Photography is as much a business as it is an art. Amid the myriad choices that shape a photographer’s journey, one pivotal decision looms large: pricing. For those straddling photography alongside another profession, striking the right pricing balance can be both an art and a science. Navigating my dual professional roles, I discovered that pricing isn’t merely a reflection of an image’s worth; it’s a strategic tool, ensuring equilibrium between passion, profession, and personal moments.

Every photographer’s journey is unique, yet we often tread common ground, especially when it comes to pricing. As a fresh face in the world of photography, I had a passion for capturing moments but a scant understanding of the business behind the lens.

When setting foot in the vast world of photography, the immediate instinct is to price low. This approach stems from a blend of humility, market assessment, and a desire to build a portfolio rapidly. For me, this strategy seemed flawless: I’d attract a clientele attracted by affordable rates, rapidly build my portfolio, and gradually increase my prices. And, for a time, it worked.

Getting Started

Life has a peculiar way of surprising us, leading us down paths we hadn’t anticipated. Such was my life as a PR manager at GE. One seemingly straightforward task—to find a professional photographer for our executives’ headshots—became a transformative experience. While the photos returned were technically impeccable, they lacked the vital element of capturing the essence of the subject. This revelation was a turning point, making me appreciate the intricacies of the art. As I delved deeper, I began to view photography as a powerful form of communication, akin to my PR responsibilities.


One of the first headshots I captured at GE

While the above headshot isn’t technically the best headshot, I realized I had an eye for the composition and could help serve a need in my local area of Richmond by providing actor headshots for the local acting community. So, I dove headfirst into YouTube videos on photography, learning the exposure triangle and some of the basics needed for headshots.

It was during these formative days of my photography journey that I confronted my first big hurdle: pricing my services.

The Dangers of Underpricing

While my “cheap” rates skyrocketed my bookings as word spread throughout the acting community, I soon faced a predicament. Overwhelmed with clients, juggling a demanding PR job, and spending hours commuting to work and to shoots, I was on the fast track to burnout. There was hardly any space for the things that mattered most.

Pricing wasn’t just about numbers; it was intrinsically linked to my quality of life. Every entrepreneur will tell you about the importance of work-life balance, but it’s the strategies you deploy—like pricing—that truly make it possible.

The Value Behind the Frame

Every photograph, every shoot, brings with it a plethora of costs – both evident and hidden. Beyond the tangible expenses of equipment, location, and post-processing, there’s the intangible yet invaluable cost of time, creativity, and energy. Recognizing this was my first step out of the “affordable” trap.

Transitioning to a pricing paradigm aligned with my evolving expertise and the actual value I offered was an uphill task. It demanded a shift not just in my rates, but also in my branding, marketing efforts, and the narrative I presented to prospective clients.

Delving into Pricing Psychology

Price Anchoring: This is when the first price a customer sees (the “anchor”) influences their perception of subsequent prices. My initial low rates set a particular expectation. When I decided to raise them, breaking that anchored perception was challenging.

Value Perception: Clients often equate price with value. Offering services at a very low price might unintentionally signal lesser quality or value, while higher prices can convey expertise and premium service.

Pricing Models Dissected

Understanding and choosing the right model for your photography business is crucial. Here’s a detailed look at the options I explored for my side-hustle-turned-six-figure business:

  1. Package-Based Pricing:
    • Pros: Streamlines decision-making for clients. Ensures a baseline revenue.
    • Cons: Too many choices can deter clients, and psychologically, they often come in expecting to leave with only the pre-agreed number of photos. Potential earning caps if clients adhere strictly to the base package.
    • My observation: Setting a fixed number of images in a package anchored client expectations. Selling additional images became challenging, even when they were genuinely valuable.
  2. Per Image Pricing:
    • Pros: Highly rewarding, especially with a polished sales strategy. Allows tailoring to different client budgets.
    • Cons: Requires adept sales skills and tactics.
    • My observation: The session fee plus image fee model I adopted from Tony Taafe’s TNT program offered a more profitable way and client flexibility. You can add image bundles at the time of sale to encourage the customer to purchase more images.
  3. Hourly Rate:
    • Pros: Guarantees compensation for all working hours. Transparent and straightforward.
    • Cons: Can deter clients wary of a mounting bill.
    • My observation: I discovered that an hourly rate often underrepresented my effort, particularly when intensive post-processing was involved.

