Katherine Gillis – Retouching: The Lost Art


Retouching negatives and prints was a norm as late as the nineties. There were no serious artists or photographers that did not get their negatives and prints retouched. Not Helmut Newton, not Sebastião Salgado,…not Ansel Adams. But today, one of the few remaining masters of retouching film negatives and prints is Katherine Gillis. And she’s hoping to share her skills in something that is both art and science.


Katherine Gillis

Before and After Spotting


Retouching and Ansel Adams

Katherine Gillis studied at Veronica Cass Academy in Florida, the place to go to get the best training at the time. In Santa Fe and Colorado she worked in color labs, perfecting techniques she’d been taught and developed on her own.

While working for a lab in Santa Fe, Alan Ross, master photographer and printer of the Ansel Adams Yosemite Special Edition Prints, contacted her. A former Adams assistant, he asked if she would attempt the spotting for some limited-edition Adams prints. She couldn’t contain her excitement – or her anxiety at being given that opportunity at such a young age.


Katherine Gillis

Before and After removing teeth





Many photographers started seeking her out, and for more than 20 years, she ran her own company, ‘Perfected Image’. Alan Ross continued to ship her Ansel Adams prints. She was often working 18- hour days. But it was doing what she loved best.

The Great Digital Takeover

Fewer photographers were using film. The siren call of “digital” was consuming vast portions of the population. And then a few years ago, the surprise resurgence of film had many photographers moving back. And the under 35 crowd was taking up more and more of the marketplace. (according to Ilford sales) Magazines started requesting film photography. (Purple magazine, etc.) But during that digital tsunami, many professional retouchers found themselves out of work.


Katherine Gillis

Before and After


But Katherine Gillis hung in there with Alan Ross and his prints and the photographers who decided not to disappear into digital. But then she needed to supplement her income. As fate would have it, an inattentive driver rear-ended her stopped car at 55 mph. She was so impressed with how the medics handled the scene that she wanted to give back. Hence, she trained as a volunteer ambulance driver and soon trained as an EMT herself.


Katherine Gillis

Katherine Gillis working on Large print and Obama print


A Dead End?

End of a retouching career, with a lost art vanishing altogether? Not likely. While doing both for many years, the resurgence in film photography has not only grown her retouching schedule, but inspired her to give back after 20 years as a Master retoucher. As she continued with custom retouching, she knew it was also her time to teach, and share her skills. Not holding anything back, she shares with professional and beginner photographers everything she knows about retouching and spotting in a new online course. Something that was only possible with onsite workshops a few years ago.


Katherine Gillis

Before and After


Become a Fearless Traditional Retoucher & Spotter

Together, with photographer Carol Butler, she is debuting her new online school with a full retouching course. Her course, “Become a Fearless Traditional Retoucher & Spotter” beta-launched in January 2017 on Carol’s school site “Ofcourseware“. Now that they are through beta testing, she will be adding content in the coming months about dyes, special papers and all the other “tricks of the trade”.


Katherine Gillis

Before and After Eyeglass glare


Providing valuable archival services will become paramount in the growing world of silver halide.  Marshall’s appears to be one of the few companies to survive who provide transparent dyes for both photos and negatives.There are things in life that still require the human touch. A tattoo, an original oil painting, a chef’s genius. And this is one of those things that needs our human selves,…not our digital assimile. Join Katherine and learn retouching at her school link or retain her services at her website below.

Katherine Gillis Website

School Website

Photo Tee Shirts




  • Reply
    Brian Wiese
    March 25, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Fascinating story, thank you for sharing! It’s great to know the analog retouching talent is still out there and the skills are being taught.

    • Reply
      March 25, 2017 at 11:34 am

      Katherine is great, and I’m going to do a follow up story in a few months. Glad you liked the story.

    • Reply
      Katherine Gillis
      March 26, 2017 at 9:41 am

      Thank you Brian. I have enjoyed my retouching career, and have had the opportunity to work for many wonderful photographers.
      Teaching is the next step in my career. I hope to be of help to many Analog Photographers!
      Thanks, Katherine

      • Reply
        Christine Anderson
        January 8, 2018 at 12:06 am

        I just came across a box of retouching graphite retouching leads that my mom used for retouching black and white negatives in the 70’s and 80s.

        I can remember the many times I went into the windowless bathroom where my Mom had the lights off, seated at her small table with her light box, the tip of her lead pencil making a scratching sound as she deposited lead onto the surface of the negative. A most special memory of my Mom, who passed nearly a year ago.

        Your article was wonderful, photos were great!

        • Reply
          January 8, 2018 at 4:35 pm

          Katherine will be happy to hear that. Memories of talent are always good.


  • Reply
    Carol King Butler
    March 26, 2017 at 9:27 am

    Love the detail in the article, your layout, your presentation of slides on this website.

  • Reply
    Dima Filatov
    March 27, 2017 at 6:39 am

    Thanks Katherine! Your article and story are great! I’m happy when read it because the information amazing. Also it help me and may be my print will be better. Thank you very much and please write more. It’s very interesting.

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