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The human body in the context of catalogue retouching

Before we start, I want to mention that model retouching for the catalogues is not a transform and liquify spree, and product image retouchers are not plastic surgeons. We only work with defects, or I'd better say features that are considered defects in the industry. Because you know, ten years ago almost every online store removed moles, and nowadays you can leave them half of the time. As for the body shape correction, fortunately, we're not supposed to bring any significant changes to the images. And there's a reason why: to help customers imagine how particular garments would fit them, most online stores usually reveal models' parameters, such as height, bust, waist, and hips, even cup size for the underwear. So we're not supposed to make models look higher or thinner than they are. Not just because of that – also because it's time-consuming and we don't have time to do things that are not essential or even relevant.

It's not that there are no online stores in the market that do all sorts of radical plastic surgery, liposuction, and legs stretching to their models. They exist for sure. But this approach is undeniably obsolete, and this is why you won't learn how to do it from me. What we do in catalogue retouching is just make sure there would be no distractions for customers when they browse for clothes. By distractions, I mean things like sore red bumps on feet, because we don't want customers to think: “Oh dear! These shoes must be hurting a lot!”, we want them to concentrate on their purchase. So let's start with the feet since I've mentioned them already and learn how to work with models in product image retouching.


Everyone loves natural-looking skin, but there's a limit to how natural it can look

Let’s start with feet. Being a model is not easy. You have to wear uncomfortable shoes all the time and it seriously hurts. You get to see a lot of blisters and calloused heels when you retouch for the catalogues. Skin defects typically consist of four separate problems: shape, texture, tone, and color. Their texture differs from the rest of the skin, the tone is usually darker and the color is usually red. The secret how to retouch such things fast and easily is that you shouldn’t try to fight all the problems at once.

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So, these heels are in really bad shape. What should I do? First of all, let’s correct the form of the heels. It needs a bit of Liquify to look decent. Then I’ll replace this weird texture with normal skin texture by using the Spot Healing Brush on the blisters. Now let’s remove this darkness and redness. It’s easy to do with the Brush in Lighten mode, about 20% opacity. I just need to take a sample of color from the normal looking area nearby. It allows me to lighten the dark and red areas without affecting normal skin. It’s important not to overdo this thing, because it’s normal for heels to be a bit darker than the rest of the skin, just not too much. And finally, I’ll deal with the yellowish color in the bottom of the heels by painting over with a normal Brush in Color mode. It’s also possible to use the Mixer Brush to smooth any irregular skin texture. Just be careful will all that – every stroke is removing the original texture and replacing it with no texture, don’t go too far. And remember – after resizing the image, it’s always good to use the automatic smoothing action for a nice finish. It will also add some grain to make the skin look natural.

Feet close-ups are usually the worst. But remember that you can use the automatic strong smoothing effect to make them look much better in a blink of an eye. This case is quite typical: scratches, bulgy veins, shave dots and so on. You know already that the strong smoothing action will get rid of shave dots, but you have to remove the rest of the stuff by hand. First of all, I’ll use the Spot Healing tool to remove the big scratch and then Liquify the bump that is left in the place. Now I’ll just keep using the Spot Healing on everything it can be used on. With all the spots gone, I’ll switch to the Brush in Lighten mode and paint over the dark spots, making them lighter. The opacity should be around 20%, otherwise, it’s easy to overdo it.

Pay attention to the fact that one of the legs is dropping a nasty looking shadow on the other one. A shadow is quite normal, but this particular shadow looks too dark, so since I’m already lightening things, why not also lighten this shadow a bit? After that, I’ll Mixer Brush the bulgy veins. Make sure you don’t remove veins completely, it’s pretty natural that feet have veins, it’s just that they shouldn’t be too convex. And don’t forget about the redness! Anything that is red can be made less noticeable by using the Brush in Color mode, 30-40% opacity is quite enough for that matter. In the end, I’m going to use the strong smoothing action. I know natural-looking skin is trending, but when people say “natural” they mean “perfectly looking healthy skin”. Show them natural feet close-ups and they won’t be so happy. But, of course, it’s absolutely not necessary to make them so smooth, it’s totally up to you.



