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.

But before we get into all of that, I’ve noticed a lot of traffic to this particular post for people looking for instruction on either photography or image editing / retouching. I’ve created an entire other website for that over at The Nerdy Photographer – click here to head over there.

photography instruction

Or, if you’re looking for image editing software, click here 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. If you have any questions about this topic, please leave them in the comments section!

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Daniela Castellarin

Thanks Casey for sharing this useful information!

Editing, is to reduce the number of images in a set, down to an acceptable selection, for further editing. Those images that make the cut go on to be “retouched” or “manipulated”. Photo editing may be vague in some circles but it is clear to me what it is. If it used by so many as a universal word for , retouching, manipulation or digital adjustments then perhaps we should drop it altogether?

“Also, if a photographer is not “editing” the images, it is probable they aren

You can see how that might confuse people who have no idea what ‘editing’ means? When a wedding photographer tells a couple they will ‘edit all of their photos’ that can mean a lot of different things. So, it is important for a couple to find out what their photographer means. 🙂

In photography, “editing” means going through all of the images and selecting the best ones and removing the bad ones. Plain and simple. The Photo Editor at a magazine does not take the picture and he does not retouch it. He simply picks the best photos for the layout and article. Hence, the origins of the word are important here.

Editing or culling is the process of taking a larger amount of images and narrowing it down to the better images. For example: A wedding may have 3000 images. But many of those pictures taken are test shots. Part of the creative process in photography is professional play. Retouching, is adding or taking away something from the image that didn’t exist. For example, taking a blemish away, thinning out arms or legs, adding a plant to cover up a trash can, moving a smile from one picture to another.

Excellent post. Retouching contains all the services like dust & spot removing , blemishes removing, pimples removing from the weeding images & only basic editing means make the image more bright & enhance it with white balance. Thank you.

Article is spot on! although I would probably just call basic retouching “retouching” since you already have Extensive labeled differently. That may be what confuses them. By that I mean, I let my clients know there is “retouching” and then there is “extensive retouching”. this way if i ever use the term “retouching” by itself, it can never be confused with extensive. if you use basic and extensive and somehow you use the term retouching in conversation or an email that might cause the confusion.Just something to think about. Great article though.

[…] the differences of editing and photoshopping (or “retouching” as he calls it). In his

[…] a great website link on the differences between retouching and editing.

Can photo retouching remove glaring scars on your face? My scar is on my neck

Ken, it would really depend upon the scar. The severity and size of the scar can determine how naturally it can be retouched.

Thanks! I really was wondering what “retouching” was. Take care casey.

You explain the things clearly. It would be helpful for all retouch-er to understand the clients the difference between retouch and editing.

Thanks. I think that photographers and retouchers don’t often consider that clients don’t necessarily know what they’re talking about when they say “I’m going to edit your photos.” A lot of people will think “Oh, you’re going to Photoshop every picture?”

[…] Ejemplo de imagen editada a la que se aplican algunos ajustes de niveles (Foto: Casey Fachett Photography) […]

As per my opinion, Photo editing is making any change in the photos. In includes resizing, cropping, color correction, removing background, etc. Photo retouching is also a part of photo editing. But, photo retouching is basically used to make a photo more glamorous. It is mostly applied to wedding photos, fashion photos, event photos, etc. Product photography also takes small photo retouching.
However, in short, what will you say Casey??

I think that it depends on what the photographer means when they say either, and that’s the point I tried to convey. I also explained what I mean when I use those terms. I’ve seen a lot of wedding photographers who claim that they ‘retouch’ hundreds of photos when all they’re doing is color correction and applying a preset. That’s not retouching in my opinion.

Photo editing is the body and retouching is one of its limbs; that’s what I’d say if asked. Well, general people (or say, a client) usually understand by the term ‘photo editing’ that his photos will undergo heavy treatment and doesn’t limit it to any specific service. However, from my perspective, photo retouching includes services like color correction, contrast adjustment, skin smoothing, dust removal, and other applications which enhance the overall beauty. And ‘photo editing’ refers to crop, resize, background add/remove and other minor applications. Anyway, both of them helpful in making the photos look great and gorgeous. Professional photographers can be benefited using these services from suitable companies.

I think what’s most important is to explain to your clients what you mean by either.

You justify the items clearly. it’d be useful for all retouch-er to grasp the purchasers the distinction between retouch and editing.

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