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The life of a professional retoucher

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  • The life of a professional retoucher

    We've talked a lot about the restoration business, but almost nothing about the retouching business (and this is RetouchPRO, after all).

    Maybe its because all of us are like me and haven't a clue about life as a retoucher.

    Are there any retouchers out there? Are you freelance, or do you work for someone? How do you get your business? How do you transport files, or do you scan from prints?

    Etc., etc., etc.

    Since I know nothing about the business side of retouching, I don't even know what to ask about.

    Retouchers, speak up and be heard.
    Learn by teaching
    Take responsibility for learning

  • #2
    Mr. Nelson,
    I took it, you were a janitor all along.
    I'm a photographer/retoucher. I do the high schools(seniors) and model portfolios for models, agencies. I use film and/or digital. When going to the web. I scan from the print(like to use an 8 x 10). Retouching, Scan the neg.(70mm,2 1/4,35mm) or digital.


    • #3
      OK, this had an excellent start, then petered out. But I still want to know all that stuff in the first post.
      Learn by teaching
      Take responsibility for learning


      • #4
        I've worked as an in house retoucher for a studio. I also have worked as an in house photolab digital artist. As a lab artist, I am usually handed a variety of things to work on - both retouching and restoration. I think it would probably be the same for independant artists.

        After having worked as a studio retoucher, I think it would be very difficult to be independant and just call yourself a retoucher. The deadlines and turnarounds for some studio work, especially proms and the like, are very tight. For things like youth sports, the deadlines are a little looser, but the sheer volume of subjects makes up for it. Some shoot deadlines are as short as overnight. Unless you're in house, I honestly can't imagine being able to meet any sort of acceptable deadline.

        Weddings, portraits and the like all have a bit more leeway, but many photographers & studios either have dig artists on staff, or the photographers are trained in touch up to alleviate the need to spend extra $$ on someone to do that sort of thing.

        Most of the retouching work I've done as a lab artist has been stuff like taking pimples off of teenagers or giving a studio look to pictures that Uncle Harry took of Johnny to avoid having to actually pay a photographer...

        There's also a great deal of work that comes from clients of photographers who did not touch up prints in studio. A call to the photographer usually gets an ok to do the work, and then it's things like taking out the fence behind the prize horse or taking that one little zit off of the end of Mary's nose...

        With the exception of Cover Girl, the challenges in the retouch section are a good cross section of the stuff I see come into the lab. The thing is, though, that most of the people who bring in the more recently shot stuff will find out how much it will cost to fix the picture, and then 9 times out of 10 will say "oh, I didn't realize it would be that much. I'll just take another picture." I've even had them say, "oh, our neighbor Johnny has a computer. Maybe he can do it instead." It's a different attitude than with old irreplacable photos.

        I've actually asked what they had in mind as a price they were hoping to get it done for, and most times have had them say that they figured it would only be $5-$10....


        • #5
          Advertising.........and mailing get the business. Scan the negatives........for output. Or I do digiital files from the camera. No scanning of prints........only for web use.
          I work for a studio. For a retoucher to do retouching in a studio you have to be fast........Other words..........You can't sit on an image for hours. You'll have hundreds of images a day(not all to be retouched). Some have it where retouchers only do removing of objects on skin,background or any part of the image,as well as smoothing of skin,removing facial flaws and other objects that want to be removed. Then there's the color corection dept. for custom prints, color correcting proofs. Oh! Make sure those people are not wearing sunglasses(magenta or green) If they have to, make sure their green. This way the pictures will favor on the magenta side.:o
          I find "freelancers" should stay away from selections for color corection. And do other things(channel blending) to work faster, to make a living out of retouching. Save the selections for complex retouch work, if have to. And know all the color spaces....Not just rgb.......And USE LAYER MASKS. To undo/redo work.


          • #6
            Making actions help too....

            This is a before:
            Last edited by john_opitz; 05-19-2002, 06:34 PM.


            • #7
              This is after:
              Last edited by john_opitz; 05-19-2002, 06:33 PM.


              • #8

                Hey Folks!