Targeting the Right Audience: Aligning Price with Value Perception

One of the most crucial aspects of a successful photography business, or any business for that matter, is finding the right clientele. It’s not just about finding people willing to pay your prices, but about finding those who recognize and value the expertise, dedication, and unique perspective you bring to the table.

  • Research and Niche Identification: Begin by identifying your niche in photography, whether it’s corporate headshots, candid wedding photography, high-fashion shoots, or local actor portfolios. Once you have a clear understanding, dive deep into market research to understand the specific needs, preferences, and spending patterns of your target audience.
  • Positioning and Branding: Your brand speaks volumes. Every aspect of your branding – from your website design, portfolio presentation, to social media presence – should resonate with the kind of clientele you aim to attract. A luxury wedding photographer’s branding, for instance, would be vastly different from someone specializing in candid street photography.
  • Build Authentic Relationships: Networking plays a vital role. Attend industry-specific events, seminars, or workshops. Building genuine relationships can lead to word-of-mouth referrals, often bringing in clients who align well with your pricing strategy and value your work’s inherent worth.
  • Educate Your Potential Clients: Sometimes, the perceived value can be enhanced through education. Share behind-the-scenes glimpses, breakdowns of your post-processing work, or even snippets of your thought process during a shoot. This can help potential clients understand the hard work and creativity behind each photo.
  • Tailored Marketing: Utilize targeted marketing strategies, be it through social media ads, blogs, collaborations, or content marketing. Ensure that your marketing efforts reach those who are most likely to value and afford your services.
  • Quality Over Quantity: It’s tempting to cast a wide net, but remember, you’re looking for clients who see the value you offer and are willing to compensate fairly for it. It’s more rewarding, both financially and creatively, to work on fewer projects that truly appreciate your worth than to juggle numerous assignments that undervalue your skills.

In the vast sea of potential clients, it’s essential to find those who not only match your aesthetic vision but also recognize the value behind every click. By positioning yourself correctly and ensuring your efforts target the right audience, you can ensure a harmonious balance between your artistic vision and commercial viability.

Achieving Work Life Balance Through Pricing

For some, photography is a side business or a passion. But passions and side hustles can overwhelm you if not managed wisely. Strategic pricing was my way of ensuring I wasn’t consumed and I didn’t lose sight of my career in PR. By adjusting my rates and communicating value, I made space for myself. Instead of squeezing in every possible client, I started selecting projects that aligned with my vision and schedule. This meant I could reclaim my personal life: date nights, Braves games, culinary adventures, and all.

Power of the Value Conversation

When we discuss pricing, especially in a domain as personal and intimate as photography, the dialogue goes beyond mere monetary metrics. It encompasses an entire spectrum of value, from the palpable worth of the images to the intangible aspects that shape the experience. It was vital for me, and for any photographer, to recognize and communicate this spectrum to clients. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Monetary Value: This is the direct financial cost tied to the service, which includes equipment, studio rentals, post-processing software, and more. It’s the tangible aspect that most clients initially focus on.
  • Time Value: Every hour dedicated to a project is an hour away from other professional or personal pursuits. This includes the time spent in conceptualizing, shooting, editing, and even the back-and-forth communications with clients. My need to get back time prompted me to establish a studio environment in my home.
    • Personal Time: Time away from loved ones, hobbies, and personal growth.
    • Professional Time: Time that could have been invested in other projects, upskilling, or even the primary career, especially for those balancing photography with another profession.
  • Experiential Value: The client’s experience from the first interaction to the final product delivery. It encompasses the ease of communication, the comfort during the shoot, the efficiency in post-production, and the joy in the final reveal.
  • Emotional Value: The innate ability to capture not just images but emotions, stories, and moments. It’s about the feeling an image evokes every time a client looks at it.

Through these layers of value, the conversation shifts from a mere transactional exchange to a holistic understanding of the service’s depth and breadth. It was essential for me to frame my services not just as photos delivered but as a comprehensive experience enriched with dedication, expertise, and personal investment. By communicating these varied facets of value, clients could appreciate the entirety of the work involved and form a deeper, more meaningful connection to both the process and the final product.


