Photo Retouching – Choosing The Right Supplier

Photo Retouching – Choosing The Right Supplier

Professional photographers have many options today when it comes to choosing photo retouching services. Together with your local photo retouching options many of these suppliers are found in locations as culturally diverse as India, Ukraine, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, with more providers popping up as demand for affordable quality photo editing continues to fuel the industry’s growth.

Quality retouching suppliers help significantly in reducing a photographers time spent on post-production, which in turn provides increased opportunity to grow their client capacity. However, correctly choosing and forming a relationship with an overseas provider can expose unforeseen challenges. For any photographer relying upon a 3rd party to finalise their work can be a daunting prospect. This article seeks to address the major concerns photographers have when choosing a photo retouching supplier and gives sound advice on how to best avoid any unnecessary difficulty starting this relationship.

There are 4 main concerns a photographer has when considering photo retouching services: quality, cost, speed and communication. Each of these areas will affect how you choose the best photo retouching supplier of services for your business, as they will directly affect your clients perception of how you run your operation.  Let’s look into each of these areas now.


The obvious benefit of editing your own photos is creative control, you know exactly what you want and how to achieve that in your own timing. But when you provide your images to someone else for editing it can feel like handing away your creative baby. What will they do with them? Is it safe? I prefer to think of photo retouchers as babysitters, they’re a necessary support and if you give them the right ‘care advice’ they will give your images back better than you expected.

In choosing a supplier, look up what services they offer online, quality will often be evident in the examples of their work. Choose a few images you’ve previously edited yourself and send them to the photo retouching supplier for a trial run. Remember though that providing clear instructions is key to receiving quality images in return. This process allows you to make a more informed choice before committing a job with any given supplier.

Even with high volume suppliers mitigating risk by having more than one supplier relationship in place is important. A transit strike in Mumbai or cyclone in Manilla shouldn’t stop you from delivering your 8-10 jobs on time. Putting all of your photo retouching eggs in one basket either by choice or buying into a system that locks you into a single supplier puts your hard earned reputation in someone else hands.

I identify three type of service offerings from suppliers:

  • Speedy Suppliers – These services normally guarantee a very tight turn around at the expense of quality. Though they are useful with external images that have clear and easy edits. Many of these suppliers use automated processing techniques that will affect quality. In the subcontinent  you’ll find many “shell” photo retouching companies that use a network of hungry local freelancers that qualify as speedy retouchers.
  • Specialist Suppliers – These companies or individuals offer high quality solutions for a higher cost, their work is usually provided within an 8-24 hour window. Their communication can be hit and miss during peak periods, but you learn to live with their idiosyncrasies because their end product feels closer to your original vision. With specialist suppliers their understanding of keeping unique styles for your work can be achieved. Most experienced photographers will use a few Specialist Suppliers both local and abroad to customise style for different clients.
  • High Volume Suppliers – These suppliers have great organisation to handle large amounts of work and encourage volume with discounts. Their quality is only as good their management and can vary with each supplier. If you want to grow your business with employees and volume it’s important to form a relationship with a high volume supplier. Good offshore high volume suppliers will have Account Managers that know your entire workflow and direct your jobs to the same retouchers for consistency. They should also have an MD or owner that communicates with you directly and may visit your premise annually.


Every photographer is concerned with cost. You’ll find that photo retouching suppliers vary extensively in cost according to their quality output, service offerings, global location and currency rates.

In choosing a supplier make sure you understand the payment terms and their currency of choice. Many overseas operators will default with USD and can affect your budgeting with currency exchange rates, only a few of the larger operators allow support for multiple currencies. Payment terms are usually paid on delivery and may offer accounts depending on the photo retouching supplier.


Everyone wants a quick turnaround for retouching but many photographers only discover the consistency of this turnaround after committing to a supplier. While many companies promise a certain timeframe for completion, not all of them make guarantees and fewer still provide any type of compensation if their commitment is not met. Always check to see if the supplier you are considering provides a guarantee and find out what they do if they don’t meet deadlines or their SLA. Always make sure that you have a clear understanding of their redo policies and turnaround times, as many retouching relationships fall apart when a client is asking for quick changes and you’re not prepared.

Unless you’re in a long term stable relationship with a supplier, always factor in a blowout of time with any job you outsource. This way you will manage client expectations and have some breathing space if a job takes longer than expected. In my experience, most blowouts are either due to me not giving  clear instructions, natural disaster, or a genuine capacity or availability issue on their end (i.e. note their national public holidays!).


This is probably the most crucial consideration a professional photographer has choosing a photo retouching service and effects the previous three items dramatically when it goes wrong. Though good communication with any retoucher is important to a quality outcome, with overseas providers its VITAL.  Most photographers who have used overseas retouching providers will tell you that it can either be very good or very bad. Here are a few tips on avoiding poor communication.

Choose a supplier that has good English (or language of your origin)! This becomes evident in an initial test run of images. Providing them clear and detailed instructions can be an easy way of discovering any language barriers. Do not work with suppliers that can’t pick up the phone to work out issues. At minimum have a strong skype or whatsapp relationship with multiple points of verbal and digital communication. If you’re using a supplier that will only communicate via email, then you will be far more likely to experience missed deadlines and/or poor quality.

Keep well organised on your end. If your photography workflow is a mess than any issues that arise with retouchers will become that much more difficult to solve. Keep your untouched images organised by job and communicate these in the same manner to your supplier.

Always be clear about which service you want to engage the retoucher for, often misunderstandings arise when you choose the wrong service for the job at hand. For example, if you choose a single exposure service when the job requires a multi-exposure service instead then your instructions won’t match the service requested. If there is confusion it’s important to keep your communication respectful as cultural differences can quickly escalate into a negative experience for both parties.

Just as important in how you respectfully communicate with your suppliers, is how their retouchers are treated by management. Good retention rates of staffing is the immediate tell tale of a quality operation. This is best way to tell that your retouchers are being treated correctly and paid a fair rate for their work. For instance within overcrowded populations hubs in India high volume suppliers will pay a premium to retain quality retouching staff, and benefits such as micro-loans, free accommodation, on-site staffed kitchens and transportation are common place. Don’t be afraid to ask your supplier for proof of working conditions by sharing a live skype stream, speaking directly to a photo retoucher, or asking for proof of working conditions. Many successful suppliers in developing countries give back to the less fortunate in their communities.


If these four areas of consideration are treated with some common sense and careful planning, you will enjoy a very fruitful relationship with the photo retouching services suppliers you choose. Remember that like any relationship it will take a little time to get use to the way each other works, but as many successful photographers have found it pays off for your business in the end.

Author: Josef Nalevansky / CEO and Founder of iMAGECLOUD

iMAGECLOUD is a company that helps make the whole process of selecting and managing retouching suppliers easier for professional photographers. See the iMAGECLOUD tour  for more details.

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