                I'm a High School Senior and I was looking to getting into photo retouching field...could you tell me what kind of college courses I should take, and some information about pay, and whether or not you enjoy your job? Or any other information that you can think of... ...would certainly be helpful.


                • #9

                  You can start a new thread any time you wish. I can tell you that there's a *LOT* of good info in this forum. Start at the beginning, and read most of the posts. Did I mention that I was a freshman at IU?



                  • #10
                    Re: The life of a professional retoucher

                    I started out in Consumer Photography shooting Portraits and Weddings. I am now a Freelance Minnesota Commercial Photographer of 25 years experience and was an early adopter of digital photography through the bleeding edge of the technology. I began using scanned images; Kodak PhotoCD; Video Capture Systems, Tri-Linear Array Scanning backs on 4x5 cameras; 3 RGB Filter Wheel Area Array digital backs on Hasselblad film camera bodies and now shoot DLSRs and PhaseOne Digital Backs.

                    I worked calibrating digital images with Commercial PrePress for 10 years and taught Advertising photography studios how to successfully transition from film to digital. That consulting became a job description, for me and soon to be other younger "Star Wars Babies", as the Digital Photo Technician, or DigiTech for short. In this Midwest market, that job description has evolved from knowing digital cameras, computers, tethering capture software and responsible workflow to now mainly how well you can retouch images.

                    Today's photographers, for the most part, have lost the ability or desire to get everything right in front of the lens and rely on the post-production aspects of digital to 'composite' the final image. There in lies a prime responsibility of the DigiTech/Retoucher to deliver perfect final images to the client. Every Professional Commercial Photographer has at least one DigiTech he can rely on for this, even if he 'likes' doing it himself at times. In most cases, a photography studio may have a bevy of DigiTechs from which to pick, from listing sites like for this, providing they schedule them a month in advance at times.

                    Albeit, retouching skills have been devalued over the years due to the ubiquitous desktop computer and software, a busy DigiTech can garner a fair living, like I said - a busy DigiTech. To do that, you could take a class, become a NAPP member, read Layers magazine, follow and of course for some insight to knowledge. But ya gotta do it. A good way to start out is to intern at a photo studio shooting the kind of work you'd like to work on. You could try an entry position at a PrePress/PreMedia shop. Build a web site showing your capabilities, or just get out there and talk to people that hire DigiTechs/Retouchers, like Professional Commercial Photographers and Advertising Art Buyers.

                    In this struggling economy and saturated photo market, education, tech savvy skills and on the job experience may not be enough. When it comes to working in a creative, high pressure, short deadline environment, what may tip the scales in your favor is a professional congeniality.


                    • #11
                      Re: The life of a professional retoucher

                      I began my career as a traditional retoucher, doing negative retouching, work prints (photographs), using sprays and colored pencils, frisket and airbrushing - all for the purpose of scanning the final art (conventional in-camera separation) for print reproduction.

                      This of course, evolved into an electronic function, and I was fortunate to work for a company and an owner, who rode the digital wave - and was intent upon being at the forefront of all new technologies.

                      I was the first electronic retoucher in the Pittsburgh area. After a considerable financial investment on the company's part and an extensive training investment in me (6-8 week stints in places like GlenRock, NJ, Burnsville, MN and Watford, England) I established and maintained Pittsburgh’s first, digital retouching resource. Nicknamed “Moonbase”, the department housed a Crosfield Drum Scanner, 3 Dicomed Imaginator Retouch Workstations, File Servers (reel to reel tapes and climate controlled rooms) and Digital Film Recorders.

                      As a premier retouching resource, we serviced accounts nationally, offering the very best in retouching and image editing services. Some of our clients included Stouffers, National Geographic and the Franklin Mint.

                      As the department and technology changed, Macintosh Workstations were added and Photoshop was incorporated into the mix. As Macintoshes capabilities, speed and firepower expanded and Adobe’s Photoshop evolved with added capability and functionality, the proprietary workstations were phased out and all work was done in a streamlined, Macintosh based, desktop work environment.

