skin retouching, it can take a lot of time just to give it a natural finish. However, blurring or smoothing skin is generally a no-no and isn’t aligned with the industry standard.
Keeping the skin natural looking will retain quality within the photograph and is always more appealing for commercial clients.

If you’re just starting out with retouching and you’re not too sure in regards to the skin editing techniques you should be using, I’d say have a look into dodging and burning, or frequency separation. Or if you’re not editing skintones close up, find a way to use the healing tools on a separate layer so they’re non-destructive to the quality of the image. Just using a basic tool like spot healing brush is sometimes all you need to keep the skin looking natural.

2. Brightening the Eyes too Much

This is something I also see quite often, and this effect can in turn make models look doll-like.
Something that a lot of people aren’t aware of, is that you do generally need to be quite light handed when it comes to editing eyes. Brightening is definitely a technique that is needed and used, however it’s best to be quite soft.

I find that using dodge and burn lightly on the eyes can really help to bring them out more. I would recommend using a very low flow percentage for your brush (around 1%.)

3. Creating Light and Shadows where there is nothing to begin with

This is a point that I find is not as obvious as a retouching mistake.

Creating light and shadows where there aren’t any to begin with can cause an unearthly glow on a models skintone, I usually find that this is caused by the dodging and burning retouching technique.

Dodging and burning is an incredible technique and I use it regularly myself. However I do feel this is where the overuse of it comes into play.
It’s important to make sure you’re not over-dodging or over-burning any shadows or highlights. After all it’s always best to correct these issues in camera before getting the images into post-processing. Sometimes it’s as simple as moving the subject into a different position, or adding another light into the mix.

4. Removing Too Much of the Under-eye

Removing too much of the under-eye is unfortunately very common. It seems to be a beauty standard or trend to remove all of the lines and under-eyelid area, this can end up looking very strange.

I think it’s always important to go back to the fact that it’s best to keep it simple and natural. Fine lines can easily be removed by the spot healing brush tool. The dodge tool can also be used to lighten the under-eye area. I would usually go no further than that.

5. Using Liquify for the Wrong Reasons

I have very mixed feelings about using liquify as an editing tool for portraits. On one hand I think it’s great for things like shaping or smoothing out hair in areas, or even if a limb looks slightly awkward in a photograph sometimes that can be corrected.

However I think the problem with liquify is that it’s overused in changing the shape of people’s features or faces. Or it is often used to make people’s faces look slimmer or changing their expressions.
I genuinely have never felt the need to ‘fix’ any of those things when I am retouching. It almost always looks apparent when used, and can also look very unnatural.

To avoid using liquify, I generally try to use dodge and burn to soften areas that I need to instead. However my advice would be to steer clear of using it for anything other than straightening or smoothing lines in an image.

Those are the top 5 portrait retouching mistakes I see on a regular basis.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this article! If you’re interested in finding out more about general retouching mistakes I’ve also released a video here specifically for mistakes when dodging and burning.

As I said earlier in the article, it’s important to know that there is no real right or wrong with creating art. There are however some guidelines out there for getting into commercial photography and if you’re looking at earning an income from that particular genre of photography.

Comment down below if you know of any other common retouching mistakes and what you do to avoid them!
Thanks for reading x

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