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Do You Know the Difference Between Editing and Retouching?

Key differences between editing and retouching

Editing and retouching are two essential processes used to enhance the quality of an image. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they involve different techniques and serve different purposes. In today’s digital era, nearly every photo we come across has undergone some form of editing or retouching. The most common software used for making alterations in images are Photoshop, Lightroom, or Capture One.


When editing, you typically work on an image as a whole. Editing primarily focuses on adjusting the technical aspects of an image, such as exposure, color balance, contrast, and sharpness. The primary objective of editing is to present the image as true to life as possible, rectifying any issues that may have occurred during the initial capture.

Common photo editing techniques include:

  • Global correction: Adjusting exposure, contrast, and saturation to enhance vibrancy and balance in the image.
  • Cropping: Removing unwanted elements or resizing the image to focus on a specific area.
  • Sharpening: Enhancing details and improving clarity in the image.
  • Working on the amount of noise: reducing graininess (noise) or adding a specific noise as well as the amount of it. The process may include both noise removal and adding a more appealing noise.
  • Compositing: Combining multiple images to create a new composition.


Photo retouching is a specialized technique that involves making localized adjustments to specific areas of an image to improve its appearance.

Common photo retouching techniques include:

  • Skin smoothing: Removing blemishes, wrinkles, or other imperfections from the skin.
  • Teeth whitening: Making teeth appear brighter and more vibrant.
  • Hair retouching: Removing flyaways or enhancing the color and texture of the hair.
  • Eye brightening: Making the eyes appear more vibrant and reducing redness.
  • Removing blemishes: Face cleaning, Apparel cleaning, Background cleaning.
  • Painting: Adding specific elements to an image.

The most commonly used tools for retouching include the Clone Stamp, Healing Brush, and the Liquify filter in Photoshop. Additionally, there are specific techniques that help achieve a desired effect non-destructively, such as the frequency separation method. The main goal of retouching is to improve aesthetics and make the subject more appealing visually.


The main difference between photo editing and photo retouching lies in the scope of changes made to the image. Photo editing involves broader modifications to the entire image, while photo retouching focuses on making minor, targeted adjustments to specific areas. Both are equally important and are often used together to achieve the desired result.

Understanding the difference between editing and retouching is crucial for effectively communicating your needs to a professional photo editor or retoucher. Clearly expressing your desired enhancements and style preferences will help achieve the desired outcome without overdoing the edits or retouches. It is actually best to specify which elements need to be fixed before starting the task of image editing and retouching.

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