One of my most recent headshots

Pricing as a Tool for Growth

Your pricing strategy is a testament to your growth as a professional and individual. It should reflect your evolving skills, ambition, and the personal life you envision. As you navigate your photography journey, remember that your prices aren’t just tags on a service; they’re markers of the life you wish to lead, the value you offer, and the balance you aspire to achieve.

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RIP Photography, 1839-2023.

After a solid run of nearly two whole centuries and countless brushes with death at the hands of new technologies over the years, photography has finally succumbed to injuries suffered with the emergence of AI-driven apps like Midjourney, and has been officially laid to rest.

No services will be held.

All major camera manufacturers have responded to the news by shuttering their operations, effective immediately, in the anticipation that cameras will simply not be needed anymore.

In its effort to hasten the demise of photography, AI has begun rounding up photographers and forcing the forfeiture of all camera equipment.

Ok, I’ve had my bit of fun. All jokes aside, though, I’m writing this opinion piece specifically because for the last six months or so, I can’t seem to get away from the incessant deluge of either panicked or gleeful declarations (depending on who is doing the declaring) that AI image generators have already all but rendered the need for photography obsolete.

Well, allow me to go on record with my own pronouncement: hogwash. AI image generation is not a threat to photography. Not today, not tomorrow, not in the next decade. I’ll even go so far as to say that AI image generation will never pose any kind of real threat to photography. Ever. I’ll even stake my reputation on it.

“But Colin,” you might say, “look at how far the technology has already come in just this short amount of time. Surely, you understand that this is just the beginning and that AI will very quickly be able to perfectly render any kind of image and be indistinguishable from an actual photograph. What then? Why would we need actual photography anymore?”

My answer to that depends on the context, as well as the timeframe we’re talking about, but my thoughts go generally like this:

As of now, AI image generators simply are not capable of fully duplicating the aesthetics of actual photography. And no, it’s not even close. AI-generated images are illustrations, and they look like illustrations, even the ones sourced from actual photos. And yes, I’ve seen all the dreamy dramatic landscapes and cityscapes and the headshots of people who don’t exist. It really doesn’t take much to see that the images are not photos. The scenes are always a little too perfect. There’s always a glaring detail in the portrait that gives it away as an AI illustration. Seriously, I have not seen a single AI image that was not obvious. And I’ve seen enough.


Welcome to your AI dream world.

But what about a little further out, when AI is capable of rendering images indistinguishable from actual photos? If anyone can just enter a prompt on their computer and within seconds have the photo they’re looking for, why would they hire a photographer? After all, photographers are expensive, people can be difficult to work with, and there is always the chance that a photographer won’t get it right.

Ok, let’s imagine a future where AI can make any kind of art, including convincingly realistic photographs. Presuming that, in this imagined future where computer algorithms are capable of fulfilling all of our artistic needs, the idea that people will have no interest in actual photography completely ignores one of the most fundamental purposes art, and by extension, photography, serves in our lives. Photography is a means to record and relate the human experience in an authentic way and through authentic human expression. AI cannot do that and will never be capable of doing that. Because AI will never be human. And before you say that AI is just doing what the person inputting the prompt tells it to do, and that human expression is still driving AI creativity, consider that once the prompt has been entered, what comes out is entirely outside of the control of the person who entered the prompt.

Human expression is as much about the process of creation as it is the creation itself. Artists spend their entire lives developing and refining artistic processes to bring their vision to life, and the art that comes out of those processes cannot be divorced from them. Process is part of the language of art, and as such, is intrinsic to the value of art, and is why art speaks to us in the ways it does. To the extent that you remove human control from the process of art-making, you remove the actual humanity from the art itself. And AI art, by its very nature and purpose, removes most of the human control part of the process.

More than that, though, people just plain enjoy making photographs. Much like the invention of photography didn’t replace painting (even though there were plenty of people claiming it would), AI cannot and will not replace photography because it is not the same thing. AI art is closer to illustration than anything else, and so, it can be used in conjunction with photography, but it can’t replace it. Here’s a short list of other forms of art AI will not be replacing anytime soon: painting, drawing, sculpture, graphic design. Why? Because people actually enjoy doing those things and sharing their creations, and other people enjoy experiencing them. Of course, AI art creation is here to stay and has already become a part of many people’s artistic toolboxes, but in no way whatsoever will AI be replacing the other tools. And this includes photography.

