Cristian Mihai was kind enough to post several high-res photos on the Retouch Pro forum for members to use for practice. This is my version. Roll your mouse over the photo to see the original. You can also click on the image to see a larger version.
The retouching process on this image involved quite a few techniques. After setting basic density and color balance in Adobe Camera Raw, I smoothed the skin using mostly very small burn and dodge adjustments. I also used some combinations of the clone stamp (mostly in lighten or darken mode) and healing brush in non-critical areas. After cleaning the skin, I added worked on the eyes and added some color to the cheeks and lips. The last step was some reshaping of the shoulder, chin and hairline to give a more symmetrical appearance.
There are numerous creative decisions to be made when retouching a photo. If you're doing work for a client, they will probably have a specific set of requirements. In this case, I was free to make my own creative decisions along the way. For instance, I did some reshaping of the face and hair, but I choose to leave the stray hairs on the model's forehead. My hope was that it would help to keep the image looking natural. It's a little like the old story about the ship's cook throwing a whole egg (shell and all) into the vat of powdered eggs, just so a few sailors would find and egg shell and be convinced that the breakfast was made with fresh eggs.
If you're a photographer or retoucher, you're probably aware that skin and beauty retouching has become a controversial topic. At the high end, the work is very detailed, typically working with a 3 to 5 pixel brush and retouching individual pores on the skin. Needless to say, the process is very time consuming and you can spend many hours on a single image.
At the other end of the scale, portrait studios can't afford to spend that amount of time, so they rely on broader-brush tools like blurring the skin or using Photoshop plug-ins. The broad-brush techniques do a very good job for many applications, and the time savings are enormous, turning a five hour job into a five minute job. The drawback is that you tend to loose much of the skin texture, so the image can look somewhat plastic.
The photo below shows a comparison between a 15 minute retouch and the high-end retouch. Once again, roll your mouse pointer over the image to see the high-end version, click on the image to see larger versions. If you're like me, you'll think the 15 minute touch up looks pretty good, but not as refined as the more detailed retouch that required hours of detailed work. It's close, but it's not the same thing if you're into details.
Both styles have their place. The cover of a fashion magazine would never feature a 15 minute touch up, and a portrait studio couldn't stay in business if they spent hours retouching each individual image. But, it is important to understand that there are different levels of retouching with very different costs and results. If you're shopping for someone to do Photoshop work, you do need to be specific about what sort of work you want, and what results you expect.