The pros and cons of retouching corporate headshots and portraits.
Since the arrival of quality software to enable digital photography manipulation we have seen some remarkable examples of what can be achieved and also where it can go very wrong. I believe the main reason there is such a wide range of differing standards with photo retouching is that editors, designers and photographers have varied opinions as to when to stop working on an image. This also applies to clients as they sometimes have a different idea as to how much retouching you should do to their corporate headshots.
In the past we have had clients ask us to do more and more retouching to headshot commissions and we have always tried to explain that less is more and that you should never be able to see where the retouching has been done as that defeats the object. I liken it to the fact their is nothing funny in male baldness but their is a funny aspect to males attempts to cover it up. So our stance is that the viewer should never be able to see where we have retouched the headshot because if they can we have failed as the headshot then has the viewer looking at the retouching rather than the original purpose which was to convey the professionalism of the business person.
A common mistake when working on retouching a headshot is to not keep a reference as to the original and keep comparing as you do the retouching. The original is the starting point and therefore this should be referred back to through the process. Sometimes retouchers only refer back to the last version and the danger here is that if you are submitting it to the client and you are adding/detracting stuff each time the headshot is moving further away from the original and rendering the headshot unrealistic.
You have to take each headshot on the work required and in general we tend to removes spots/skin blemishes and scars. We are very careful to only reduce wrinkles and bags under eyes as these are part of the natural ageing process and a corporate headshot of a person in their 40s or 50s without any skin of their skin ageing can look very odd and therefore unrealistic.
Clients often ask about make-up artists and we tend to suggest that subtle retouching is preferred as it can produce better results than heavy make up especially on men who feel uncomfortable with unfamiliar make-up. We also get asked about airbrushing which pre digital photography was blowing a fine mist of paint over a printed headshot which masked any original skin defects. This process can be replicated digitally but as with the original process you have to be very careful not to overdo it and not allow the vanity of some people to encourage a retoucher to do more than they normally would.
Below are some samples of three retouched corporate headshots that we feel have worked extremely well. The do not look like they have been retouched at all and you could only spot the retouching if you had the original headshots to compare.
Currently we are including free retouching with all our corporate headshots commissions. We usually request that after the shoot the client selects between 2 to 4 headshots with varied expressions so we can retouch and spend quality time working on the headshots you will use for your online LinkedIn profile photo and traditional marketing requirements.