I often get asked about my retouching techniques. I believe that in retouching, just like any other art form, there’s a million ways to do the same thing. Even with hours of practice and learning there’s no “one size fits all" solution to apply in retouching. Every image, model, garment is different, so we need to approach retouching in different ways.
Over the years of doing this I've also realized that while knowing the basic tools and techniques are important, it's even more important to develop your artistic eye and find your own style - what I'd call aesthetics. Every artist needs to learn the basics, but once you have a good understanding of how your tools work, you can start to focus on seeing your style emerge. And this takes hours after hours of practice just like any other art form.
Let’s jump in to equipment and software required before for technical retouching. Here's what you'll need:
Tablet - I personally prefer Wacom Intuos Pro
A good monitor (generally Mac monitors are ok but if you can afford to buy EIZO that would be nice)
Monitor Calibrator - I prefer X-rite
Keyboard with Number Pad - makes it easier to adjust in Photoshop
Photo Mechanic - not a need but would be nice to have one
Capture one / Lightroom - photo processing software
It’s easier to learn retouching if you have a photography background with an understanding of lighting. If you think about it, texture is created and affected by light. In retouching, we are concerned with manipulating the highlights and shadows as components of light that affect texture.
While anything is possible with photoshop, having a great image canvas to start with is always better. You don’t want to be wasting 5 hours of your time removing a strand of hair that could have been avoided by simply fixing the hair before taking the shot! I've made the mistake of saying “I’ll fix that in post later.” Taking 3 seconds to arrange the subject the way you want in person can save days of fixing it in post. Trust me, I've been there.
You'll also want to make sure that you retouch with raw files. Raw files contain more details, and often you'll need to manipulate these “details” while retouching.