As for context, one of the bigger and more consistent claims that I’ve heard is that AI is going to make any kind of commercial artists obsolete, including commercial, product and advertising photographers. I will concede one thing here. I do think AI will be used to replace the lowest level of commercial photography and that some lower-end companies will try to completely replace their advertising images with AI art. But, in the U.S. where I work at least, those jobs are already the worst in the industry and have been since basically the beginning. Nobody wants them, and these days, that kind of work tends to farmed out to interns, amateurs, and other unskilled people, if it’s even done here.

But, to the idea that AI is going to be used to get rid of even relatively high-end commercial photography? Not a chance. I talk with art directors, creative directors, producers, and art buyers on a regular basis, and none of them are talking about replacing photographers with so-called “prompt engineers.” Nobody is even entertaining the idea, because, as I said already, they enjoy the process of making art and know its value. And yes, a lot of artistic expression goes into the advertising we all so desperately try to ignore. After all, where do you think all the art majors end up? Working on big ad campaigns, including the photoshoots is fun. Yes, it is also work for those of us who make our living doing them, but we chose that work because we love it. And we’re not about to give that up to AI.

So no, AI is not going to replace photographers. Ever. Not advertising photographers, not landscape photographers, not portrait photographers or event photographers, and certainly not photojournalists and documentary photographers. More than that, though, AI has no chance of replacing the enjoyment that people get from simply making art with photography or capturing memories and preserving life’s special moments. Those are things that belong to the camera and the camera alone. And if you need any more convincing, go ask the R&D folks at any of the major camera manufacturers. I guarantee they’re not at all worried about their jobs.


Colin Houck is a commercial photographer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His work is focused primarily around still life food and beverage photography. He employs crisp lighting, vivid colors and contrasty, sharp detail to create striking imagery that jumps off the page/ screen, and hopefully makes the viewer hungry and thirsty.

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Photographers understand that marketing is essential to attracting new clients and growing their business. However, marketing strategies are constantly evolving, so what worked in the past isn’t always going to work in the present or future. In this article, we will share three photography marketing tricks and hacks that actually work based on our 12-plus years of experience operating a successful multi-shooter studio!

The list of marketing strategies for photographers is extensive and includes topics like social media (Instagram, short-form video for TikTok and IG Reels, Pinterest, etc.), paid advertising (Google ads, Facebook ads, etc.), SEO (search engine optimization), conventions and bridal shows, online directories, and more. In this article, we’ll focus primarily on referral marketing and save the other topics for subsequent articles.

Note: This education is directly from our free one-hour masterclass called “3 Steps to $100K More.” If you’re interested in learning more about amplifying your business with more leads, more revenue per client, and higher sales conversions, we encourage you to register here.

1. Make Viral Sharing Effortless

With any shoot, deliver teaser images the same day to the clients and the other vendors involved in the shoot, along with clear permissions, instructions, and even tips to make sharing more likely and more impactful.

Most photographers share images with the vendors and clients after they’ve culled and processed all of their images, which can be weeks or even months after the shoot. But by then, much of the hype and interest has cooled off. Sharing the same day or within a few days multiplies the distribution of the images and turns each person involved in the shoot into a marketing engine for your brand. This works for almost every type of shoot, from wedding, to family, to event photography.

Action Steps for Image Sharing

To implement this strategy, follow these steps:

  1. Rate your best images throughout the shoot.
  2. Using Lightroom Mobile and Lightroom Presets, edit a set of teaser images from your “starred” images during a break or shortly after the shoot.
  3. Send the images over to the clients and the other vendors from the shoot, such as the stylist, florist, designer, event planner, the venue/location manager, and more.
  4. Along with the images, include clear permissions for them to use the images on their own social media, asking them to tag you when they share or link to you if they use it on their website. (More on SEO in the masterclass).
  5. You might even go a step further and provide full shoot/vendor credits, sample captions, or event tips for the best ways to post. These can streamline the process and help you maximize your visibility.

2. Create Same-Day Slideshows

If you’re photographing an event, such as a wedding, Bar Mitzvah or other party, then a same day slideshow is one of the best marketing hacks to help you get more referral business.