Legs color and tone is supposed to be consistent all over

Legs are not always that close, and most online stores don’t even have feet close-ups. But you will be dealing with a lot of legs in general, especially in the summer season. Skirts, shorts and any other clothing items like that usually require you to retouch legs.

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Let’s see a few examples. Legs are easier than feet, and it’s good. You will be mostly dealing with spots, just a bit of bulgy veins and dark knees. Most of the spot defects can be removed with the Spot Healing tool, and keeping in mind that the images are going to be reduced in size, we can smooth bulgy veins and things like that with the Mixer brush. Just don’t get carried away or you’ll be leaving bald blurry spots around. As for the knees, the best bet is usually the Brush in Lighten mode, 20% opacity and a color picked from a nearby area. If you do it like this, you don’t need to make any selections, because the Lighten mode only works on colors that are darker than the sampled color. The Background is lighter than the legs and it won't be affected, just don’t paint over the clothes and the shoes if they are any darker than the skin sample. Once again, don’t overdo it, be gentle. After resizing you can leave legs natural as they are or smooth them with the action, just don’t mix up the strong smoothing and the slight smoothing. It’s not reasonable to use the strong smoothing action anywhere except close-ups. Hands also have a tendency to be darker than the rest of the body, so they require the same treatment: the Brush in Lighten mode if they are dark, and in Color mode if they are also red.

This angle is a bit weird. The area right below the skirt looks as if it is heavily bruised. It’s probably just a shadow, but it doesn’t look good. To get rid of it quickly, I’ll use the Brush in Lighten mode. I realize that it will paint over the skirt as well, but making a selection is longer than just a few carefully placed strokes of History brush. My goal here is not to remove the shadow, but to make it lighter so that it doesn’t look like a bruise. After that, I’ll grab the History brush and get the skirt back. I’ll also work on the area right above the shoes, there are some dark red spots there. They can also be removed with the Brush in the Lighten mode. After that, all that’s left is a few strokes of the Mixer Brush to get rid of the bluish dark spots at the back of the knees. Now it’s time to resize, remove the moles and smooth or just leave the things as they are. I prefer smoothing because it covers the traces of the Mixer Brush. I would not be able to use it so freely if I didn’t have smoothing in mind, as it also adds some grain for the texture effect.

Sometimes knees can be bulgy and way too big, so feel free to Liquify them if you need, but be careful, it usually requires just a couple of strokes with the Forward Warp tool. The rest is pretty basic: lighten with the Brush in Lighten mode, mix with the Mixer Brush, use the Spot Healing if you need, resize and smooth. There is a balance between unretouched and over-retouched, so the more images you work on, the easier it will be for you to decide when to stop. Never remove natural things like veins completely, just cover them up if they stand out too much.


Bikini area

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Next is the bikini area, hips and buttocks. It means underwear, otherwise, you won’t really have to retouch intimate places like that. You might encounter shave dots in the bikini area. They can be easily removed with the Dust & Scratches moles removing action. As this is a high-res image, I’m using the Dust & Scratches filter with the following settings: Radius 7, Threshold 6. It’s more or less harmless for skin and removes moles and things like that pretty well. It won’t remove big spots or dark areas, so you can just mix them with the rest of the skin texture with the Mixer Brush. Just do it gently.

It happens quite often that the hips are darker than the rest of the body and there are many little veins under the surface of the skin. To fix it, I’ll just make the Mixer Brush tip bigger and stroke each leg three times downward. Pay attention to the settings: the Wet is 20, the Flow is about 30. More Flow gives more smoothing, but I prefer less Flow to have more control over the process. Now this area looks better and still doesn’t look as if it lost much texture. That’s it. Resize, remove the moles, smooth the whole thing. If I wanted to do it perfectly, I would also colorize the armpit on the right by grabbing the Brush in Color mode and picking a sample from nearby. This orange tint looks weird, but I don’t think many people would notice that.

