Do Photographers Retouch Their Wedding or Portrait Photographs?

December 19, 2019

Retouching wedding and portrait photographs have come a long way since I first picked up my digital camera in 2005. I was instantly sold on digital; I loved the instant gratification of not having to go to a lab and have the image processed. It was an incredible feeling to upload a photo onto my computer and retouch it.

Hours and hours of computer time was spent learning and refining my skills as a Calgary based professional photographer. With my new retouching skills I felt in 2005, that film was a thing of the past because of the film’s limitations. One had to scan the negative photograph and import it, thus creating more steps involved with retouching a film photograph. Whereas digital, there it was, you could retouch it, which brought on the evolution of photographers becoming a professional wedding and portrait retouchers.

So really, rather than give a definitive answer of YES or NO, I’m going to share with you more, way more about the process and what is involved.

If you want the quick answer, then yes, photographers retouch their wedding and portrait photographs, but to what level is another question worth exploring.

One quick question to you before you skim or scroll through this article. Can I ask you why you love a style of photography? Follow your gut and don’t fall into the trap of just looking online. Meet a photograph in person or via Skype. How does the photographer make you feel as if you’re happy with your choice of a photographer, then you’ll look happy in your photographs. Contact me if you have any questions. I’d love to hear from you.

Do Photographers Retouch Their Wedding or Portrait Photographs


Whatever camera you capture a photo on, it will provide you with a digital photograph. It is made up of tiny blocks called pixels. This isn’t new as newspapers have been using this process for years but in the print format. To many, the RAW data is usual unless they use a piece of software to process the image so many manufactures, especially phones, process an image and provide it as a JPG, so it’s usable and ready to share on social platforms. 

Digital has changed the way, and it’s genuinely remarkable, but many people believe the cost of digital is cheaper, but it’s not. Well, not for me anyway but I love what digital allows me to do.

Okay, you have a digital image and import it onto your computer and view it, store it, and likely never see it again until your hard drive is full, and you delete images because you’ve no more storage. Many professional photographers edit the files and provide clients with them spending hours behind a computer or sourcing out someone to edit them for them. It’s excellent, but editing must be treated as its specialty.

Personally speaking, I dislike the digital out of camera “look” very much. What is a digital look? It is when a photograph has been photographed in ie, RAW and basic sliders have been used, providing developed photos, and then stops there. From here for me in, i.e., Lightroom is when a photograph is further developed to imitate a film look that I love. 

Mom hugging her daughter at the Rouge Restaurant in Calgary


I’m a massive fan of film. I love film and provide my clients with a film look but shot in a digital format. Only now have we reached a level of professional-grade in digital processing can we process a digital photo to look similar to film. 

For those unsure about what film is, in short, here it is. A role of 24 or 36 (blank) film is loaded into a camera body, you take a photo, and one image of the 24 is used, and you continue until the role is finished. You can wind back and not use the entire role, but most people use all provided images. You then have that film developed by a lab or by yourself in a dark room. Images are shown as negatives, and from here, you decided to have a photo processed to be printed. Many labs provide small prints as proof. You can have a lab from the negative scanned to be seen as a digital photo. So the result is almost the same as shooting digital, but there are a few more steps involved. Why do people shoot film still is because of the nature of the film. It’s a look, a feel, a particular style, and you don’t have to develop it further ie, in a processing piece of software. Furthermore, certain films like Fuji 400H are more flattering on the skin, thus requiring less if non at all skin retouching. 

Off the shelf films. What is this? When you purchase a roll of 35mm, medium format, or large format film, you will do so as a type, be it Fuji, Kodak, etc. It’ll come in 400H, pushed, high-speed slide (transparent), and many others. This is something digital does NOT have, and photographers are consistently trying to emulate a film look.


Skin retouching is a huge part of digital photography. Magazines have stepped back from the plastic skin look to be more natural-looking and clean. This is my cup of tea. I love a clean look, but not over-processed. Taking away skin blemishes etc. is a beautiful thing as often people won’t have a pimple in a week, so why keep it when 99.99% of the time is not there. 

A makeup artist is the one person who is worth hiring for a portrait of a wedding as they’re able to complement most skin types, so minimal retouching is required. The one thing often people don’t think about is stress for a wedding day. If you want good skin, lower your pressure and possibly think about hiring a wedding planner.

