Atomik Perspective: Retouch – Behind the Glass with Nigel Barker

I’m with Nigel Barker on this one – retouching how we look has been around for millennia:  be it clothes, hairstyles, make-up, working out etc.  As humans we manipulate how we look all the time.

I’m a professional photographer, so I retouch.  Shock horror, but I do – however as Nigel says in his #BehindTheGlass video, I’m not flippant about the impact, nor the responsibility that comes with retouching.

I categorise my retouch in my own mind:

  • composition > cropping
  • lighting > levels adjustment
  • colour management > hue-saturation-colour balance
  • artistic > cloning, healing, liquify

The first 3 types of retouch I will apply to all types of photography in varying degrees, despite trying to get the closest results in camera as possible particularly with good lighting and composition.  Colour manipulation is particularly good for creating certain moods, be it sunny and happy, or classic and elegant, colour manipulation is a powerful tool.

The last type of retouch, the artistic physical manipulations such as skin retouch, removal of stray hairs, slight physical features manipulation I only apply to fashion/beauty imagery.  It’s a personal choice of mine to not ‘artistically’ manipulate wedding or family images, those of me or my daughter, because I feel personal photography like weddings, family, and portraiture should be accurate likenesses of people.  I do retouch such images using light and colour management, but I don’t physically or structurally alter their looks.  For fashion/beauty images though, I do artistically retouch.

I do see fashion and beauty imagery as different to lifestyle imagery – it’s about aspiration, it’s about inspiration, and an ideal.  Clients, advertising, and entertainment aren’t about reality, and it’s not about passing off those images as real, but being open about the artistry that goes into creating such imagery.  It’s a fine balance though, since I know portraiture in magazines, and even lifestyle and wedding images are manipulated now too.

Whatever your stance on retouching, just remember we all do it, all the time.  As Nigel said, the simple of act of brushing your hair is retouching yourself…




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