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Friday, January 19, 2024

From The Pros

Industry Insights



How to price and estimate retouching

How to price and estimate retouching

How to price and estimate retouching

Peter Hunner of Hunny Retouch breaks down how they price and estimate retouching projects.

Peter Hunner

Peter Hunner

Peter Hunner

Owner @ Hunny Retouch and Co-founder @

Owner @ Hunny Retouch and Co-founder @

I bet many of you have swiped through @aphotoeditor posts or’s mission to demystify rates among content creators. Rate and salary transparency is becoming more common, and I believe it's an important part of an industry's growth and maturity. I’d like to pull back the curtains of our retouching practice at Hunny Retouch, starting with this post on how we price and estimate projects.

I've been retouching professionally since 2011 (before that I was a digital tech and photo assistant) and have estimated all kinds of jobs, from global campaigns and editorials to in-store signage and e-commerce. My estimating and pricing strategies have evolved over the years, and I've settled on an approach that maintains a rate I'm willing to work for while also offering flexibility to clients. I'm not suggesting everyone should build and price estimates this way; I believe this approach works best for established retouchers/studios who can afford to decline jobs. I also have a business partner, fellow retoucher, and co-founder @emilycfishman, which allows us to take on more jobs and be more flexible at times.

We prefer to work 8-hour days, 5 days a week, for approximately 48 weeks a year. It's full-time work, and we turn down jobs every month due to limited time/bandwidth. We do bring on other retouchers to help with larger projects or tight turnarounds.

We are very fortunate to have a good mix of brand, agency, and photographer clients who keep our work diverse and consistent. It's a juggling act to manage 5-10 ongoing projects at once, but over the years, we have built out a system to streamline this, and of course, is a huge part of our workflow.

Two types of clients

Our client roster can be divided into two categories: those who hire us one project at a time and those who hire us for annual contract work.

Photographers, producers, and agencies are our common clients for individual projects. Although we may work with them often, they bring us one project at a time to estimate and schedule. These projects vary in size, type, use, etc., and add creative variety to our workload.

Brands and internal creatives who provide us with consistent work month over month usually opt to pre-negotiate rates with us so they can set annual budgets. We sign a contract with the company, locking in rates, and they guarantee a certain amount of work/billings for the year. These clients are usually working on catalogs, e-commerce, editorial, out-of-home, and visual merchandising.

Estimating retouching projects

We estimate and get approval for every project that comes through our door, even for our annual contract clients, who need project estimates to create purchase orders. This does a few things for us:

  • Gives us an accurate time estimate and scope of the project so we can schedule accordingly.

  • Helps us be transparent with clients about what to expect with billing, schedule, and deliverables.

  • Covers us if anything changes and we need to adjust billing, schedules, etc.

Our approach to estimating a project is straightforward: determine how much time a project will take, multiplied by our hourly rate.

Although we use an hourly rate to estimate, we don't typically pass this along to the client. When we deliver an estimate, we provide one price for the entire project, presented with the project specifications for approval and signature. There are times when the client requests a price per image, which we can provide if it makes sense for the project.

What we charge for retouching

We don’t change our rate based on the type of retouching; this doesn't make sense, as every hour of our time is worth the same. Especially if you are busy enough to say no to work, you will leave money on the table if you book a “lower rate” job that prevents you from booking another “higher rate” job that may come in.

We estimate every project based on $250/hour, however, there are exceptions. We have annual contract clients who pre-negotiate rates for guaranteeing us certain amounts of annual work/billings (e.g. for a brand that commits to $250K in annual billings, we could discount our hourly rate by 10% to $225/hour). From time to time, a project comes up that we are really excited about and would like for our portfolio; if there isn't much budget, we will adjust our rates accordingly.

Retouching Estimate and Rates

Example retouching estimate:

Let's say we get the following project brief:


  • 30 location lifestyle images, male and female talent

  • For digital use in an online brand campaign

  • Three digital review rounds (via

  • 3 week turnaround.

  • Final file formats:

    • TIF RGB 8bit full resolution

    • JPG sRGB 2500pxLE

Retouching needs:

  • Color match merch (samples to be sent)

  • Basic environmental cleanup (may have some frame extension with plates)

  • Basic wardrobe cleanup (frays, sample errors, pins/clamps, etc.)

  • Basic talent cleanup (distracting and temporary skin imperfections)

  • Distracting talent flyaways

  • Skin color consistency (using mixed light sources)

  • *Note, images will be delivered as .EIPs with treatment from the photographer.

Since we are estimating before the shoot takes place, I can't go image by image to build the estimate. I’m going to build an estimate for one hypothetical image that will reflect the average effort for all the images in this project.

