I think if you were to ask anyone today about retouching they were immediately talk about models in magazines. We see them splashed all over the covers with their tight thins, thin bodies, and smooth skin. I hope most people know by now that, yes, that is retouching and retouching at the extreme.
All photographers have a job to do, even if our morals have to be thrown out the window. When things go out in print, unfortunately they have to fit a certain mold (not pun intended), but perfection is usually required.
I shoot in RAW format, which if you think of film, it's like a negative... it comes out flat, lacking brightness and sharpness, unlike photos that are shot in JEPG.
I'd say most photographers today are doing a little bit of both, depending on what you are shooting... if you are in fashion, glamour, or even boudoir you are probably doing a bit more retouching.
I can simple explain the difference by saying, editing is about manipulating the image itself; white balance, color, exposure, and any other basic edits the photographer wants to do to make it his/her own. Retouching happens when you are manipulate the person(s) or pieces within the image. When you start smoothing skin, getting rid of blemishes, cloning out objects in the background or liquefying bodies.
Now how much is too much... well I think most of us can recognize this, and a good photographer knows not to go too far. Sometimes though, we are at the mercy of our clients and we can educate all we want, but if they are hoping for no wrinkles and they are paying you, then there's nothing really you can do...
I believe as a client you are trusting me to take the best shot of you. I shoot a lot of portraits of entrepreneurs for their websites and this requires taking head-shots, which requires both editing in my style and retouching. The women I photographs of are already beautiful, inside and out and many choose to get professional makeup done (which only emphasis their beauty and bad-ass confidence!) I keep my retouching simple and tasteful, skin is NOT suppose to be smooth, neither is hair, unless there are strains crossing the face or being wacky! It is just part of my editing and takes me less than 5 minutes.
The thing we have to understand is we have wrinkles, beauty marks, love handles, & grey hair... I make sure at the start that you are in the best light, in the best pose and your makeup and hair are spot on... for whatever reason it isn't, I fix it! But I want to let you on a little secret, I don't get rid of wrinkles... I get rid of shadows under the wrinkles, there's a difference! If I got rid of every little wrinkle or line, your face would be plastic. Nobody wants to look at that or believes that! Those lines under your eyes, yeah, that's your eyelid... it's suppose to be there!!!
I also hate distraction... so if there is something in the background that's bothering me, I get rid of it, nobody needs something sticking out of their head (but that's my personal preference!) The image is suppose to tell the story of you, not the giant trashcan in the background!
And if you're wondering, yes I retouch my own face in images, but I've also learned over the years that my face is beautiful too... so I take care of blemishes that bother me and keep the rest.
I believe everyone should look & feel beautiful in their photographs, so if that means smoothing something here and tucking something there, AS LONG AS IT DOESN'T CHANGE WHO YOU ARE... or HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT YOURSELF, then I see nothing wrong with that.
*because nobody wants to see their before/after... I'm brave enough to show you... I do a basic edit, white balance, brighten the image up, I apply an action I love (Sarah-Beth Photography), & warm it up... then use the clone tool & healing brush on my face and really that's it! I don't look fake or not myself... and this is with minimal makeup and I don't even think I showered that day!!!
(so there's that!)