Retouching problems start well before we sit down in front of the computer and begin pushing pixels around. I know this because as I reflect on my past work, I realize that I’m as guilty of making countless mistakes as much as anyone else.
Rather than talk about techniques like dodging and burning, frequency separation, etc. let’s focus on more high level problems that might be leading you in the wrong direction. Retouching is as much about mindset as it is technical ability so let’s start with the former and ensure that you’ve got some prerequisites in place before you even pull out your stylus.
You’ve got the Wrong Intent
We talk a lot about “bad retouching” but we have to quantify what that really means. It’s important to view it as a relative statement as opposed to an absolute one. Good retouching for one genre can be bad retouching for another. I would also say that bad retouching is retouching that took longer or did more than it should for a particular intent. It’s important to approach the image differently depending on how and where it will be used as opposed to seeing it as a one size fits all solution.