If you see that some areas are dark, you can brighten them up with the Brush in Lighten mode. If some area is out of focus, you can just mix it with the Mixer Brush, if there’s no texture, you’re free to mix as much as you wish. You might also encounter stretch marks. They are basically just light spots on darker skin, so change your brush mode to Darken and you’ll be able to cover them up. Just don’t forget that you’re losing texture with every brush stroke, do it gently. Resize and use the automatic smoothing in the end, and the grainy texture will cover all the traces of retouching. The skin will look natural and it won't attract any unwanted attention.

Buttocks can be covered with goosebumps or stretch marks. But I assure you, it’s not much of a problem. Same as before, use your Mixer Brush wisely, and you will smooth out all the irregularities with no fuss. If there are any dark spots, like this one on the back, use the Brush in Lighten mode, just don’t try to remove them completely.



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You might also encounter wrinkled dark elbows that don’t look so appealing, so I usually give them a couple of strokes with the Brush in Lighten mode. But don’t try to remove all the wrinkles with the Mixer Brush or something like that, it will look unnatural this way. Make sure you leave at least some of the original texture. In the end, as usual, resize, remove the moles if you have to, use the smoothing if you need and that’s it.

Some models have pale skin and dark elbows, so make sure you lighten them. Not until they become as light as the rest of the skin, but enough so that they don’t stand out. Leave the wrinkles be, as it’s only normal for this area to be wrinkled. Some retouchers just grab the Spot Healing tool and remove the elbows completely leaving bald patches of flat skin. But this is not the way human elbows really look, don’t do that – it’s unnatural and unnecessary.

Male elbows can look even more rough. Make sure they are not spotted and red. On this image, I’ll colorize the dark red spots with the Brush in Color mode, and then lighten them in Lighten mode. Very gently, it’s a man and they are not supposed to look like babies. Women, on the contrary, are not fortunate enough, as the industry is demanding and sometimes cruel to us.



In the product image retouching industry, women are not allowed to have nipples. No even if they are covered. If you see nipples through some kind of tight clothes, like this swimming suit, remove them with the Spot Healing brush or any other similar tool. Personally, I don’t have anything against nipples, but all the places I worked at forbade them. If the place where you work allows that sort of things, you’re lucky.

In this industry, women are not allowed to have nipples visible

Fashion is a weird thing. There are some transparent items that you are not supposed to wear over a bra. I don’t know why, but stylists seem to know better. In a perfect studio, they would make the models wear special stickers on their nipples. The stickers make nipples look like your typical skin, unnoticeable under clothes. But photographers might forget about them, or they can run out of the stickers, and you’ll have to deal with the nipples yourself.

Nipples under transparent clothes are a pain! I want to make this clear. So you shouldn’t be doing it on a regular basis, there are stickers for goodness sake, photographers and stylists should use them. But in a case of emergency, okay, just don’t expect to be able to do it in a minute. You’ll need at least one minute and a half or even two minutes. It’s a lot of time in catalogue retouching, and it’s a pity that you have to waste it on something that should be done on the photography stage.

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There are two ways to remove nipples: the first is the traditional way, which is stamping with the Clone Stamp tool, and the other way is the advanced way, which is using the Frequency Separation technique to preserve the texture. I prefer the second way, as stamping something on a surface like this is hard and awkward. I’ll use the frequency splitting action and choose 3 for the radius because the image is not very large and the texture of this mesh thing is quite fine. Now that the mesh texture is safe, I will go to the low frequency layer and paint over the nipples with the Brush in Normal or Lighten mode. It’s a bit tricky to pick a proper color to use, but it’s manageable with a few clicks. Then I’ll use the Mixer Brush to smooth all the tones under the mesh.

What’s left is the texture of the nipples, it has to be dealt with on the high frequency layer. I will now use the Clone Stamp, just make sure the tip is hard, not soft. Now I can cover the nipples using some texture from nearby areas, and it will blend nicely even if I take it from the areas that are darker or lighter than what I need. This is the advantage of the split frequencies method. Now the nipples are gone and I can flatten the image. A person looks awkward without nipples that evidently have to be there, but well, it’s the standard of the industry, so I guess it’s okay.


