I asked a professional photoshopper how he would improve me
Apparently it’s all about subtlety, reading the client and not over-doing it
by Helena Baron
In the past few years more and more awareness has been raised regarding the extent to which pictures in magazines, advertising and everywhere else in the media are being photoshopped and retouched. While a lot of this awareness highlights the issues with over-retouched pictures, the fact remains that the majority of companies and even normal people are using retouching technology to enhance their pictures. We can all admit that whether on Instagram or Snapchat, the pressure to filter, edit and retouch a picture to a certain ideal of perfection is now more than ever a fact of everyday life.
So to understand the mystery and magic around retouching a photograph, I spoke to a few professionals on how they do it, and how they’d improve me.
To first gain a better understanding of the process behind a professional retouched photograph, I talked to Jason Tasker, a professional printer at Metro Imaging:
What’s the most common technique you use?
Technique-wise it’s usually the photographic printer. [The aim is] generally to make pictures to look as the client requested, or to look ‘nice’ – then it’s mostly just the colour and tone adjustment layers. Occasionally we use the masking to be more selective – levels, curves and some of the colour correction tools.
You said “to look nice” – how do you go about making someone look ‘nice’ or ‘beautiful’? Is there a standard to which you aim to conform?
You do what you feel is right. The feeling comes with experience – it used to be under guidance of the boss but now you pretty much go your own way, checking whether or not the client agrees with you and changing it if they want. We now have an online service which makes it more of a client’s domain. For premium printing service they can come in and consult with us and do printing tests. In general it is best to proceed with caution.
Do clients ever get offended?
It varies a great deal. Yes, you can get taken by surprise by someone’s reaction, but you learn to read them. I have some clients that I know whatever I do they will have a different idea, so I leave them to it. But some are in such a dither that I have to try and tell them very gently how to proceed.
What kind of work do you mostly get – is it celebrities/magazines or just ordinary people?
Editorial went with the right of digital in around 2004 (where it goes straight from the photographer direct to the editor), so eased our way into the art market. Now we mostly do art editions, pieces that will be sold to collectors, that are on view on galleries and art collections.
Is it more common to retouch your own pictures nowadays?
Some people are quite adept at Photoshop nowadays. Quite a few think they are then then you see their profile and have to tell them gently where they went wrong. A lot of people get to a pretty good standard and we’re just the final check. It can make my job easier, but also not as satisfying if all I have to do is push it through the process – it presents less of a challenge.
I also enlisted the help of Daniel Meadows (Retouching Academy), who talked me through the process of retouching some shots I sent through to him of me (scary).
Daniel said: “In the shots I have here, I’ve removed a little of the dark eye circling and balanced the skin tones, the light wasn’t ideal and there was originally a magenta hue to the skin tones. This is the limit at which a considered, professional retouch should end with a portrait shot of this kind.
“I worked on the staff shots for a major UK magazine a couple of years back and this is the full extent of what was required and delivered. Consider it a sneaky nudge towards one of those photographs where the light just caught the subject perfectly.”
He added: “The most common fundamental skill we develop is ‘dodging and burning’, an old darkroom technique that allowed some areas of a photograph to be lightened and others darkened. This is done digitally now and with more control, and used to balance out any inconsistencies in luminosity, such as the dark eye circles. That area has been ‘dodged’.”
Daniel explained: “The problem we have in the industry at the moment is that the entry level in terms of equipment is low, and the amateur without guidance is over-enthusiastic.
“It’s like watching someone brick-laying after seeing a YouTube tutorial; they love slapping the concrete around, it’s their favourite part, but ultimately their wall is awful and falls over because they have no sense of restraint.