Photo Retouching Tips and Tricks in Different Environments – Guest post by Rebecca Van Ommen

A lot of thinkingcountry readers enjoy taking photographs, especially in the outdoors, so when Rebecca Van Ommen approached me asking to publish the below I thought you might be interested.



There was a time when photography could only be done by professionals who had all the needed tools and spent years mastering the craft. Photography used to be a lot more complicated than it is now. There were only heavy and bulky cameras and painstaking hours spent in the darkroom before you could see how your photos turned out. It used to be a meticulous and painstaking process.

Today, thanks to the rapid rate of technological advancement, we can now produce photographs in seconds and with a single touch of our fingertips. With almost everyone owning smartphones with built-in high quality cameras, photography has become accessible to all. Now, there is no need to know how to develop photos inside a darkroom. In just a matter of seconds after clicking ‘capture’, you can already see your photo and even upload it on the internet for everyone to enjoy.

In this age of smartphones and social media, photography is no longer exclusive for the experts – and this is not to discount the skill and next-level know how and talent that professional photographers posses. Everyone can capture photos, even the 5-year-olds and the seniors who know nothing about technology. After all, it’s easy. All you have to do is teach them to position the camera and then click. That’s it.

However, there’s no denying that there is still a need for professional photography services. For your special occasions or ecommerce business, photographs and editing services by someone who simply owns a high end smartphone camera but does not know a thing about photography will simply not suffice. Photographs for these purposes require expertise and perfection. Images should be flawless from all angles. This kind of quality can only be achieved with professional photography skills and expert photo retouching.

Paper Boat Creative
Photo by the Paper Boat Creative

What is photo retouching?

Photo retouching is an essential part of producing professional photographs, and even the most talented and world-renowned photographers edit and retouch their photos.

Now that photography has drastically changed with the advent of smartphones and social media, so has the process of photo retouching. Much like the process of capturing photographs, photo retouching wasn’t as easy in previous years as it is today. In fact, photo retouching was a once considered a privilege, and only the richest and luckiest photographers had the opportunity to improve their photos. Aside from the long and complex process, it was completely done by hand with specialist equipment such as magnifying glasses, paints, gelatine, and brushes.

The development of Photoshop in 1987 transformed the process of photo retouching. However, during that time, only trained and educated professionals were able to navigate the photo editing software, not to mention that the software was expensive. Today, with the emergence of free photo editing mobile applications, anyone can enhance a photo by themselves in a matter of seconds.

These powerful mobile apps allow photographers and photo aficionados, alike, to improve and retouch their photos without having to buy expensive equipment or spend ample hours, on end, in front of a computer. Image retouching is now far more accessible and ease of use and more and more people are learning about photo retouching. Again, it should go without saying, however, that working with a professional will yield way better results.

According to a recent survey by Photoion Photography School, 68% of adults admitted that they edit their photos before sharing them on social media or letting anyone see the images. However, the catch is that 90% of these respondents retouch their photographs only using built-in and ready-to-use filters in mobile apps. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with using these convenient built in filters, it goes without saying that you will produce better results when you do more than just conveniently slap filters on your photos.

From having to edit your resume photo, editing your family vacation photos that turned out too dark, or removing that little blemish on your selfie, learning the basics of enhancing your photos is a valuable skill that you can utilize for any purpose, be it for personal, work, business, or just for fun.

Learning how to retouch your photos gives you a second chance to get your photos right. While we all strive to get the shot we want, not every photo we take will turn out the way we want and the ability to retouch the image allow us to make that happen.

In learning photo retouching, it should be noted that it is not a one-size-fits-all process. There are different ways to enhance your photos, largely dependent on the environment and setting they were shot in. Different photos call for different enhancements.

Here are retouching tips and tricks for photos that are shot in different environments.


Studio Images

Whether you’re dealing with product photos or with models, photographs that were taken inside the studio should require little enhancement.

  1. Clean up

If you’re dealing with product images for e-commerce purposes, the first thing you have to do is clean the subject. Make sure that there are no scratches and dust by cleaning it using the healing brush and clone stamp.

  1. Balance the colors

In order to make the colors pop and make the product more vibrant, use the curves adjustment tool so that the product will be balanced against the background.

  1. Precisely select the background

Use the pen tool in selecting the product. Make sure that you do this precisely and that all edges are included. Use a channel method to cut out the shadows from the original photo. This will make the photo look more realistic against its white background.



When you’re shooting outdoors, you get a lot of natural light. Take advantage of this by choosing the best time for a photo session. The first few hours after sunrise or before sunset, known as the ‘golden hour’, are considered to be the most desirable times for taking photographs, especially portraits. The golden hour will give your portrait’s subject a natural glow which you can further enhance by following these tips.

  1. Soften certain features

If you want to enhance your subject’s skin, don’t remove their existing lines, pores, and bags under their eyes. Instead, soften these features so they will not end up looking fake. You can do this by creating a new layer named ‘soften’ and with that, click on opacity and change it from the 100% default. Move the slider and decide which effect you like best.

  1. Adjust complexion

If you think the complexion of your subject in your photo is too red and can still be improved, create an adjustment layer and select the hue/saturation option. Change the option from Master to Red. Moving the slider to the left will remove the red in the skin and will make your subject look less ruddy.

  1. Retouch stray hairs

One of the downsides about shooting outdoors is that you cannot control your environment. If you happened to take your portraits during a windy day, chances are there will be stray hairs that you need to remove. Use the healing brush in Spot mode at a small size and brush over the stray hairs that you need to remove. You may also use the Clone Stamp tool for individual strands of hair.

Paper Boat Creative 2
Photo by Paper Boat Creative

Under the Sun

Shooting photographs under the sun can work. But many times, if the light is too harsh, the images can turn out overexposed. This happens when there’s too much light that entered through the lens when you took the photo. Follow these steps to easily correct overly bright and washed out photos.

  1. Adjust Shadow/Highlight

If you want a quick fix for this problem, you can use the Shadow/Highlight option. Go to Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Adjust the sliders accordingly until the photo doesn’t look too washed out anymore.

  1. Use Exposure Slider

This feature can take excess light out of your image. You can use this to adjust the overall brightness of your image. Remember that this feature affects your whole image so make sure to go slowly.

  1. Play with the Highlights Slider

The Highlights feature controls the brightest areas of your photographs. Adjusting this helps in fixing the details of your overexposed photographs.


Cloudy and gloomy weather

Shooting in cloudy and gloomy weather does not produce the best results. While you can still come up with great photos, they will definitely not look bright and vibrant enough. Through post processing, you can fix the gray areas and make your photos look livelier.

  1. Play with levels, curves, and hue/saturation

Basic adjustments on these features will give your photos a more vibrant look. Adjust these features until you get the right mix and until you’re satisfied with the colors. Make sure to not go overboard, though, as this will make the photos look unnatural.

  1. Apply lens flare

In order to further enhance the photos, you can apply artificial lens flares to the photo to transform the dull look of the images into a dreamy one.


Contrary to popular belief, enhancing your photos doesn’t mean that the raw photos are bad. Photo retouching is an essential part of telling an engaging story and creatively expressing yourself through photographs.

Paper Boat Creative 3
Photo by Paper Boat Creative


About Rebecca

Rebecca Van Ommen is the Executive Creative Director of Paper Boat Creative, a creative agency that specializes in high-end photo retouching, photo editing, and more. She was one of the youngest Art Directors for Getty Images in London. Her work has been published through some of the world’s largest advertising agencies including Mother, AKQA and BBDO London. Rebecca loves to exercise in her spare time. She also enjoys bringing her daughter to photoshoots for inspiration  

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