How to Make It as a Professional Retoucher

This article is written by a member of our expert community. It expresses that member’s views only. We welcome other perspectives. Here’s how to contribute to MM EDU.

Photographer: You Bin; Makeup Artist: Theresa Francine; Retoucher: Pratik Naik

“People don’t to want to die, but everyone wants to go to Heaven.”

A quote uttered in college Algebra years ago by my professor. It was hot inside of the class and no one was paying attention. We all, of course just laughed it off as random garble. I can still remember looking around the room seeing everyone laugh, assuming he was joking like he always does. He was trying to invigorate us to study for our final. He was insisting that we had to pay our dues before we reached where we wanted. That moment I realized he wasn’t joking anymore.

For some reason, what he said that day in class stuck in my mind. In fact, I could argue that, that was the most memorable line that I remember any of my professors saying. The fact that it was probably dismissed and forgotten by everyone else makes me wonder who else may have remembered that.

When I first began my career, I learned first hand what it took to make it in this industry. I knew it was sacrifice and dedication, but after a while, those cliche statements tend to become watered down in their true potency of how much effort they require.

The main question people still ask me is how I became a retoucher, and what does it entail? Most people don’t realize that it’s more than sheer skill.

Although I have not made it to my ultimate goal, I can say that I have gone through enough to realize what it takes to become a successful retoucher. I wanted to briefly share with you regarding some traits I feel are absolutely necessary. This is not only to educate, but also shed a light on what you need to possess to make it.

Keep in mind, all of this is based on personal reflections and opinions. Everyone has a different viewpoint of the truth and what is accurate. Take it for what you will.


  • Business and marketing
  • Personality
  • Photography
  • Anatomy
  • Drawing
  • Manipulation
  • Talent
  • Education

Business and marketing

This is the most important aspect about being a retoucher, it trumps skill set and everything that follows. In the beginning, there is only you. You without help, just an idea of where you want to go in your mind. You won’t have an agent or business partner (at least for the most of us this is true). Being able to understand that you will play many roles, primarily that of a salesman and a marketer. You will have go out there and make sales and market yourself.

The one major advantage I have found from people who do not make it to the ones that do, is that the ones that make it are aggressive with their business and know how to market themselves. This is why these two go hand in hand. If you cannot maintain a presence, and book jobs, you will be cut out by people who do. Now, with the Internet, remember that anyone can pick up retouching —it costs nothing. You have to not only get jobs, but market yourself in a way that makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd. Having a business plan, and executing it step by step is the vitality in your business.

As Joel Grimes said, if you cannot pick up the phone, and make cold calls, you just won’t make it. Now, in this day, cold calls are probably equivalent to cold e-mails.


I consider this a subset of marketing. In this day, it’s absolutely vital to establish an online presence. The most successful up and coming people are engaged in networking to a degree that made me realize how serious it was. Blogging and social networking has given people a way to be found. You can’t expect people to know you exist unless you let them know you’re here! Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr, Google+, and other such sites are here so we can take full advantage of them. Having and making connections is the key. It’s often who you know that can really get you to new heights.


Think of everyone you admire, look up to, or is successful. They are all characters. They have something about them that really makes them stand out. My friend, Natalia Taffarel for example, has a unique and distinct personality about her. If you know her and see what she posts or writes about, you can clearly make out how she differs from the rest. She is not just a person, she has become a brand. And part of a brand is personality. Yes, even though you’re behind a screen, part of your personality seeps into the the online realm as people get to know you.

The other aspect of personality is in regards to how well you get along with your clients and maintain relationships. When you work with your clients, it helps to have a great personality when working with them, one that reflects commitment, enthusiasm, and professionalism. No one wants to work with someone who is always negative and possesses terrible traits. You have to be approachable and personable.


When you’re working with photographers, it helps to know photography and lighting. Why? Let’s say you receive a set of files for a shoot, and you want to reshape lighting slightly in post. It helps to understand how it would look in real life before you guess at it. Another example is if you’re retouching a set for a submission and your client tells you that the file is not as sharp as you intended. You can look at the exif and see that one of the reasons is that they were not on the sweet spot of the lens they were using, or perhaps that their SS was too low. These are very negligible examples, of course, and the examples can go on forever. A lot of the times, when you can communicate in lingo and understand exactly what the photographer is saying, and actually tell him/her how to save money in post production just based on lighting suggestions or what to do on set physically, it gives you an added advantage. Also, many retouchers (I know I do) help on set and I can now double as an assistant and set up and tear down as needed. I can also help on set showing the photographer a few things on how to cut down time in post. You instantly become more valuable by doing these things There are countless examples, really. You should be able to think of many more.


This is basic. Have you seen those terrible Ralph Lauren ads?

If you understand anatomy, things like this do not happen. You can see lots more on:

It really helps to understand how a body should look based on the way it bends, because you will know exactly what is going too far.

Drawing and art

The principles of art and drawing become a staple of talented retouchers. Their awareness of how light should be shaped, and how to execute the retouching process becomes vital. Studying art, allows you to get a grasp of studying the execution of retouching. In art, you’re forced to draw shadow and light around complex forms, and learn color values and how color and light differ and relate to each other. You study more than that, of course, but this is a mere example. Many of us have a background in fine art or some form of education on the basic principles of drawing and form. Shifting color and light is essentially what retouching is.


Now, more than ever, retouchers are not only expected to perfect skin and hair, but also manipulate images to an entirely new level which requires an advanced range of Photoshop skills. If you do not possess at least a basic understanding of Photoshop manipulation, you will lose jobs especially when they request for you to do basic things like adjust clothing or remove items all the way to compositing faces and new expressions from other files. It can get pretty intense, and more involved than described.


The word in itself is so abstract, defining the ability of aptitude or skill.

Of course, learning everything means nothing, without the ability to execute your knowledge in the real world. Everything I have described until now has been characteristics of knowledge, primarily. In the end, you have to have talent. I consider talent to be the level of detail in which you execute the knowledge given (by studying or by nature) to the task at hand. You must have some talent to make it. Even if it is a little. I say this because I have seen people who are talentless with a great business and marketing sense make it. On the other side, I have seem people with all the talent in the world and no business sense make it. But usually those that make it are people with more business skills coupled with at least a little bit of talent.

Education and innovation

Aside from knowing how to retouch, you need to constantly set aside time to educate what new tools and techniques are available on the market to help you stay ahead of the competition. You also need to be innovative and use these tools to come up with your own unique solutions that no one else knows. Setting yourself ahead of the competition in one way or another is key.


There is also a lot more included that are subsets of these items, such as accounting, time management, organization, cost of equipment, customer service, and so forth. You are essentially an entire office in one. There is a lot that meets the eye, spend time in doing more than honing your skills, but honing your business.

And finally, keep in mind that this is all based on personal opinion and what I felt was important. You may agree, disagree, or feel there is even more, and that is completely fine. As long as you’re prepared, that is the most important part of all.

Pratik Naik

Pratik Naik is a professional photo retoucher. He works with international and national photographers, art directors, agencies, and celebrities. Pratik specializes in both editorial and commercial work. &

More Posts - Website