Usually the person pulls up their website and scrolls through photos and looks at me like an oracle. As if there’s one truth, and I can share it with them.
But there’s not a single universal truth when it comes to retouching (other than that it should drive down your retouching cost). Your retouching guidelines, like your photography, should reflect and reinforce your brand.
That said, there are some fundamental retouching practices worth exploring. Building your retouching style guide on that foundation is a great place to start. At Pixelz, we’ve combined the essentials into different retouching packages you can select when placing an order.
Those packages are based on product type and shooting method: apparel on model, apparel flats, footwear on table, etc.
In this article, we’ll explore retouching essentials for apparel on-body (on-model or on-mannequin) product photography.
We begin with the garment itself. While there are differences between a dress, trouser, shirt, etc., the retouching approach is pretty similar: clean it up, reduce creases, address details, smooth the shape, and (if on-mannequin) make it symmetrical.
There are very few aesthetics that involve visible pins from styling, dust, loose threads, untidy stitching, or other extras you might term dirty or sloppy. Retouching can clean up that mess. Additionally, you can remove props and straighten crooked details like stitching and laces.
We’re not talking about dramatically changing the way a product looks. This is cleanup, not alteration.
Samples live a well-traveled life. They’re packaged, shipped, shelved, hung, and styled to fit differently sized models and mannequins.
One consequence of the sample lifestyle? Creases.
Retouching can smooth out creases, folds, and other wrinkles. Yes, we definitely still recommend ironing or using a steam wand prior to shooting, but retouching is more than a safety net. It can also enable your stylist to create a better fit with the knowledge a fold will be removed in post-production.
Sometimes the fit of a garment on-body isn’t quite perfect, or the shot requires propping that will need to be removed. Those details can be handled in post-production in order to create a consistent suite of imagery.
Are details obscured by props like hangers, wire, or hands? Recreate them.
Can you see the imprint of undergarments, nipples, or pockets? Remove them.
If a semi-transparent garment is a little too transparent under the photo lights, revealing more than normal wear will, use retouching to remove visible outlines. If edges are a little bumpy because a garment’s not hanging perfectly, you can smooth them while keeping natural shape.
Shape and Symmetry
Shape and symmetry are on-mannequin retouching techniques you can use to create extremely consistent imagery. While you could do it for on-model photography as well, it’s more commonly used with mannequin photography.
“Shape” pretty much means smoothing the outer edges of the garment. No shoulder nipples, bumps, bunching, etc. It can also mean matching the front and back of mannequin shots, or the shape of different color versions, to create a consistent swipe experience. “Symmetry” refers to symmetrical alignment across the body. Basically matching the pose on the left and right sides of the body.
Shape and symmetry go hand-in-hand with a detailed style guide. You can define the curve and shape of cuffs, waistbands, and hemlines. You can match the height of major points like neck, shoulders, armpits, sleeves, crotch, knees, and hems. You can even set the approximate width of the gap between sleeves and body, and match the width of the sleeves, torso, and legs on each side of the body.
What’s the point? To create extremely consistent imagery that you can produce extremely quickly.
Maintaining shape and symmetry makes it easier for shoppers to browse and compare products, and makes it an overall pleasing, professional experience.
If you’re shooting a lot of products across studios and days, shape and symmetry is highly recommended in order to maintain consistency and save styling time.
How you retouch models comes back to your brand and aesthetic, just like any other area of photography and retouching. Ask yourself: why retouch models at all?
The answer is almost always “to remove distractions and show my product at its best.” If you want to spotlight your product, you’re not trying to make the model the point of emphasis. Therefore, a good general rule of thumb is that less is more, and the more natural the better.
How do you make those tenets actionable? The way we think of it is that temporary blemishes can be changed, while permanent features should be unchanged.
For example, it’s fine to remove acne, goosebumps, scratches, eyebags, or rough skin. But it’s not okay to elongate legs, thin arms, enlarge eyes, raise cheekbones, or flatten curves.
For example, our basic model retouch package will even out skin tone using the face as a reference, so you don’t get red hands from poor circulation or arms that are notably more tanned than legs. We may soften and smooth skin, remove prominent moles (not all of them!), remove flyaway hairs, and clean up spot blemishes like acne or scratches.
But we’re not touching bone structure, and we’re not creating plastic Barbie skin. You don’t ever, ever want any aspect of your photograph to feel fake. And bad model retouching is one of the shortest paths to losing credibility and creating backlash.
How to get cost-effective retouching
If you’d like to scale up your image retouching without hiring a massive in-house team, Pixelz is built to end your bottlenecks. We’ve edited over 30 million product images for leading brands, retailers, and photo studios around the world (see what our customers are saying), and taken what we learned to create a user friendly online platform.
You click through a setup wizard with illustrated examples of retouching packages, and then you’re good to go. Pixelz Professional customers can upload 500 images a day with a “Next Morning” turnaround—that means images uploaded by midnight will be delivered by 8:00 a.m. the next morning. Try it free today!