April 10, 2023

A New Bride's Guide to Wedding Photo Retouching

Not entirely thrilled with your wedding photos? then read on...

We all know the theory - 'your wedding day should be one of the most memorable and special days of your life'. However, even the best photographers can’t capture every single moment or detail perfectly.

That's where wedding photo editing and retouching comes in - it can help enhance and perfect your photos, making them even more beautiful and shareable. I will try to give you the inside-line on wedding photo editing and retouching, attempting to provide you with knowledge necessary to get the most amazing imagery possible from your wedding day photos.

The Aesthetics - Wedding Photo Retouching Styles

Wedding photo editing has come a long way in recent years, with new trends and styles emerging all the time. One popular trend is vintage-style editing, which involves creating a classic, nostalgic look that gives your photos a timeless feel. Vintage-style wedding retouching is a popular trend and aims to create a romantic and timeless look, reminiscent of old photographs from the early 20th century. The principal characteristics of a vintage-style retouch include:

  1. Soft and muted colours: Vintage-style portraits typically have muted and pastel colour tones. This is achieved by adjusting the saturation and hue of the image, giving it a softer, more nostalgic look.
  2. Film grain effect: Adding a film grain effect to the photo can give it a more authentic vintage feel. The grain effect can be adjusted to give the photo a more subtle or more prominent grain, depending on the desired effect.
  3. Sepia tone: Sepia tones were commonly used in old photographs and can give wedding portraits a timeless and romantic feel. The sepia tone can be adjusted to be more or less prominent, depending on the desired effect.
  4. Soft focus: A soft focus effect can be added to give the photo a dreamy and romantic look. This can be achieved by slightly blurring the image, giving it a softer and more diffused appearance.
  5. Vignette effect: A vignette effect can be added to the edges of the photo, creating a darker border that draws the viewer's attention to the centre of the image. This effect can add depth and dimension to the photo, giving it a more professional and polished look.

Another popular style is documentary-style, which aims to capture the candid moments and real emotions of the day. This style of retouching focuses on enhancing the natural look and feel of the photos, rather than creating a highly stylized or posed image. Some of the principle characteristics of a documentary-style wedding retouch work include:

  1. Natural skin tones: The goal of this style is to capture the genuine emotions and expressions of the wedding day, and this includes the natural skin tones of the subjects. The retouching should enhance the natural skin texture and colour, without making it look overly airbrushed or artificial.
  2. True-to-life colours: The colours in the images should be true-to-life, without any artificial enhancements or saturation. The retoucher should aim to maintain the natural colours and tones of the wedding day, while still enhancing the overall look and feel of the photos. They can also be in black and white of course.
  3. Minimal retouching: Documentary-style wedding portrait retouching focuses on minimal retouching to maintain the natural look of the images. This means that blemishes, wrinkles, and other imperfections may be left untouched or only minimally adjusted to maintain the authenticity of the photos.
  4. Candid moments: The retoucher should aim to enhance the candid moments and emotions captured in the photos, rather than creating a highly posed or stylized image. This style of retouching seeks to tell the story of the wedding day through genuine moments and expressions.
  5. Storytelling: A documentary-style wedding portrait retouch job should aim to tell the story of the wedding day through the images. The retoucher may use techniques like sequencing or juxtaposition to enhance the narrative of the photos and create a cohesive story.

In addition, black and white photos continue to be a popular choice for wedding photos, adding a touch of elegance and sophistication.


Communicating Your Instructions to the Retoucher

When working with a professional photo editor or retoucher, it's important to be able to communicate your instructions clearly and effectively. However, it can be difficult to convey exactly what you want if you're not familiar with photo editing terms. That's why it's important to familiarise yourself with these terms and their meanings. Here is a list of some of the most common terms and their meanings:

  1. Colour correction: Adjusting the colours in a photo to improve its overall appearance - similar to no.2 below.
  2. White balance: Adjusting the colour temperature of the photo to make it look more natural. A wedding dress shot outdoors under midday sun would actually look blue tinted, whereas the same dress in the same location in the evening time might look yellow tinted. Neither is wrong per se. Likewise when indoors, a white dress under one type of light bulb will look a different tint of colour than under a camera flash for example. Making a white balance adjustment for each lighting situation resolves these issues.
  3. Exposure: Adjusting the brightness of the photo to ensure that it is neither too dark nor too bright.
  4. Contrast: Adjusting the difference between light and dark in the photo to make it more visually appealing/ punchy.
  5. Saturation: Adjusting the intensity of the colours in the photo. Making the reds look ‘redder’ for example.
  6. Hue: Adjusting the actual colour of the photo, such as making a blue sky more indigo.
  7. Sharpening: Enhancing the overall sharpness of the photo to make it look clearer and ready for printing.
  8. Noise reduction: Reducing the visual grain or noise in a photo, which is often seen in low light or high ISO settings.
  9. Cropping: Cutting out unwanted parts of the photo to focus on the subject. This is often the simplest way of removing unwanted elements or people from a photo.
  10. Straightening: Adjusting the tilt of the photo to make it look more balanced.
  11. Cloning: Copying and pasting elements of a photo to remove unwanted objects or visual clutter.
  12. Skin smoothing: Enhancing the appearance of skin by smoothing out imperfections and blemishes.
  13. Background removal: Removing the background from a photo to isolate the subject.
  14. Object removal: Removing unwanted objects or distractions from a photo.
  15. Vignetting: Darkening the edges of the photo to draw focus to the subject in the centre.
  16. Toning: Adjusting the overall colour tone of the photo to give it a different mood or atmosphere.
  17. Composite: Combining multiple photos into one image, such as blending two separate shots of a bride and groom to make them look like they are standing next to each other.

