As I've transitioned to more of a portrait photographer in the last couple years, I've relied less so on retouching. I recall earlier in my career when I was mainly shooting beauty that I would spend so much money hiring a professional retoucher to make my images look absolutely perfect. In the genre of beauty photography, this perfection is often the desired outcome. When selling cosmetic products, you want to sell the idea that the product will help you achieve this level of perfection whether it be evening out skin or making the hair look radiant. Retouching helps carry that message with the caveat being the resulting image being somewhat unrealistic. This is understandable as each genre/sub-genre of photography comes with its own techniques and aesthetic considerations. Retouching can also reflect the style of the photographer, which became apparent to me when I made the move into portraiture.
Once I started shooting portraits, I figured I would use the same retouching techniques I'd applied to beauty. Clean the skin, remove veins, cleanup flyaway hairs, etc. But once I did a few images I didn't like the results. There was something lost making portrait images perfect versus when I did the same in beauty photographs. Back to the drawing board I went and ultimately decided that I needed to rely less on retouching and concentrate more on working with my subject to create interesting portraits. Sure, I'd do some basic retouching but not to the point of perfection and not to the point that it removes the soul from the image. I like the fine, imperfect details in an portrait image. The wrinkles in someone's skin, the redness in the eyes, the lines on the neck, etc. These all aid in making the image(and person) feel real and gives the photograph much more character in my opinion.
For a photographer, retouching can take your images to the next level. And it's certainly an amazing skill to have in one's repertoire. My philosophy is that it should be used in a way that both reflects your own individual style and supports the intent of the photograph. Some images require perfection, others do not. There doesn't have to be a "one size fits all" approach to post-production. Embrace those imperfections!
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