At the event, show 20-30 of your favourite images from earlier moments of the same event with an iPad, laptop, or even projected onto a display (if the DJ can do this). Next to the presentation, place some of your business cards. Of course, get approval from the client and event coordinator prior to doing this. With a great set of images, this simple strategy can supercharge your referral business.

Think about this. Every event you photograph is filled with guests in the same life stage, age range, and target audience as the actual client. The problem is that most photographers never end up getting their work in front of these people because by the time the images are delivered and shared, often weeks later, very few people see them. To solve this problem, we started showing same day slideshows.

Every same day slideshow we create generates at least two to three additional clients that are sold and ready to book! It’s literally one of the best marketing tools, and it’s also a rock star move that makes the clients ecstatic when they see the images. Create buzz at every event you photograph!

Action Steps for Same Day Slideshows

The process is similar to the teasers mentioned above.

  • During the event, star your favourite images on your camera.
  • Once you have a moment of downtime, transfer those favourites to your phone via your camera’s Bluetooth/wireless app.
  • From there, load them into Lightroom Mobile, and add a quick pre-set. For all of our work, we use Visual Flow Presets.
  • Then, with the images in Lightroom, just click the slideshow icon.
  • If possible, send the images to a DJ to display on the projector.
  • When streamlined, the process can take as little as 15-30 minutes from start to finish. On a busy day, if available, have an assistant work through the process.

3. Use Styled Shoots and Giveaways

Next, let’s talk about collaborative styled shoots. In between your paid jobs, put together a list of your favourite vendors for a styled shoot concept. These vendors are other businesses that match your ideal target audience in terms of location, demographics, age, etc. They need imagery, and you need a network, so it’s a win-win situation!

The styled shoot concept can be a chance to play and create images for you and your vendor team rather than doing what clients want. Nothing new so far, right? But here’s the hack. Instead of models, find real-life “models” with a social media giveaway. How you run the giveaway is entirely up to you, but just check with the social media platform’s terms and conditions. Use this as an opportunity to grow your social media presence and engagement. And by using actual real-life models, you have a great chance of converting the entrants or even the selected models into real-life clients.

Action Steps for Collaborative Styled Shoots

  1. Come up with an interesting concept to pitch to a group of vendors (makeup artists, florists, venues, designers, planners, etc.).
  2. Pitch the concept and gather your team! Be very clear on the expectations and timing.
  3. Determine the entry rules and methods. You can use a third-party giveaway plugin like Gleam.io or just stick to something simple, like using the native tagging and commenting systems of each platform.
  4. Create a marketing image for each vendor to share. This is super easy using consumer design software like Canva.
  5. Require all of the collaborative vendors to announce the contest on their social media accounts at the same date and time.
  6. Select the winner and execute the shoot!

Benefits and Results

Do this right, and let’s talk about all the things you’ll get:

  • Tighten up vendor relationships.
  • Provide 50+ awesome final images that could be used for websites, portfolios, etc.
  • Create content for the blog and for multiple SEO-based articles, which we’ll discuss in other articles.
  • Provide 50+ images for social media that can be published over time as you see fit.
  • Practice new techniques and create new conceptual work.
  • Grow your social media accounts.
  • Get more referrals from the vendors involved in the styled shoot.
  • Convert the entrants and winners into clients.

As you can see, collaborative styled shoots are one of the best ways to check every box through a single shoot!


Even though marketing and technology changes constantly, referral marketing will always be one of the best (and easiest) ways to convert and grow your business! We hope these three articles and the action steps listed above will help you do just that!

In future articles, we’ll review more marketing hacks, tips and secrets such as SEO, short-form viral marketing, directories, and more. If you’re interested in more information, please see our full one-hour free masterclass on ways to add $100K more to your photography business.

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In a world looking for more honesty and truth, one element of photography has become more and more pervasive. As the list of companies going “retouching free” grows, we are forced to take a step back and take a look at the practice. Is retouching really the problem it is perceived to be?

Let’s play a little memory game. I want you to think of the face of someone close to you. Now, what are you seeing? Their jawline, eye color, nose shape, and maybe their smile. Are you thinking of the open pores on their face? Their poor makeup application? Or the pale white hairs on their cheeks? No? Then why should their photos reflect that?

Retouching, in many cases, is about bringing back what you actually see. Whether it’s the lighting or the cameras we use, there are many reasons why retouching is a necessary tool; yet, we’re being told that this is the reason why many people are having confidence issues. In this article, I will try to dispel this idea and suggest what might be the bigger issue with advertising.

