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The complete guide to product photo retouching

The complete guide to product photo retouching

What to keep in mind when ordering product photo retouching.

Pylyp Sukhenko

Nov 1, 2021

Product photo retouching is like seasoning for a dish: you only need a pinch of it and it makes all the difference. However, this service is often perceived by many as a magic wand that can fix it all. In this piece we'll explore how this assumption could be misleading. Here are a few fundamental statements to set up the framework:

  1. Product photo editing services are expensive and time-consuming. They’re pricier than photography services and even 3D graphics sometimes.

Takeaway: Make sure you do your best during the prep stage [ironing, dusting] and the photoshoot [light, positioning, makeup] to minimize the expensive editing part. 

  1. Retouching is not there to recreate an idea of an image you have in your mind. It’s there to improve representation of your product on a photo. The quality of the input has a direct impact on the quality of the output. The better the source image – the more chances that post-production efforts will result in desired improvements.

Takeaway: It's risky to assume that Photoshop will fix it all – there are limitations, discuss them with your photography service provider to know the boundaries.

  1. Any product image needs some basic post-production manipulation. Dust specks and scratches invisible to an eye transform into glaring faults on an isolated image in high resolution. Nothing is perfect.

Takeaway: Always check with your product image studio or a freelance photographer about their product retouching services pricing and terms – for basic and premium photo editing services.

Now that we know the ABC of this game, let’s deep-dive into the finer details.

What is photography retouching?

Retouching, or photo editing, is a set of manipulations performed on a digital image to improve it visually or to adjust its technical qualities. Basic retouching methods are resizing, color correction, shape adjustment, or defect removal. Photoshop is one of the most popular software programs used to edit images.

Why is photo retouching important?

A crispy vibrant image with color correction attracts a buyer on social media, keeps a user surfing your online store by zooming in on details, and persuades a potential customer to ultimately convert by pixel-perfect quality. 

Visual appeal

See how unappealing a product can be without post-production? Meanwhile, retouching completely transforms the image.

Brand recognition

Setting up a brand identity through patterns in retouching can be beneficial for your marketing. Colored backgrounds, custom margins, unique approach to shadows – all of these elements can play towards your brand awareness.

Bridging the gap between online and offline

The zoom feature available on many marketplaces allows users to minimize the effect of shopping online, as it gives shoppers an opportunity to almost feel the fabric and see closeups of a product.

Marketplace standards and technical requirements

Sizing, background restrictions, file formats, resolutions can all be fixed during post-production. Many marketplaces have plenty of technical requirements that merchants have to comply with to use those channels. 

What does product photography retouching include? 

To start with, there is a basic editing service and an advanced one. Let’s see what services are included in each of these categories.

Basic photo editing services

It is applied to all product images and is often part of the standard per-image pricing, it includes:

Color corrections stage: adjusting exposure, intensity, detailing, and shadows. Often used for images handed over as RAW files. The mission of a retouching specialist here is to make an image vibrant – make it pop.

Product cleanup, removing defects and imperfections of an object: getting rid of dust specks, scratches, and the like.

Resizing and saving in specific file format: these technical requirements depend on the channel of distribution of images mostly – be it a marketplace, social media, or big board format, for example.

Advanced photo editing 

What is high-end retouching? Below we enumerate some of the manipulations performed as an extra step at a surcharge.

It is usually applied for a beauty shoot, portraits, model images, hero shots, outdoor advertising images. These are more complex and time-consuming product photo editing services that transform the image as opposed to just improving it.

The ghost mannequin effect suggests a series of manipulations whereby a piece of clothing appears to be worn by an invisible person.

Wrinkles removal is another complex editing technique whereby a wrinkle may be fully ironed out or partially smoothened.

Shape & silhouette correction is applied on handbags and garments usually, where a shape needs a bit of straightening. A basic manipulation can be applied for easy cases in small sizes, but complex masking and path techniques are required for pixel-perfect results in bigger resolutions.

“On model” shots retouching is a multi-step process that includes a perfect fit of a product on a model.

