03 Jul 2015

So you want to be a retoucher? : A guide to pushing pixels in dimly lit studios and drinking lots of coffee – Part 1

We often receive emails from aspiring retouchers & photography students wanting to know how they can get into retouching  on a more professional level.  So we thought we’d write this 2 part article explaining some of the key points we felt makes a good retoucher. In part 1 we will focus on the fundamentals and craft involved in becoming a retoucher.

In a world filled with slap on photo-filters and automated photoshop plugins its easy to create images that appear to look good to the untrained eye.  However creating powerful and beautiful imagery in the commercial world is a whole different story. Images are scrutinized and dissected  by talented and well trained individuals with years of experience, so retouching is a craft not for the faint of heart. Below are a list of fundamentals that anybody trying to get into retouching should focus on.


Learn Photoshop:

The beginning of a good retouchers journey starts with Adobe Photoshop. Being familiar with the program and its interface is going to be key to becoming a good retoucher. One book that springs to mind that every aspiring retoucher should have is a copy of is the Real World  book series. These books may be a bit dated but hold invaluable knowledge that is used through out the industry. There are also many tutorials available on line that will teach the fundamentals of Photoshop. Try not to get overwhelmed with specific tutorials on how to do certain things in Photoshop but concentrate on tutorials showing the various functions of Photoshop and how the interface works. If you can get your head around the functionality of Photoshop then all the other specific tutorials will fall into place.


Colour Management:

In digital imaging systems, color management is the controlled conversion between the color representations of various devices, such as image scanners, digital cameras, monitors, TV screens, film printers, computer printers, offset presses, and corresponding media. Understanding how color works from on screen to final output be it for print or web is essential for any serious Retoucher. Grab yourself a copy of Real World Color Managment. With technology rapidly changing it has become paramount for retouchers to become (if not already) very tech savvy. Remember we are trying to solve a problem that is both creative and technical so knowledge is key.

Learn Photography: Photographic Realism

Having an understanding about photography, both technically and creatively goes a long way. Photographic realism is key to retouching and creating successful imagery. Even in scenarios where the image content may be very surreal the execution still needs to be correct.  Understanding composition, lighting and the fundamentals of photography is definitely something to keep in your arsenal. Internships or even one day stints spent on set with commercial photographers will be of real benefit. As a retoucher it helps you understand the work that goes into the images before you receive it.

Learn to Draw/Paint

Not everyone can draw perfect and realistic objects but it wont hurt to take a drawing class or two. Check out your local art schools for evening or short courses on Life Drawings and painting.  As a retoucher you will often need to create elements in a scene that doesn’t exist at all, being able to render an element in Photoshop can make a huge difference in project, saving you time and keeping your creative juices flowing.

Improve your visual literacy

Constantly study the everyday world with your eyes, look at objects in different lighting scenarios, different times of the day, see how they interact with each other. Look for symmetry and natural patterns occurring in your surroundings. Go to art exhibitions and start asking yourself questions about the things you like and the things you don’t like visually. Building an internal dialogue and questioning visuals will get you thinking as retoucher. Very often something in an image does not look right, and it will be your job to solve it.

Tear-sheets and motivation

We have a large reference library of screenshots and tear-sheets of images that inspire us.  Pinterest is great for creating tear-sheets of the various works that will inspire or motivate you.


Final Words:

In closing we would like to emphasize that retouching requires lots of patience and focus. As a retoucher you will constantly be learning (you probably never stop)  So be patient with yourself and allow yourself to make mistakes.  Remember being a retoucher is furthest thing from what people think. Many people think that being a retoucher means that you are “Photoshop Wizard” or “The person who makes flawless skin”. Being a retoucher means wearing various hats such as an Artist, A tech geek, an art director, A designer…the list goes on so remember at the end of the day to have fun.