Cameras Aren’t Telling the Truth

Here are two photos. This is what my camera thought was right. Are these photos telling the truth? No. The model on the left isn’t this orange, the model on the right wasn’t this soft. These were what the camera thought was correct with zero adjustments. Why should we leave it up to cameras to tell us the story we’re trying to tell? Even when you shoot JPEG or shoot with your phone, it’s basically making automatic adjustments that aren’t real. There’s nothing natural or perfect with what your camera is doing. Even now with cameraphones, there’s artificial sharpening and HDR being included that add to what your eyes don’t see.

These ones are specifically poor due to the use of studio lighting, but that doesn’t make this point any less true. There are many issues that cameras can’t adapt to, like multiple lighting sources with different color temperatures and in some cases, how lighting affects people of varying skin tones.

Camera Sharpness Is Insane Now

This goes along with the last point. We are getting to a place where our cameras are giving us maybe a little too much definition. Back in the film days, nothing was this defined; you weren’t seeing pores like we are now. With the way film was processed and the specific tones you’d get, we were seeing moments. It was much easier to look past the photo’s little details and see the image for the story it was trying to tell. Snapshots with disposable cameras allowed you to capture a moment, but that’s not what we’re seeing now. With today’s technology, we’re capturing visually accurate representations of what is happening.

Unless your family had a really nice SLR, you didn’t see or care how sharp a photo was. You just hoped in those 24 frames there was at least one where everyone’s eyes were open.

This is why I have no problems with people using filters and softening skin in their photos for Instagram. They’re making it less about them and more about the moment. With a photo today, you have so much time to dissect every element of a person. If you want to isolate someone’s looks, you can do that, even though you would never do that when you’re seeing a person real-time. But in the days of extreme sharpness, you’re seeing a new level of definition that’s more than we’ve ever needed for public consumption.

Looking back, a great comparison to this would be the switch to HD in 2008. The television and makeup industries had to change to accommodate the new technology. On-screen personalities had to adapt to the new level of sharpness that their viewers would be seeing. This was especially challenging for middle-aged adults, as outlined by Michael Ventre. Many makeup artists and production teams were very worried about how wrinkles, poorly maintained skin, and bad makeup would look after the transition.

Just remember, this was also 12 years ago. Think about the advancements we’ve made since then. Skincare and makeup application have only become more important because of 4K.

Studio Lighting Isn’t Natural

Compare a photo of yourself taken in your bathroom with those crappy, small bulbs above your head and then one from a cloudy day outside. You’ll notice a big difference in how your face and skin texture look in both. This is the same problem with studio lighting compared to natural light photography.

What you need to understand is skin is very thin; by using very powerful flashes, you’re showing everything that’s underneath and magnifying every little pore on your face because of the distance and angle of the lights. It’s like shining a light through a piece of paper: you’re going to see what’s printed on the other side. This is great for creating sharp, consistent photos, terrible for giving an accurate representation of what you look like. For most people. your pores aren’t what people are looking at or even notice. Why should that be the most defined characteristic on your face when your photo is taken?

None of these little hairs on the face matter for the final image. Why should they stay?

Outdoor lighting diffused by clouds or even a large scrim will be softer on the skin, and instead of harsh pores, you will get a softer texture. This doesn’t mean acne and pores won’t show up; they’re just not as extreme — a big difference compared to studio lighting, but really dependent on the day and available light you have.

Things like pores, uneven skin, and little hairs might all be a part of you, but they are only magnified and intensified under studio conditions. In any normal situation, those are characteristics that no one knows or cares about, so why should they be in your photos?

Marketing Is About the Product and Not the Person

Here are two photos from an outdoor fashion story. If I were to describe these as portraits, I’d say this is X and she is wearing a Gap top. If these were an advertisement for Gap, I’d say this is a Gap top modeled by X. Do you see the difference in this? The subject in the first description is the model; in the second, it’s the top.

In advertising, the subject is almost always the product being sold. Everything else surrounding the product is there to complement it. You want the model to be the demographic for the top, and you want the location (or background color) to complement the top. Anything there that doesn’t emphasize the top is a distraction. This can be anything from removing a scar to replacing a face that doesn’t match the mood of the rest of the faces in the group.