Estimate breakdown:

Production: 10 hours (20 minutes per images x 30 images)

  • Asset intake and processing

  • Review rounds

  • QA process

  • Final Output and delivery

Retouching: 45 hours (1.5 hours per image x 30 images)

  • Retouching round 1 (8 days)

  • Retouching round 2 (5 days)

  • Retouching round 3 (2 days)

Buffer: 8.25 hours (15% estimated hours)

  • Project pivots/changes

The results:

The total estimate comes to $15,812.5 (63.25 hours x $250/hour). I split out production time, retouching time, and then added a buffer to accommodate any unforeseen changes.

Our time/image estimates are based on similar projects we have done in the past, our history with the client (knowing their feedback/notes style), and our speeds and efficiency at doing the required work. We do charge rush fees, at 1.5x cost, when a timeline is tight and requires us to work evenings or weekends.

When sending this estimate to the client, I would only include the project brief details, a schedule, and the overall project price. From here, the client can sign and accept the estimate, or they may come back stating it's over their budget, and they’ll ask if we can adjust. If they counter, I’d consider my built in buffer, our schedule, any other factor that may affect whether lowering our estimate would be worth taking on the project.

If our estimating took place before seeing assets and notes, once received, I will check everything against our estimate, adjust it as needed, and update the client on any expected overages to the initial estimate.

Over or under retouching budget

More times than not your projects will end up over or under what you estimated. When we foresee overages in a project, whether it's from scope creep or a underestimate on our end, we tell the client ASAP. An estimate is just that, an estimate, and as we typically bid these projects before the assets are created, it's hard to be 100% accurate. We let the client know why there may be overages and lay out our options on how to maintain the current budget or how much over budget we will be if we proceed.

Our 15% built in estimate buffer comes in handy here and can hopefully cover any overages that come up. It's easier to get an initial estimate approved than to go back to a client and get a second approval for more money once the project budget has been allocated. It saves a lot of headache and helps the whole project go smoother.

What if we complete the work faster than expected, under budget? Given the way we estimate and schedule, we still bill as we estimated. We block off time in our schedule for projects; this is time we are dedicating to a project and can't work on other paying projects. Now, if the scope of the project changes drastically and we finish under budget due to that, we will look at adjusting our billings if a client asks. However, when working with larger companies and agencies, even if you wanted to bill less, sometimes they won't let you. Once the budget is allocated, purchase orders are created, and the higher ups sign off on it all, it's easier for them if you bill the original amount.

Increasing your retouching rate

Almost 15 years ago when starting out in retouching I was charging $75/hour and didn’t have the consistent stream of work coming in. As I got more experienced and confident in my skill set and speed, I started raising my rate. I have tried pushing our rate of $250/hour higher, however, starting at the $275/hour and up I noticeably started getting more pushback. So, we have settled into the $250/hour, for now, as this seems to be what clients can tolerate against our hours, and it's a rate that allows us to keep our schedule full and feel we are getting paid what we are worth. Each year, as our skills, efficiency, and experience grow, we will continue to test our rate and evaluate any pushback.

Here is a rough average of the different types of retouching we do with agencies and brands primarily based in the US, in 2023. Both individual and annual contract clients were used to average these out.

@ $250/hour rate:

  • Ecomm (product on white, 3 review rounds): $90/image

  • Beauty with Talent based Etail: $350/image

  • Lifestyle Editorial/Ecomm: $300/image

  • Lifestyle Catalog (print and digital): $300/image

  • Lifestyle ISM: $500/image

  • Advertising/OOH/VM product imagery - simple: $450/image

  • Advertising/OOH/VM product imagery -mid-range: $750/image

  • Advertising/OOH/VM product imagery - complicated (creative composites): $1500/image+

Final thoughts

When it comes to setting your retouching pricing, I believe it's best to keep it simple, setting one rate you believe you are worth with the variable being time. You should send out an estimate that you feel a little uncomfortable with, thinking it may be a bit too high. At the end of the day, its about valuing your skills and time, but also keeping an eye on what the market can bear.

Have any questions for me? Want to suggest a blog topic? Shoot me a DM @hunnyretouch or!

Peter Hunner

Peter Hunner

Peter Hunner

Owner @ Hunny Retouch and Co-founder @

Owner @ Hunny Retouch and Co-founder @

What would you like to see?

We love the photography industry and want to see others thrive. One way we can help is to provide tools that give you time back and help you scale. Another way is to encourage the sharing of information among our community. If there is anything you’d like to see in or on our blog, give us a shout at - Team VB

What would you like to see?

We love the photography industry and want to see others thrive. One way we can help is to provide tools that give you time back and help you scale. Another way is to encourage the sharing of information among our community. If there is anything you’d like to see in VeryBusy or on our blog, give us a shout at - Team VB