Retouching to cut photo shooting costs?

How many times have you heard your client say: “You can fix this later in Photoshop.” or “We don’t need a photo shooting, we just combine the photos we have.” As an art director one of your jobs is to ensure that the quality of the final product lives up to the standard you set. To ensure this quality you have to look at all aspects. We already discussed the copywriting part, now let’s look at the photography.

You can’t fix it later in Photoshop

Ok, some minor issues can always be fixed but I’ve discovered that you have to do you time calculations precisely. How much time does it cost you to clean the product you are going to shoot with a cloth before the actual shoot and how much with photoshop afterwards for example? It might seem trivial, but you may wonder how many times I had to go into a photo shooting with scratched and dirty products. I now always want to see the material I’m using for the photo shoot ahead of time to be sure to have the best material.

I’ve started to charge extra for this kind of retouching when I was sure that it was the client who didn’t care to provide a proper product. Sometimes the client really didn’t have any better material, but it was quite easy to sell the extra cost.

There is also another factor to consider. The graphic design business is often fast paced. If you have to do extra retouching it will probably blow your time schedule. It put’s pressure on the project unnecessarily. So talking to your client at the beginning of the project about this issues is key to get better input (the products) and therefore the best output possible.

If you have to anyway – get prepared

There are some situations where you have to do major retouching. Maybe the product you have to feature is still a prototype and therefor not perfect, or the product is too big to be set on a clean background, or you plan to do a compositing. The key here is to plan ahead to get photos that ease the retouching. A good starting point is to know exactly what the final picture should look like. You can spot then critical spots and imagine where the difficulties or the major time consuming aspect will be. It might be also good to have a look at the product and make some notes. This will help you brief the photographer. Tell him that what you are going to do with the picture. He will help you getting rid of reflections, will know where to put white cardboards for helping you to cut out the parts for example and many more technical aspects.

The photographer can really ease your work here a great deal and it’s your job to point out where he has to point his attention. You might think that he will know by himself that scratches and dirt are not meant to be shown, but he doesn’t know for what use the picture is intended. You could use the picture to show the scratches and dirt on purpose – how should he know if you don’t tell him.

If you have to do retouching because of a compositing the planning is even more important. I will cover this in a case study later this week featuring a composition of a photo shooting, a stock image and a computer generated background – so stay tuned.


Does photoshop retouching cut the photo shooting cost was the question I asked in the beginning – and the answer I give is “NO”. Retouching is always some extra you have to add. It is an extra step you have to calculate in terms of time, planning and in the end costs. So avoid it as much as you can and if you can’t avoid it let your client know about it and charge him if appropriate.

3 Responses to “Retouching to cut photo shooting costs?”

  1. Alex Wise says:

    Last week we retouched a product photo for a customer where, besides the usual body improvement and total cosmetic retouching of the model, we changed her hair style, jewelry and the color of the background elements.

    • derfrankie says:

      The retouching of models has now become common use – I was refering more to products and location shootings.

      But I’m asking myself, did you have to use an existing photo to adapt it to a current style or was the photo a new one? On a new one I would hope that it would be appropriate to provide at least the hair style and the jewelry.

  2. Having served time in a post production sweatshop that did both the photography and the post production, I can attest to the truth of this first hand.

    The general rule for us was that 10 minutes of smart and well organized photography would save us at least an hour in post. The time involved would also be multiplied by how many shots you had for that shoot and how complicated the clean up was. The few minutes it would take the photographer to dust off and prep a product would save the post team an hour or more to clean it up in a high resolution image. And if you have 30 images to post with the exact same dust all over it… You get the idea.

    Final point: You can only improve an image so much in post, there really is no substitute for a well shot & well composed photo.