Today we take a look deeper into the hidden art of digital retouching where skies can always be blue and imperfections simply disappear. Whether you like it or hate it, think it’s necessary or not, retouching is here to stay.
The majority of images you see online, in print, on television and certainly on sky-high billboards have all played victim to hours of enhancement, manipulation and tweaking that makes up the retouching process. Before you set your eyes on that magazine fashion spread, celebrity portrait, or even fast food burger advertisement, chances are it has been given the full retouch treatment and the raw originals filed away without trace.
Jon, founder of recently redesigned Retouch Village tells us “The majority of our clients are looking for that perfect balance for their image; an end result that isn’t blown out or pushed too far, trying to avoid the plastic Barbie girl look, while bringing the shot to it’s full potential. The most valuable tool that makes a great retoucher is a good eye; software know-how goes a long way but the creative eye and vision is what’s needed to assess an image and know exactly what the end result needs to look like. It’s a strange business to be in because our greatest professional success and praise most often comes when you can’t necessarily see that an image has had any work done to it; you just see a stunning photograph. There is however the other side of the coin where agencies or clients allow you to really push the boundaries and create an impossible image that makes the beholder wonder, ‘just how is that possible?’”
Retouching is ultimately a step in a long collaborative process. In the modern world a shot is no longer finished when the film has been processed and the bike has left the studio, in fact it is then that a huge part of the process just begins. With so much digital information available to twist, skew and distort, there can be a much greater collaborative creative output; art directors can not only work with the photographers but also with the retouchers, and this opens up a world of endless possibilities where a vision can truly be made a reality. These visions have gradually made their way to be the standard image we’re used to seeing when we flip open a magazine or watch a commercial, whether it be the perfectly tanned and blemish free skin on the model’s face, or the remarkably bright colours in the landscape of a travel photograph, and yet many rarely consider the importance of retouching in the creative process.
Occasionally there are voices heard shouting outrage of the physical distortions and manipulations of images, usually in the celebrity and beauty worlds, but it is impossible to imagine the print, online and digital industries going back to the days before retouching became a part of the deal. Just as digital cameras enhanced the possibilities of image capture, the tools of skilled retouchers bring a world of potential options that just weren’t available in previous times, and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Retouch Village are currently at the top of their game, and it’s their ability to strike the perfect balance between maintaining the integrity of the original image while making the right improvements so that their images “pop”, that keeps them there.
Next, we asked Jochen Braun, a well known fashion photographer, what’s his take on this subject: Retouching has become the extended arm of photographers – it can enhance and it can destroy. An arm that seems to create real magic when its well connected to its initial ideas and concepts, when the communication between photographer and retoucher works and when its got the right skills and understandings of what to achieve without overdoing it for the sake of it. Retouching is one part of the process of generating the image, like a model would be in a fashion photo, the styling, hair/makeup etc – retouching needs to fulfill its part of the overall final image.
I heard colleagues saying that certain fashion magazines are almost putting the retouching over the work of photographers. I wonder what they reply if you tell them that a fashion editors work is dominated by fashion designers work and the seasons and the fashion designers themselves most likely have to go along a commercial concept of their marketing people….
There is an awful lot retouching out there that is wrong and over done to my taste and that lacks the understanding of using retouching skills that are applicable to a photo and a sense of beauty. Also that understand Zeitgeist and trends in visual expression – it is a process which needs permanent change and it needs courage to permanently push boundaries. In certain parts of commercial photography like automotive photography, images can’t even exist anymore without the final big retouching job at the end. In that field its therefore not surprising t hat these technical machineries and images of it can even be generated solely with CGI techniques. In fact, the viewer is now so much used to retouched and polished images, that anything without it might be alienating and it feels like relict of the Stone Ages.
I am trained in a traditional photographic sense which meant you also know how to do conventional prints, black and white and colour. So taking on the the possibilities of retouching with Photoshop, I still think it is a part of the photographers vision as much as the dark room was a part of the photographers vision. It is essential for the final image and it absolutely requires talented craft and skills and understanding to make it work.
What do you think?
Your call now – tell us in the comments what do you think about digital photo retouching.