My approach to retouching has been strategically developed over the past 7 years or so to cater specifically to my needs and to maximize my personal efficiency in selecting, retouching, and grading a photo from start to finish. My workflow represents my specific needs and is a reflection of my own version of creativity. That being said, I feel there are certain aspects of my process that may be useful to others. Feel free to take away from my process for your own benefit.
After having shot or once I have received work from a client, my first action is to import the photo(s) from my hard drive into Lightroom (LR) for culling and, if necessary, batch editing/adjustments. Really my objective is to view all photos on a larger screen, zoom into the details and make sure the final selects are as clean as possible before they are exported into Photoshop (PS). In Lightroom I will correct my White Balance (WB), shadows, highlights, and contrast and then copy/paste those settings onto the rest of the culled batch. Of course feel free to adjust the sliders as need (for example if one photo is slightly more exposed than another and you have copy/pasted a setting from one to another you may have to tweak the exposure to make the two photos visually match). I personally do not perform any kinds of skin or background retouching, only minor color corrections/toning in LR. I am also not a fan of toning presets in LR. I prefer to create my own toning specialized to what I feel the photo(s) need on an individual basis. Once those adjustments have been made, desirable WB has been attained, and skin tone/undertone corrections (as close as possible without distorting the photo too much and to avoid banding), export the photo as a RAW file into PS. There are a few export options under “preferences” but I prefer to work in RAW as opposed to say .tiff.
Once the photo has been exported into PS I can assess the photo and figure out how I will approach its retouch. I will, especially for a beauty retouch or for a photo that I can immediately see will need more than the average amount of work, often create an actual “worksheet” layer, such as the one depicted below, with pen-strokes highlighting what areas need work. It helps me focus my energy into correcting the big picture as opposed to becoming hampered down with the minute details.
After I have identified what areas need correction, I will usually do my color toning layers. The color grading will camouflage some areas while highlighting areas. I reassess my “worksheet” after my grading to see if any new details have been revealed in the toning that need to be addressed. After that, I dive into my retouch. I like to groups of my layers throughout my process so that I can toggle between the “before and after” and keep a running comparison of what I’ve completed and what still needs to be done.
My retouch will usually consist of a few aspects:
1) A duplicate layer of the original photo where I do any liquifying or distortion corrections.
2) A blank layer with clone stamping
3) Frequency Separation (I know, gasp!) combined with micro and macro Dodge and Burn (DnB) layers where I complete my retouch
4) A sharpening layer (if needed) with layer mask
My working project is saved as a .psd file and my final image is saved for my personal purposes as a .jpg and for a client as whatever format they prefer.