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Common Retouching Mistakes

Want to take your retouching skills to the next level? You can start by fixing these common retouching mistakes.


Greetings dear reader. In today's topic, I want to go over some common retouch mistakes, of which I have done a lot myself. I also notice these mistakes in works of other retouch artists. I will show you few good and bad examples of retouch and color grading.

First of all, we need to admit that different styles and genres have a different purpose in their final look. For example, if I edit some landscape photos below, I definitely do not want to do a beauty retouch for this shoot. This is because the basic needs of these photos do not match and the issues that you need to fix on a landscape are absolutely different from those of a human portrait.


There is more of that if you work on street image/reportage. Usually that would be a series, because the main goal of this genre is to tell some kind of story. Sure, it's fair enough to say that a good street or reportage image is a story in a single frame. While that's true, nevertheless, it's easy to think about that like a TV series with only one episode of the whole season. You end up with a bunch of images of the same kind. If you do something like a beauty retouch, the fix will not only look mismatched, as we mentioned before, but the effort will also take a lot of time.

What I am trying to say is that different genres of art, no matter what kind (3d, landscapes, portrait - everything that will need some retouch and post production), require unique kinds of retouch and post production which best suits each one.

Depending on the sort of retouch, bad and good examples will vary. But this is really a situational question. Keep in mind that this is a huge part of the retoucher job; having good taste and understanding what you do and why. When you have understanding and good taste, your work will look a lot more aesthetic and harmonious.

As for my opinion, this is most common mistake of any kind artist; most beginner retouchers simply watch all the tutorials they can get and do not even think about the quality of the materials or references they take for building their portfolio.
Nevertheless there are a lot of mistakes that can be made in any type of image edit in any genres. So lets start to discover them.

Bad raw materials - as simple as that. The better quality of your base materials the better your final result will be.
I know that it's a bit obvious, but I have met many different photographers and designers who thought that everything can be fixed in post. I believe that you should avoid as many issues as you can before the post production step. In photography, if you can clean a dress before you start shooting, then do it. You'll spend either 5 min before shooting or the same 5 min on each image after.
Work on light source, exposure settings, even white balance, and color grading is much easier if you use color checker.
Sure, you can't always have perfect conditions for  shooting or rendering. But if you shoot in the night, use a tripod. The result will be much better.
So, if you work on your portfolio or social media content to promote yourself, use materials of the best quality you can get.

poor light in gym

Repeating details - This issue happens really often for landscape and close-camera portraits. While working on this sort of image, usually there is a use of a lot of stamp tools for a bunch of different reasons. Skin texture cleaning, deleting unnecessary details, trying to achieve symmetry (like eyebrows on a beauty portrait).
Below you can see an obvious example. In this case, the goal was to cut off people standing on the beach. But by doing this process you can easily clone the same object, which will make your retouch look poor.
Similar stuff can happen on skin retouches. There you can copy the same spot a few times in a close area. Try to avoid that.

correct example

Parasite tints - this is more about color grading, but still it's a huge part of the editing process. To achieve a clean look you should edit your colors in a way so that you do not have any parasite tint.

exaggerated example
correct example

Its an often case that yellow has too much green, and the color may not look the way you want it to in the highlight area. This does not mean it will have the same ratio of RGB in dark/white areas. Another common scenario of this issue comes from the nature of the human body. Different coloration of the hands, for example, or some red skin spot.

model simply scratched his face under nose
good and healthy skin color

Traces from retouch tools - Everyone uses different tools and techniques to solve specific retouch tasks. But in general, everyone uses same tools to deal with 90% of their retouch; such as (spot) healing brush / clone stamp tool/ path tool.

These are the main retouch tools for almost every retoucher. But if you do not use them properly, it's easy to create a huge mess during your retouch process.
When you use Spot Healing brush/ Healing brush / Path tool, make sure that as a resource, you pick an area that has the same luminosity as a healing area. Otherwise, you will have texture problems.

selected spot
spot for copy is too dark 

as result texture get lost and we have blurred spot

Try to pick an area with similar texture, luminosity and color. In this case, the tool will show you the best result. Then you can use the Clone stamp tool, for cleaning edges or retouching sharp texture. Watch your lines! It's extremely easy to curve or interrupt lines on images with this tool.

Let's pretend that we need to delete this neon light from the image below. In this case, we have a brand name or logo, and we are preparing the photo for stock. It doesn't do much within our composition.

I cleaned up one side of the glass, but the base positioning with the Clone Stamp tool was wrong, and that's why you can see how I curve line of window's frame.

Also, you should always keep track of noise pattern, because it's basically another level of texture that covers whole your image.


The last advise that I want to give you is do not post your image right after you finish editing it. Give yourself some time to rest and come back with fresh eyes. At least half an hour, do your other business. When you get back, you will see many more details that you can miss in the first look. And as you may know the devil is in the details. Thanks for reading and good luck :)  



Andrii is a full time retoucher with 5+ years of experience, based in Ukraine. In his free time, he likes to photograph and create cg stuff.