Do You Know the Difference Between Editing and Retouching?

I recently had a potential client contact me and ask whether or not I ‘retouch’ all of the images that I deliver. When I asked her to explain what she meant by retouching, her response was, “You know, touch them up? I had another photographer who told me they would deliver 600 to 800 ‘retouched’ images.” I quickly realized that this is a situation where semantics can lead to unrealistic expectations.

The terms ‘editing’ and ‘retouching’ are used quite often in the photography world, but can mean wildly different things. Some photographers even use them meaning the same thing, which can be very confusing to a couple getting married unless the photographer is specific about what they mean or unless you ask them to explain. So, in this post, I will explain what I mean by ‘editing’ and what I mean by ‘retouching’. After reading, you will have a better understanding of what the terms can mean (as I said, it can vary from photographer to photographer), so that you know what questions to ask so you understand what you will receive.

Editor’s Note: I’ve noticed a lot of traffic to this particular post for people looking for instruction on either photography or image editing / retouching. Please check out my website for that over at The Nerdy Photographerclick here to head over there. Or click the image below:

photography instruction

Or, if you need image editing software, click here or on the image below to check out this review of some great (and inexpensive) software I found.

alternative to adobe lightroom

Okay, now back to what to consider in the differences between editing and retouching when it comes to your wedding photos.


I edit every photo that I send to a client. To be specific, I correct for lighting/exposure and color temperature, crop the image if necessary, as well as adding my own ‘signature’ touches to the images. Let’s take a look at an unedited versus an edited photo.

Edited versus unedited images

Editing a photo, as I use the term, can take as little as a few seconds or a few minutes, depending on the desired effect. It may not seem like a lot of time, but when spread out over 800 to 1000 photos, it means hours and hours of work.

Extra Editing Credit – Culling

My first step in the ‘editing’ process is to cull the photos. This means I go through all of the pictures that were taken and determine which pictures will be delivered. While the percentage of photos I keep has increased over my years as a photographer, there are still the occasional shots that do not get delivered – someone stepped in front of my camera, everyone has their eyes closed, etc. etc – hey, sometimes things happen. If your photographer is not culling your images for you as part of editing then you will be left to sift through all of the pictures yourself. Also, if a photographer is not culling the images, it is probable they aren’t editing them either since one of the main reasons for culling images is so that you don’t waste time editing photos that will not be delivered.

Basic Retouching

When simple editing won’t do the trick, retouching begins. For me, basic retouching means up to 10 minutes of work on an image – removing blemishes, brightening teeth, smoothing skin, or even removing an unsightly wire…


I include basic retouching on any fine art prints a client orders or images included in a photo album.

Extensive Retouching

I usually only get into ‘extensive retouching’ for a handful of images per wedding or upon request from a client. This means things like removing a person from an image, compositing several images together, or completely changing the background of an image. Personally, I charge an additional fee for this type of work.


This type of retouching can take several hours of work to make sure you don’t notice it has been retouched.

In Conclusion

Every photographer’s definition of ‘editing’ and ‘retouching’ can mean different things. What is important is to be sure that you understand what your photographer will be delivering to you and what they mean. Hopefully, this post has given you a basis to start from in your discussion with your photographer.

Have Any Questions?

Here’s where you can tell me your questions or comments. I look forward to hearing from you!

self portrait

Ready to book?

Have questions? I can answer them for you.