We all wish to ensure that our subject(s), who are in front of our cameras, look their very best. This is the ultimate goal of any photographer and this is uppermost in the minds of those in the fashion and TV/Motion Picture business....image is everything! That said, there is an argument to be made that this can go overboard. When a photographer has to resort to extensive use of post-production retouching, in order to 'get that effect or look' that one needs in the specific image, I would question whether this could have been done with better planning in the way of composition or the use of lighting (either natural light, studio strobes, off-camera flash, reflectors,and/or diffusers) and thereby capture the image one wants 'as shot' in the first place. When planning, organizing, and conducting a commercial shoot, whether 'on location' or in a studio, this should not be any issue. There are times, however, when shooting editorial pieces, fast moving sporting events, and personal events, such as weddings, bar-mitzvahs, confirmations, etc. where 'getting the shot' is upmost in the mind of the photographer, and dealing with image enhancement must be handled in a post-production workflow after the event. 'Getting that shot'...that unique set of images that 'tells the story of the day' is what has priority. Nevertheless, the question always arises as to when to resort to extreme retouching of certian images and to what extent, and still maintain a sense of realism and authenticity. Madison Avenue marketing executives may not care as they only wish 'to sell the message' but our clients in the Wedding and Portraiture business certianly are more sensitive to such things and have vastly different ideas and perspectives. Sometimes less intervention in the final image is better.
Regardless whether there is a decision to retouch certian images in a collection, there are some things that could be thought of ahead of time, which will ensure you have those beautiful images that you are seeking to create on that special day. There are some important things to consider when doing any retouching of someone's face, particularly women. Here's a few tips to help you get better results:
Tip 1: Learn how and why makeup is used! For women retouchers they may seem obvious, but for guys, at least those who didn't steal their sister's Seventeen and Cosmo magazines, it's _really_ important to understand makeup if you're going to be a good retoucher. For video, it's a bit less important, but for retouching still photography it helps to become a makeup artist. Need help? Here are some resources:
Software Cinema has a great training DVD on digital makeup and skin retouching by Jane Conner-ziser. For Photoshop artists I would start here, it goes over makeup basics and how to apply it in Photoshop. Really awesome, focused training.
Katrin Eismann's book Restoration & Retouching is an excellent book on the subject. However, it doesn't talk too much about makeup. For the art of real makeup, there are a few books that lend some insights: Making Faces by Kevyn Aucion, Makeup Makeovers by Robert Jones, and the Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual. While all of these books are focused on techniques for applying makeup (so you might not read them cover to cover unless you're an aspiring drag queen), they offer insights into the how and why makeup is used. They are also helpful in knowing how to apply makeup in a natural way vs. turning someone into a fashionista.
Tip 2: Know the difference between retouching for photography and retouching for video. With photography, you're only dealing with a single image so more detailed work can be done easily. For example, with a still photo, you can use Photoshop's Liquify tool to lift skin and flatten out hunched shoulders. It's an excellent tool for doing that type of work. After Effects has the Liquify tool as well, but it is much more difficult to use with video, especially if the camera is moving. It's probably not possible to give someone a face lift on video unless there's a pretty large budget involved or you have a lot of time on your hands. However, you can quickly drop a few pounds off your subject by scaling the video up 5% vertically. This works particularly well with talking heads.
Tip 4: Not all wrinkles are created equal and some are actually good. They make you look human. No sand blasting, remember? So forehead lines, laugh lines, and other significant wrinkles should remain. You may want to reduce them somewhat (remember it's just a darker shade next to a lighter shade), but you want to keep them.
Good retouching is about taking a few years off of someone, not genetically re-engineering them. People are not perfect and attempting to make them so usually doesn't work out well.
Thinner, smaller wrinkles are usually fine to get rid of, especially the ones underneath the eye. Although again you want to be careful about making it look natural. More significant wrinkles can be made shorter and less 'deep' by dodging and burning. Both Jane Conner-ziser's DVD and Katrin Eismann's book have detailed techniques for doing this in Photoshop.
When retouching you may want to create additional depth to the image, for example, burning in additional shadows. To do so, you need to identify the natural contours of the face to accenuate them. You can't do this correctly unless you know where the light is coming from.
Also, if you add makeup digitally, like eye shadow, you'll need to adjust the color to lighten the eye shadow where you would expect the highlight to fall. You'll use one shade for the eye shadow, but a lighter shade dabbed on top where you think a highlight should be.
Contouring and digital makeup are going to be extremely difficult for video, so this is more of a photoshop/photography tip. Contouring can sometimes be achieved using the Curves filter in After Effects, so it's not impossible. But adding makeup to video is a big budget thing.
Use a Wacom tablet for retouching in Photoshop. If you're going to add digital makeup or use the Photoshop tools, a tablet will make your life incredibly easier and allow you to do better work. There are other tablets out there, but Wacom is the best by leaps and bounds.