Photographer and Digital Retoucher

The Melding of the Minds

I was recently asked the following question on Facebook (I will paraphrase):

“Benjamin, I’m curious to find out about retouching and image manipulation for the fashion industry. Are these retouch studios? I have spoken with some photographers and they have retouchers they work with to get their vision through.”

– There are several possibilities and it really depends on the job and circumstances. There are several large retouch studios that specialize in Post Production and also provide in House Art Direction. These companies cater to large corporate clients to pay the bills, allowing them the luxury to take on less financially yet gratifyingly creative Fashion clients. These High End clients are often the draw that pulls in other clients due to their status. More akin to their little play thing. Not to say that Fashion and Beauty clients are not huge, but they aren’t your classic bread and butter clients like Ariel Washing Detergent or Colgate Toothpaste. These large retouching houses like La Souris sur le Gateau and Janvier in Paris can charge up to €2,500 per day or more per re-touch artist for a job. It can go beyond that with Top Retouching companies like Box in New York, headed by French retoucher and entrepreneur Pascal Dangin who has worked with Steven Meisel and Annie Leibovitz. Or Digitalretouch in New York headed by Stewart Price and Andrew Matusik that specialize in “nip and tuck” and “photo-comping” for high end photographer’s images.

– Most, if not all photographers will retouch their own photos or associate with digital retouch artists. It is always a one on one relationship dynamic and the process is very intense and often emotionally taxing for both parties. As interpretation of vision is purely subjective and may take some time to finally establish an acceptable outcome. As to the concept, I cannot answer that question specifically, as it really depends on the dynamic of the relationship of the two. However, here are some possible scenarios. It could be that the photographer has an idea and consults with the retouch artist prior to the shoot to advise on some of the technical considerations while doing the shoot, i.e. placing objects where they will be in the scene or shooting the objects separately and recreating the lighting so the two match up later etc. Sometimes the digital retoucher and photographer work as a team, as I do with Freddy Baby Paris, where we “argue out” (literally :-)) concepts and work on them until they get Birthed so to speak. Some retouchers are specialists in one area, like skin or body manipulation or comping. But in most cases, a good digital retoucher can cover most bases.

“Do magazines have their own retouchers and where are they located? How about agencies when they order a production shoot for use in an advertising campaign, does the photographer supply only the RAW images, or their complete vision and concept to the agency? How does this marry with the advertising agency’s vision? Do they do further retouching to the already manipulated image ? If you can shed some light on that in your blog it would be interesting and appreciated.”

Magazines do have there own retouchers, but they are more often than not also layout artists that do basic simple retouching and spend a lot less time on the manipulation of the image. They haven’t the time to spend days on a story to complete the vision that the photographer i.e. director may have requested. These layout artists are usually located at the premises of the magazine.

– When working with the Art Director of an Advertising Agency, the photographer will work very closely with the Art Director making sure that the execution is as was discussed during the briefing and follows closely the story board or the layout. There is a synergy between all three parties. In some cases, where the job is of lesser consequence, the photographer may just hand over the RAW images and let it go at that.

– But in my case, I am always asked to make a selection from my images shot and present 5-10 images to the agency for their final selection. Working with an Avertising Agency is always a compromise of a vision as it is the melding of the minds of at least three and often more visions all vying to leave their mark on the outcome of the final image. There have been occasions where part of an image i.e. the models skin is retouched and sent to the agency for further manipulation to fit in to the concept, which more often than not has several variations and must comply to many usages and therefore different formats. Thus the layout can change depending on the advertising support. But these problems are ongoing and are part of the territory if you are in the Ad Agency business. But that is an entirely different topic.

I Hope that I have answered your questions to your satisfaction. Oh and thanks to Wacom for their genius and George Beck for his illuminating questions.

About Benjamin Kanarek
Fashion and Beauty Photographer. Some of the magazines I have shot for include: VOGUE (China, Portugal, Brazil, Italia, Paris and South America & Mexico editions), RG VOGUE Brazil, Harper’s BAZAAR (China, en Español & Latin America, Hong Kong, Italy editions), L’Officiel Paris, ELLE (Spain, Portugal and Greece editions), Madame Figaro (France), Cosmopolitan (France and Italy editions), Glamour (France), Votre Beauté, Jardin des Modes, Dépêche Mode, New York Daily News, Fashion District News, New York Times Magazine, W (British edition), WWD, Fashion Magazine (Canada), Flare (Canada), Oyster, Tank, WestEast…