By familiarising yourself with these photo editing terms and terminology, you can more effectively communicate with your photo retoucher and ensure that your wedding photographs are edited to your satisfaction.

Photo Editing and Retouching Techniques

Now that you're familiar with some common photo editing terms, let's dive into some specific techniques for editing and retouching wedding photos.

Skin Smoothing and Blemish Removal

One of the most common requests for wedding photo retouching is skin smoothing and blemish removal. This technique involves using tools like the spot healing brush or clone stamp to remove any imperfections or blemishes from the skin, leaving a smooth and flawless appearance. However, it's important to use this technique sparingly, as over-smoothing can create an unnatural and artificial look.

Background and Object Removal

Another common technique for wedding photo editing is removing unwanted objects or distractions from the background of a photo. This can involve using the clone stamp tool to duplicate or copy parts of the background, or using the content-aware fill feature to automatically fill in areas with similar textures or patterns. This might be done to remove eye-catching background items, or even to remove people from a photograph. The important consideration is to decide what will replace the object or person, and where will the pixel information come from in the image to do so?

Colour Correction and Enhancement

Colour correction and enhancement is another important technique for improving the overall appearance of wedding photos. This can involve adjusting the white balance, exposure, contrast, and saturation to create a more vibrant and visually appealing image. It's important to strike a balance between enhancing the photo without making it look overly edited or artificial.

Creative Effects and Enhancements

Finally, creative effects and enhancements can be used to add a unique and personal touch to your wedding photos. These can include adding filters, vignettes, or text overlays, or even creating a composite image by combining multiple photos into one.


DIY Photo Editing

While hiring a professional photo editor can be a great choice for those who want the best results, some may prefer to take on the task themselves. DIY photo editing can be a fun and rewarding project, but it's important to have the right tools and knowledge. I addressed the big questions in my blog post ‘DIY Photo Restoration - Pros and Cons

Software Options for Editing and Retouching

There are several software options available for editing and retouching wedding photos. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are the industry standards and are used by many professional photo editors. These programs offer a wide range of tools and features for colour correction, enhancement, and retouching. Other popular software options include GIMP, Pixlr, and Canva. These programs are more accessible and user-friendly and can be used by those with limited editing experience. Take advantage of my Complete Guide to Photo Restoration Software to learn the basics.

Choosing the Right Photo Editing Service

Choosing the right photo editing service can be challenging, but it is essential to ensure that your wedding photos receive the best possible treatment. When selecting a photo editing service, consider factors such as experience, reputation, and cost. Look for a company with a proven track record of success and positive customer reviews. I have a guide on this here. Additionally, ensure that they offer the services you require, such as colour correction, retouching, and creative enhancements. Finally, compare prices and choose a service that fits within your budget.

Timeline for Photo Editing and Retouching

The timeline for photo editing and retouching can vary depending on the scope of the project and the number of photos to be edited. Generally, it takes around 3-4 weeks to complete the editing and retouching process for a full set of wedding photos. If its just 10 or 20 images, then it can be done in 1 to 2 weeks. It is important to communicate with the photo editor or retoucher and establish a timeline for the project. This ensures that the editing process is completed in a timely manner and that the final product meets your expectations.

What are the costs for editing your wedding photos?

I charge 55e per hour, and how many photos I can get through in an hour depends on the complexity of the editing requests. Some processes take long than others, so opening eyes is quicker than removing an unwanted guest for example, but as a rough guide, expect between 10e and 30e per image.

However for a quote, send me your 5 most important images, along with edit requests, and I will quote on that basis.


With the right techniques and tools, wedding photos can be transformed into stunning works of art that capture the beauty and emotion of the occasion. Whether you choose to hire a photo editing professional like myself, or take on the task yourself, it is essential to have some basic knowledge of photo editing techniques and software. By following the guidance I outlined in this article, you can achieve the wedding photos that you deserve.

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We provide photo retouching, photo restoration and image editing services to businesses and individuals in Ireland & the UK.
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