Dodge and burn [D&B] is a technique used for portraits and lifestyle shots, whereby a product photo editor uses a combination of photoshop techniques to provide depth by applying dark and light accents to an image.

Background removal with masking or clipping path techniques is performed to get rid of the complex background or to have an isolated image for social media collage.

While resizing, formatting and color correction are done mundanely and are part of the standard per-image pricing, premium retouching is often charged extra.

How much retouching do I need?

Long story short: it all boils down to your preferences. And budget. Long story long, there are a few factors that affect how much retouching work needs to be done:

  1. The initial source image and its quality

The closer your shot is to the desired output, the less retouching is needed.

        2. The channel where the image is going to be displayed

Some images will be displayed in small sizes on a marketplace, for example, the last one in the sequence of 4-5 images with no zoom-in feature. They don’t need to be pixel-perfect. On the other hand, the website images with a zoom-in feature for a product page need to be spotless, vibrant, and generally attractive.

         3. The size and resolution of the image

Big board commercial and social media ads images will need the different extent of photo editing service applied to them for obvious reasons: the 10x5 meters big board has every pore of model’s skin the size of a plum.

         4. The type of photography

Model shots, lifestyle images, heroshots, beauty, and fashion shots demand more of the photo editor's attention than your run-of-the-mill upfront product photo for a marketplace.

As a rule of thumb, the better the image initially the less work needs to be done. 

What to do before ordering retouching? 

There are a few things we try to make sure our client grasps before taking an order to a photo editing service.

  1. Understand the limitations of the product itself

The color, the reflective surfaces, the textures may dictate certain limitations. Roughly speaking, if you take a picture of a 6-year old boy, you can’t expect an editor to make it into a shot of a 40-year-old woman. Similarly, with objects – they have limitations, not so obvious as in our example, but rather unsurmountable.

  1. Find and present a reference

Spend some time to visualize and research the kind of image you'd like. In the best-case scenario, you will know what exactly you want to replicate in your image and what you don't like.

      4. Take time to describe the image you want to get as a deliverable in the smallest detail

"Beautiful" means different things to different people. Use physical descriptors, not abstract words to define the desired effects in your image.

  1. Make sure the source image is as close as it can be to the reference before it goes into post-production

If you order a product image in its entirety with basic editing, the product photography service provider will ensure they spend as much time as needed on the session to provide source material that demands little editing.

On the other hand, if you shoot elsewhere and orders product retouching services separately, the gap between the source image, reference, and requirements may need some work. So it’s on the client to ensure the best quality of the source material.

Product retouching for e-Commerce: the basic, the not so basic

We wish all of our clients read this piece before ordering our services in New York, LA, or Austin. But if we made one ecommerce entrepreneur more ready for a shoot – be it DIY, freelance, or a professional gig – we consider our mission here complete.

If you need to use post-production to make your products jump onto the client from the pages of Amazon with hundreds of like products lined up, to define your brand or to fix up the dust collected on that reflective ring – at least you are now prepared.

Looking to upgrade your product images with a bit of color correction? Need items from your new collection shot and edited as a packed deal?

Talk to our team, we'll make sure your imagery meets your goals and your brand strategy.

How do you retouch in product photography?

There is basic retouching, that is usually part of the per image product photography pricing and the premium photo editing services. Basic retouching includes product cleanup, cropping and alignments, exposure correction and defects removal. Advanced photo editing services include shadow and reflection manipulations, ghost mannequin effect, and shape correction among others.

What is photography retouching?

Photography retouching is a process of changing certain image qualities in post production with photo editing software like Photoshop in order to enhance it or reformat it.

Do professional photographers retouch photos?

High end retouching is premium retouching that is designed to significantly enhance or change the look of the product or model on an image. Premium photo editing services include, but are not limited to: wrinkle removal, symmetry and shape correction, focus stacking, shadow and reflection adjustments.

How do you shoot product photography and background retouching?

Background retouching can be performed in a number of ways through clipping paths as well as with the mask layers. Mask layer technique needs more time and skills to perform yet provides nice edges that are seamless. Most of the marketplaces demand products to be shot against white background. In this case a client needs to understand if they want an object to have a practical shadow, edited or neither.


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