Digital in the form of RAW provides a ton of detail. Even though many people edit in JPG, I prefer developing my image in RAW and then opening up that file in a PSD file and editing that developed image to clean up unwanted information, i.e., pimples. What is a developed image? It is a digital photograph or film photograph that has been “developed” into a look the photographer likes ie, the Fuji 400H look. I believe strongly in finishing a photograph in photoshop if needed, but to over-process, it is crazy as I’ll covering my Heirloom section below

Just know that film is more skin tone complimentary than digital when compared to each other’s box.

A bride looking to Mount Rundle in Banff National Park


A film-negative is comparable to a digital RAW file. A RAW image contains all of the information captured, but it’s like a dead image and looks flat until it’s developed. It is my preferred form way to capture a digital photo. 


You can tell your camera (on most professional cameras) to shoot in both RAW and JPG. You might think, why would I use JPG out of the camera? Great question. Well, a JPG has been processed in-camera to provide a “developed” and ready to use photo to share with clients or friends. It requires no more action to it if you wish to stop here. When shot correctly, a JPG is perfect, but photographs need to know there’s less information within a JPG file, so you have to shoot correctly as you won’t be able to recover information as it likely won’t be available. 

I personally shoot in RAW and process an image to completion and provide it to my clients in JPG. They’re able to use it, share it, print it, and it’s good to go. No film photographer would give the negatives from a film camera to a client, so this goes the same with RAW. There might be a few people who do give RAW images but often isn’t done as it’s like providing coffee beans to a client who wants a cup of coffee. Why give coffee beans when a person wants to enjoy a “developed” finished cup of coffee. It’s the same for photography. 

Over editing

You will hear a photographer say, “by editing a photograph, it allows me to bring out the full detail and possibilities of my photograph”. Well, rather than look back and not compare to film, let’s look at what this means. A film negative was developed in the darkroom, and then that image was individually dodged and burned to allow a photographer to bring out the detail in that photograph. Today, we do such things on a computer using similar tools in photoshop or Lightroom. But it’s to what level the photographer can now take that photograph, which I call over-editing. Many awards have been won by photographers who took a poor quality photograph out of camera and processed it and won an award. It’s a personal taste, but I dislike very much over-processed photographs. I want a photograph to look like the person in it and not a painting or a manipulated photo. What you have to decide on is what level of editing do you want your photographs to be or receive. 

For me, when I visit locations like Banff, Canmore, and gorgeous lakes such as Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, I would want those stunning locations to look as they do, STUNNING, so to over-edit photos is just wrong.

Editing Tools & Equipment 

To edit a photograph, the average cost of a wedding photographer has to invest in processing equipment knows as a fast computer and software. Lightroom and Capture One are the key pieces of software for developing photos. People often open photoshop to edit photographs to a level that is particular to that photographer or to remove a skin blemish. A Wacom tablet is often used for editing due to it’s sensitive and responsive editing abilities in editing tools. 


Editing portrait or wedding photographs is expensive. It is its own skill, and often people do think that digital is expensive. The average wedding photographer has no idea about such costs and is shocked after being in the industry for a few years how much everything costs. Editing is a known job in the world of retouching, and a talented editor will demand high rates due to the skill. 


When you look back at your photographs in 20 years, what do you want to see? Do you want to see an over-processed photograph that doesn’t look like you? Do you love the film look? Did the photographer you use to shoot for you or her/his awards to be a fad than an heirloom product for you? 

Photographs are meant to connect with you; you have to feel something when you see that piece of Wall Art or Heirloom Album. Do you not think? My clients love my clean photographs that have a connection between people. The provided photographs are finished in photoshop if required but no more.

Artwork hanging above a couch in a clients living room


Your skin is your skin. You have to think carefully about the type of photograph you want in the end and research the style of photographer you’d like. Over processed photos are a thing of the past (for me). I believe our trend is a natural-looking finished product that, to be honest, has been around pre-digital but often under-appreciated. 

A good photographer will work with a professional hair and makeup artist, allowing for a fantastic base to work from often providing people with minimal retouching. 

There are looks known as bold or as we see life photographs. I.e., the greens and blues that you see with your eyes turns out in print precisely that color. Often this style of photography is used as headshots as employers want to see you as you are and not a Fuii 400H Pushed look. So, there’s a time and place for all styles. Just make sure that you look into the look you want and hire the look for your shoot, be it a portrait shoot or wedding. 

I feel that most people want a moment to be captured, that means everything to them and then proceed timelessly. What do you think? Do you have thoughts on this? Let me know. Connect with me today.