A good 8x10 headshot is an integral part of the marketing mix for everyone, including actors, musicians, comedians, dancers, and other performers. Headshots make the first impression and retouching the headshot is an important part of building the 'brand' of the subject. Maybe the subject came to the shoot that day and had a few blemishes that makeup couldn't hide. Maybe the concealer wasn't doing the job. Today's pro digital re-touchers are all about thinning out cheeks, elongating eyebrows and even dilating the pupils to enhance attractiveness. But how much retouching is reasonable?
Most casting directors encourage a little retouching as they want to see your best look. Casting directors know that on most commercial and advertising jobs there are makeup artists and retouching is frequently done. Thus, spotting prints or removing dust spots from a digital image is crucial. The great portrait photographer George Hurell in the 1930's did a lot of retouching on his photographs of actors. In that era, it was standard to spend hours retouching a negative so that the photograph could be as flawless as possible.
However, overdoing the retouching can lead to disaster. The photographer or filmaker will realize very quickly, even at first sight, that your "real" look is not like the original 8x10. The rule of thumb for retouching headshots is to only remove small blemishes, cuts, bruises, flyaway hairs, loose threads or to lighten shadows below the eyes. Do not remove any noticeable birthmarks or freckles. Any type of major transformation should be avoided. Compare the 'before' and 'after'; the difference should be subtle. Skin smoothing and softening can be okay if you want this technique although it should be extremely light. A good photograph that actually looks real has a little texture to it.
Today, with a lot of photoshop 'do it yourselfers', the amateur retoucher can easily be spotted by a trained eye. An editor who has looked at thousands of photos has seen it all. When it is overdone it will be noticeable. The professional retoucher uses complex techniques that retain the true-to life feel of an image. The best thing to do is to have the photograph retouched lightly if it needs any retouching at all. Keep it looking natural and engaging.
Your look is your marketing tool and your brand. You should make it the best it can be. Just don't overdo it!