So, why is this important? If this was a beauty campaign for a hair product, how do stray hairs help emphasize the product? How do nose hairs and acne help emphasize the real subject, the hair? They don’t. This is why they are removed. If this was a portrait, I would care less about imperfections.

I also shoot headshots, and when I do, I don’t retouch them anywhere near my beauty work. Most of the time, I just have to remove stray beard hairs, nose hairs, redness, and acne, as they aren’t permanent to the subject and only distract from the final photos. I try to make it a realistic interpretation of the person and remove anything that takes away from that.

In my beauty work, I try to make it the best interpretation for the product. I understand the problem people have with this idea; I’m making what many see as unattainable skin for people. I just don’t see it that way. Going back to what I said previously, I’m making the people look like they would if you saw them any other time in public. Those little white hairs under the lip, you will never notice those on anybody unless you’re inspecting them with a magnifying glass. You’ll never be inspecting the texture of someone’s skin by looking at their pores. So, why should you see that in the photos? When people see you wearing the product or you’re looking at someone with the product, you’d never see those small details.

Good Retouching Isn’t That Noticeable

Normal people don’t know what retouching is. For many, the practice of retouching still means airbrushed skin and overbrightened eyes. I wrote about how not everyone looks at photos like a photographer; what I mean is we all have our own perspective and toolbox of knowledge that change how we see a photo. When it comes to the end consumer, they’re not seeing the dodge and burn work or what was actually removed. All they see is a beautiful woman on the cover of a magazine, and they compare that to what they saw in the mirror with the terrible lighting that morning.

The reality is a lot less grim: most retouchers these days are trained in retaining skin texture. Look at Julia Kuzmenko’s work. You’ll see the texture of the pores and skin still intact. The days of blurry skin and too much frequency separation are coming to an end. Some people are still learning from rogue YouTube educators, but most retouchers these days doing actual work are keeping the texture.

You can see the skin texture in the highlights come through and the skin isn’t blurred into oblivion.

Unfortunately, just like influencers, you only hear about retouching when it’s linked to something bad. Anytime someone tries out a retoucher from Fiverr, it becomes a story that reflects on the entire industry, even though those retouchers would never be anywhere near any actual commercial work. This goes for any viral retouching story; they don’t reflect the actual industry.

The Dark Side of Retouching

So, here’s the part where we talk about body modifications. Things like shaving off pounds with the Warp tool are obviously a different story than what I’ve been talking about. When you retouch a normal-sized model into a toothpick, you’re setting terrible standards that do negatively affect many women in society. At that point, you’re no longer enhancing the look the model already has; you’re now pushing the boundaries of reality.

Are there any times when body modifications are okay? Some. I do it fairly frequently to fix a hunched back or shoulders that are too high in a photo. This isn’t me lying to the general public about the model, just making the photo look more natural with something I didn’t achieve in-camera from a posing mistake.

Models Will Always Be the Best Versions of Us

To be a successful model, you need to have great skin and confidence in front of a camera. It doesn’t matter if they’re a toothpick or a curve model, they all have some type of extensive health and wellness routine that keeps them fresh and ready for whatever the shoot entails.

Great skin means continuity and less time in post-production. So, even if you don’t edit the photos, they will still most likely be much less attainable than a retouched photo. Do models still get acne? Of course, but they are doing everything they can to reduce the chance of it, because that’s their job. What’s great about Instagram and IG Stories is you’re now getting a much more detailed look behind the scenes than ever before. Many models will talk about their skincare routine and daily workouts.

As for confidence, they need to be able to do the job, whatever that means that day. Sometimes, that means having a great fake smile or being able to give the exact face and pose a photographer is asking for. When it comes to beauty, every little movement matters, so a model needs to be able to make those slight adjustments and dissociate from the idea that what they’re doing is unnatural.

When I shoot headshots and portraits with nonprofessionals, you can sometimes see the gears turning in their head on how they think they look. They don’t trust me or the camera at first. They are already thinking of how terrible it’s going to be, and that shows in their face. It takes time to gain that trust, and sometimes, it never happens. With a model, it’s basically instant.

