It is simple - as far as you fucking please. Why? This is also simple. Photo retouching is a form of art. Saying that photo is over retouched is like saying that a given oil painting has way too many layers of paint. A painting has as many layers as the painter sees it fit. Some paintings are better some are not that amazing but after all it is down to the artist and his or her skills and imagination to decide how far to go, what to paint, what colors to use and what story to convey. The only thing that matters is what you as the photographic artist or retoucher feel. Those feelings will guide you through the retouch. So now the question is why we hear so often that "this photo is over retouched", "it does not look real", or some similar rubbish.
This is also quite straight forward. Most people are like sheep, they follow what the rest things is "proper", "correct", "commonly accepted". Fuck proper. How are you expected to grow if you stay within the frames of proper. Yes you should study, and yes you should evolve and constantly search for better, balder and grander than yourself. But you won't be able to if you enter the confined zone of "I really think I should not do this". Also remember that majority of photographers are just photographers, they are not artists. They will never understand it. Ever. It is beyond their RAM memory range. They simply do not compute. Whether it is a skillful retouch or not, well that is another story. One thing is for certain, if you stay in your comfort zone as an artist you will never grow, and your works will become dull and uninspired. Trying new things cant be daunting but it pays off.
It does not mean that you have to bring each image to the extreme, I sure don't. On the contrary. As I said, it is up to how you feel about it at a given moment. Be it when shooting, or retouching, or perhaps a year later, as I did with this image that you can see in the speed art photoshop retouch video below. Photography is not about documenting the world, it is about capturing the energy and feelings, moments, stories, and so on. But this is just a beginning. What you cannot capture with your camera, but wish you did or simply you saw something in the image that inspired you, then by all means go for it. Retouch your heart away in photoshop, that is why it was created.
Then you have photoshop manipulations, digital painting combined with compositing, 3D art with photography, the sky is the limit. People will always be resilient to appreciating something abstract. Most people cannot process it. Do not be like most of people. Be unique, like no one else can. Be you.
Contact me directly for one-to-one online photoshop tutorials via desktop sharing.
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Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)