Underwear marks on skin

Tight underwear leaves marks

When shooting underwear for the catalogues, they usually can’t just sit and wait till all the marks fade away. There's no time. So it might and will happen a lot when you get images like this one.

I’ve chosen one of the worst possible situations so that the rest will be a piece of cake, if you can handle this one, of course. This is a plus-size model, and models like this normally have more volume on their skin. There are dark and light areas, and it should be like this. But because of this, we can’t just grab the Brush in Lighten mode as we would do if the surface was flat. We can, but we’ll have to pick a new color sample every couple of seconds, making the whole thing pointless. We can’t use the Mixer Brush to smooth the marks either because it will look unnatural. The texture is very convex, smooth it and it will look very weird.

Even the Split Frequencies won’t be of help, because the skin has a lot of different texture types. Whatever radius I pick, it won’t work everywhere. Above the bellybutton the texture is smaller than below, it’s different all around. So what can we do except take the Clone Stamp and spend half an hour on one image? Let’s try this.

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First of all, I’ll grab the Brush in Lighten mode and fix the hip, which is very dark compared to the area just below the panties. I’ll also lighten the dark spot on the belly. With that done, I’ll Liquify the belly button so that it doesn’t look so stretched. There are piercing holes, which I’ll remove with the Spot Healing tool. Now, onto the marks. Remember what we did with feet close-ups? Use the Mixer Brush and pray that the strong smoothing action does the rest. This is exactly the right thing to do in situations like this. I’ll use the Brush in Color mode to remove redness, mix the marks, not until they disappear, but close to that point. Then I’ll resize the image and use the strong smoothing action on it, just as I would do if it was a feet close-up. All the marks go away, and grain covers the Mixer brush traces. It worked!

Of course, all the skin looks very smooth now, it’s far from natural. But the fact is that the method I used was the only one that let me do it in a couple of minutes. We’re retouching for catalogues, after all. The goal of this image is to show customers how these particular panties look when they are worn by a person. We’re not selling perfect natural looking skin, just the panties. It’s not worth spending twenty or even 10 minutes on an image like this. But if you feel you have to make it look more natural, okay. Just grab the History brush and remove the Camera Raw filter effect from everywhere but the places where the marks had been. See? If you don’t look too closely, you won’t really notice something is amiss.

This is another case where there are a lot of marks, and the surface is complex. This area is very big, if I just grab the Mixer Brush and mix all over, it will be flat and suspicious. You might think it’s better to use the Clone Stamp and do it very carefully, taking your time. But there’s not so much space to get a good source from, and you have to preserve the light and shadow pattern. In other words, stamping will be way too hard and there’s a high probability you won’t be able to make it right. What I think is a proper method here is this: first I’ll deal with the small marks that hide in the holes. I’ll take the Brush in Lighten mode, increase the Opacity to about 60%, as my usual 30% is not enough to cover the marks efficiently. Then I’ll carefully paint over the marks with the samples from just nearby. The marks are darker than the skin, so it works very well, and as my sample is darker than the white top, I don’t need to be afraid to touch it with the brush. As for the lack of texture, on an area this small it will be practically unnoticeable.

But this bigger area is different. There are not enough sources of the tone that I need, but there’s plenty of good skin texture here on the shoulder. If I use the Frequencies Separation method, I’ll be able to use this texture no matter how its tone differs from the destination area. All I have to do is place the skin texture on the high frequency layer. 4 seems too much to be a good radius, but 3 is okay. Then I’ll just move the Mixer Brush upward and downward to preserve the light and shadow pattern, and what’s left after that can be removed with the Clone Stamp. I’ll make sure that the brush tip is hard enough and set the sample area to the middle of a large area of good skin. I think it doesn’t have to be Aligned, so I’ll remove the check from the respective checkbox. Now it works as it should be. There are some marks still left, but I’ll resize and check if the result is okay or not. It’s probably sufficient as it is. It’s not like anyone is going to stare at this area to notice anything.


If underwear marks are slight and small, you’ll have no problem stamping them using any other tools. It is only hard when there are a lot of them, or you’re working with a close-up.

Next: Human body, part 2


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