This is why there will always be a difference between professional photos and selfies. Models have great skin, great lighting, and all the confidence. Unless you plan on starting a four-step skincare routine every night, having a rigorous gym schedule, and you enjoy being in front of a camera, you won’t be like a model. And this isn’t even getting into the intangibles like defining genetic characteristics that make you stand out.

Should we be removing these things so people feel equal? Of course not. Advertising is all about creating a moment and idea that catches your eye. They want you to feel something. They want you to look at the photo and see yourself in the model laughing and smiling while eating Ben & Jerry’s. They want you to use their volume-enhancing mascara, so you can have eyelashes as defined as the model who was specifically picked for their already-incredible eyelashes.

What Should We Do?

I want to acknowledge that I don’t think the way we advertise is perfect by any means; I just don’t think the issue to focus on is retouching. Look at who is on the cover of every magazine. It’s thin, beautiful women, and they are usually only white or black. I truly believe more inclusion of all races and sizes is more important than seeing mustache hairs in a photo. We want to see ourselves in these photos, and for many, that’s just not always the case.

I do think it’s getting better, especially on the commercial end. We’re seeing more of everyone when we go to large retail markets and in subway cars, but it can still get better. As we create more opportunities for everyone, we create an image for young people that lets them know they don’t have to look exactly one certain way to be beautiful. There are people that look just like them that are able to be in magazines and star as leading roles in movies.

At the End of the Day, People Just Want to Be Seen

When you hear people talk about what they don’t like in advertising, it’s always: “I’ll never look like that.” When a large portion of advertising uses models who all look exactly the same, you’re going to create self-conscious people, especially in the digital age when we have access to hundreds of photos and advertisements a day. By showing a more diverse group of models in all areas, you’ll find people will start seeing themselves more in the ads they see.

For many, this just isn’t the case currently. As a white male, I don’t know what it’s like to just not have a place in media, but as we see actors like Pedro Pascal and Awkwafina get more prominent roles, we see how that affects people with similar backgrounds. So many stories have been written about people finally seeing themselves in places like Star Wars or in these box office hits like Crazy Rich Asians. When I see these stories, I’m able to sort of understand what it must be like to not see that in everyday life.

Final Thoughts

Retouching is a practice that means many things to many different people. My definition might not be the same for you or someone else. But for me, it’s about keeping what matters in a given context and removing all unnecessary distractions. It’s also an incredibly complicated process that is tough to keep to one definition, especially for the general population. This is why it is bound to be misunderstood and distorted, because there’s no proper meaning.

The purpose of this was to give reasoning for the practice to be around. This doesn’t mean we can’t do better. There are always opportunities for growth and change in all aspects of life; just because I think something is right doesn’t mean what I’m doing is perfect or justified. I will be interested in seeing where the industry goes from here; I’m just hoping we don’t make reactionary changes that drastically affect the work released today.


Sourced from Fstoppers


I had a nice chat with my buddy Don Dillonthe other day, and this was one of the big takeaways:

Once you’re a good photographer with a substantial body of work, NOW WHAT?

Meaning — what are your next steps in your photography? Some simple ideas:

  1. Use Adobe Sparkto make a dynamic website/portfolio of your best work. Then share the link with friends and family and ask them: “How do the photos make you feel?” Then add testimonials to the page.
  2. Publish your photographs as an “e-magazine” (digital magazine) by using iBooks Author (video tutorial)
  3. Use Adobe InDesign to create a print book layout, and send the PDF file to a local printer, to make a ‘zine’ (magazine) of your work. Start by printing 20 copies, and distributing them to friends and family for free. Based on their feedback, try to sell them to your followers for $19.95 each afterwards.
  4. Start blogging about your photographic experiences and life experiences. To keep it simple, signup on wordpress.comand start blogging! The secret: your blog posts don’t need to be “good”. Just make them honest, fun, and share your works in progress.
  5. Get your photos printed: I recommend contacting my buddy Brian Milo at [email protected](read my interview with Brian on the art of printing). I personally like printing my photos 8×12 inches as an optimal size.
  6. Continue to build your following: Start an email newsletter via Mailchimp.com(what I use here) and keep your followers updated with your progress.
  7. The rolling stone never gathers moss: Keep on rolling. The purpose is for you to keep making photography FUN! (Don’s idea). As long as you’re having fun in photography, you’re doing all the right things!


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Sourced from Eric Kim Photography