Before & After: Retouching Exposed – Kyle

One of the most important skill for photographers to have in todays fashion industry is the ability to work with editing software and to retouch their photographs.  This can be a really controversial topic for a lot of people.  The ongoing debate is whether or not portrait retouching is building an inappropriate expectation of what women are supposed to look like and how it makes them feel.  (I would add men as well on top of just women.)

Regardless of how you feel, retouching exists in today’s world and is a very crucial part of fashion photography.  I have spent quite a bit of time learning how to retouch images professionally to a quality that you would be able to find in a magazine or other media.

The B&A posts, which stand for Before & After, are posts where I will be showing you all the image that I took straight out of my camera (the before) and then showing you the finished product that is then posted to my online portfolio on 500px and Tumblr (the after).

Sometimes the after images look MUCH different from the original and sometimes there really isn’t that much of a change.  To be honest, with my own workflow, it is more important for me to judge the image as it is taken and decide what I see for its future.  For examples, the images in this post were heavily edited, but you will see why further down in the post.  That doesn’t mean that every image I take needs to be strung through Photoshop for 4 hours in order to be portfolio ready.  Each image is unique and is telling a unique story.

This week I will be reviewing an image I took of a friend of mine, Kyle.  Kyle is a very fit man with great muscle definition and well sculpted features.  I spent a good month or two working on proper lighting for men and emphasizing muscles on the human body (which is actually pretty tricky) and Kyle was kind enough to let me practice on him.

For this specific photo shoot I wanted really dramatic, high contrast images that showed not only the muscle definition, but also I wanted to create a very masculine, tough feel to the imagery.

Lighting Setup: The image was taken with a white muslin backdrop about 7 feet tall and 10ish feet wide hoisted up on a backdrop stand.  I had steamed the backdrop in order to give a smoother background with fewer distractions from his body.  I then took one AlienBee Strobe (I like the B800’s) with a Medium Rectangular Softbox off the right of the camera pointed at him.  With the power up rather high and a high aperture I was able to create the high contrast I was looking for (I was probably somewhere between a 5:1 – 8:1 ratio).

Insert awesome drawing of setup here!

(Lol. I wish. I am the worst artist)

The Image:

In my opinion the image was shot well and properly exposed.  I liked how the light hit his chest and his abs to create nice lines which really emphasized the muscle that Kyle already had naturally.  The face pose is not my favorite, but he is just a friend, not a model, you can’t expect too much from people who are not models.

What came next after taking the image was trying to figure out just what I wanted to do to the image.  This is a really important vital part of retouching.  If I were to just take this image into photoshop and start altering it without a vision of what I wanted the image to become, then I would finish and honestly have a pile of garbage.  I knew that I wanted a very high contrast, moody, masculine image that took a great canvas and enhanced it even further.  I wanted more definition in the muscles, higher shadow/highlight contrast, evenly shaped muscles, and to fix the small imperfections.

With the vision in mind I was then able to start editing my image.  I will go through my workflow in another post at a later time.  For now I will just say that I made sure to get down to every single little detail of the image and made sure it looked EXACTLY the way that I wanted it to look when I was done.

After Editing:

As you can tell I made quite a few changes to Kyle’s body during the editing process.  However this was exactly what I was going for when I started the shoot.  I had a plan in mind from the beginning on what I wanted my image to look like exactly!

The Details:

  • Reshaped his face, especially his jaw.
  • Reshaped his neck line and shoulders.
  • Reshaped his biceps to make them more round and even.
  • Reshaped his left peck and filled in the shallow spot and hole in between his pecks.
  • Painted on shadows and highlights on chest and abs for greater definition.
  • Corrected color to look more natural.
  • Darkened the background to a truer grey.
  • Added a high contrast vignette for further masculine feel.

Before & After:

Now that you can see them side by side, can you tell the difference?

Overall I love the final product for this image of Kyle.  He has put in a lot of work to get his body to look the way it does and it was fun to use Photoshop to enhance those features he had been working on for so long.

What do you guys think?  Do you like the before or after better?  What would you have done the same or different in your own retouching workflow?

That is all I have for today.  For more examples of my portfolio please visit, or

Until next time, live your dreams and may passion never die!