                      As a retoucher, I saw the industry evolve from it's early slow-motion days to today's real-time, speed capabilities. To think that I once worked on a Scitex machine that took hours to rotate an image - and was ironically named "The Blaze". In the early days, I worked on many top secret projects which required me to sign many non-disclosure agreements. I worked on the first Saturn car to be in a printed advertisement - before the company opened. Today it is closed. I did the first bald Larry Bird Ad Campaign for Lays Potato Chips (he lost a bet about "eating just one"). The first ad run was done electronically (retouched) and ran in a limited market. After its success, they went to the expense of skin caps and professional makeup artists for the TV ad campaign that ran nationally.

                      I worked for the studio that trained me for 12 years until I left to make a go of it on my own. 8 years - the first 4 were great and then the economy slumped - and suddenly everyone with a Macintosh (even PCs) and 700 bucks (Photoshop and/or CorelDraw) was my competitor. It was a good run and I got to work on some major accounts including Del Monte, PPG and American Eagle.

                      Today I work for a major health corporation in their Marketing Department as their in-house Retoucher. With the speed and expert capabilities available to them, there is almost NO image that goes through the department that is not touched somehow. I am particularly responsible for all post processing, color correction, image manipulation and enhancement for any image that is going to be used in broad distribution.

                      In response for some of those considering going into the field, the learning curve (in depth education) is steep, the pay is bad and getting a start is particularly hard. There is an over-abundance of competition for the jobs out there, and you have to possess some attributes that clearly distinguish you from others. Actually... PhotoLogic made a good point about the importance of professional congeniality - an attribute not be under estimated. I would suggest however, that you be proficient in the entire Adobe Creative Suite to increase your chances of finding employment. Besides... knowing how all the applications interrelate will make you a better retoucher in the long run.

                      Schools? Don't know what to tell you there. I genuinely feel bad for many young kids who spend tons of money on an education at an Art School (Associates) or a four year degree in Graphic Arts (Bachelors). So many of them come out so ill prepared for even the most rudimentary of jobs. Any teacher that spends a great deal of time having you play around with all the filters and special effects that you can apply to an image in Photoshop should be dropped as quickly as possible. First off - you can buy Photoshop and play around with these on your own. You don't need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to have someone show you this, not to mention that you will rarely, if ever be asked to simply have fun and run whatever filters you want on an image. Your tasks will be more specific. An Art Director will have an image or concept that is already approved and he/she will want to have "you" bring "his/her" vision to fruition.

                      Final thought... if you can learn to do one thing very well in Photoshop - you will have a leg up on all other graduates, and a potential "path"way to a starting job. If you can cut Clipping Paths accurately, precisely and with good speed - someone could use your help.
                      Last edited by daygraphics; 09-15-2011, 11:56 AM.


                      • #12
                        Re: The life of a professional retoucher

                        Originally posted by Jakaleena View Post
                        I've actually asked what they had in mind as a price they were hoping to get it done for, and most times have had them say that they figured it would only be $5-$10....
                        WOW... I feel for you. I was always dismayed by those unwilling to pay 35-70 dollars an hour. I used to try and convince some that I could do in 10 minutes what a novice might take "all day to destroy".


                        • #13
                          Re: The life of a professional retoucher

                          Excellent posts PhotoLogic and Daygraphics.


                          • #14
                            Re: The life of a professional retoucher

                            I am a full time retoucher/color corrector for a large prepress shop in Canada. Been doing it for over 10 years. We generally get our images from our inhouse photography department after they have been sent out for color masking. We deal with 100 000+ images a year and have every piece of merchandise in our shop to color match to. If the merchandise is unavailable or has to be release back to the client, we have swatches for color. Everything is done through Virtual color proof also, no more hard copy proofs. Calibrate our monitors every 24 hours, calibrated color viewing boxes, dual monitors, tons of RAM and new MAC's every couple years.


                            • #15
                              Re: The life of a professional retoucher

                              How often do you replace your D5000 lamp bulbs?
                              I try to keep it 6 months but would be curious if others have found it necessary to change more frequently.


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