Friday, May 29, 2015

Insights on Retouching: From a Client's Perspective with Sam Northway of HYFN

Listening closely to what our clients want and need is one of the most important skills a retoucher must master. With that in mind here is the next installment on the "Insights on Retouching: From a Client's Perspective" series. This interview is with Sam Northway, Art Director at the Los Angeles based ad agency HYFN.

1) How have you been involved in using or buying retouching? And what kinds of projects have you worked on that involved retouching?

Sam: I use retouching everyday depending on what project I’m working on.  I often have to retouch and color correct and composite images. Images are one of my favorite mediums to work with.

Dennis: So you end up doing a fair amount of the retouching yourself?

Sam: Well, I end up doing all of the compositing and based on workflow will retouch and work with retouchers. Often times, it’s just the workflow is too heavy, I’m not able to retouch everything, art direct and work with the client all at the same time. 

Dennis: Sounds like you’re more involved in the hands-on part of retouching than a lot of other art directors I’ve come across.

Sam: To be a good art director one must have experience playing all of the roles in “the room” to have a good understanding of workflow and dynamic.

2) Does your agency hire retouchers for projects or do they prefer to leave that to the photographers they hire?

Sam: I think it really depends.  The budget and timeline play a big role in the decision making, also who is available for the team. A good team is the most important thing, and a positive attitude makes any skill worth multiply by 100. When it comes to retouchers, the consideration is experience with subject matter. Often the photographer will have retouchers that they work with.

3) What do you look for when working with a retoucher? 

Sam: Color, lighting, texture, and the overall quality of the work they do. 

Clear communication is very key.  Especially, if you’re working on something abstract or conceptual, then you really want to work with somebody who’s a good communicator and is open to ideas and exploration. 

Documenting the process and what step you’re on and what needs to be done next is important. I try to check in with my team as often as possible, I give an update and expect one in return.

4) What separates a high end retoucher from an average retoucher? 

Sam: Well, I think at a basic level, speed and quality. But on a technical level, for me it’s color and technique of treatment and lighting.  Of course, it depends what kind of project you’re working on.  My dad used to always say the only difference between an amateur and a pro is how fast the guy can get it done. The pro has done this many times in the past and knows how to get it done, whereas the amateur takes longer because they need to learn how to do it. Ultimately anything is possible and we can all learn to make magic happen.

5) What do you feel is the most challenging part of retouching? 

Sam: Keeping up with the trends can be a challenge, color is always changing. A popular skin tone now may not have been the popular two years ago. Color can be adjusted in a multitude of ways. The techniques do not change much, but the looks always do.

The most challenging retouching projects are projects that don’t have enough budget to achieve exceptional results. When there’s a budget and you have properly planned it, we designer/retouchers can make anything happen.  In the retouching world, you can really pretty much make anything happen.  No limitation.  That’s what so beautiful about what we do.  If you have the time and the budget you can make it. 

6) Do you look for high end retouchers to have a "style"?

Sam: Yeah, definitely. If we’re going for a particular look, or going for something conceptual and I need somebody really specific for that. 

7) Of quality, speed, price which are most important to you and your clients? 

Sam: For me, the budget can grow a little bit, it can shrink a little bit.  I’m given a loose sand box to play in, so to speak, but I have to make it work with what I have to work with. So for me it’s just the quality and the consistency.

9) Do you have any “Pet Peeves” regarding retouching? (Over done reshaping of bodies, plastic skin, problematic techniques?)

Sam: It just has to be done right, it’s about the outcomes, but obviously, it’s a big pet peeve when you receive a file that’s not well organized.  Like when the assets or layers are not well organized, labeled, and documented. 

Also, I don’t like it when people use smart objects incorrectly. 

10) Are there any trends in retouching you’ve been seeing? 

Sam: I think color trends and treatments, super high definition versus raw and candid.  Trends are going towards a more candid and raw style.  With social media, all the brands and are trying to be more relatable, more real.

The super high gloss look is still there.  It’s never going to go away. It’s still a huge part of advertising and growing products, making them look glossy. But right now there is a whole other piece of the pie with candid style photography.  Facebook advertising has taken over.  Social media advertising is such a big influence right now.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Homage to Liz Taylor

liztaylor_courtlynSMN_2287 W5 web

Liz Taylor and George Hurrell, 2 great names well known to fans of both the cinema and photography. When Scott Nathan contacted me about working on this image and told me he wanted to make this an homage to Liz rendered in George’s classic style I loved the idea and was immediately on board.

Scott’s lighting combined with the pose he captured gave me a great starting place to work from. After working to minimize the blemishes and lines that would distract from the image I made sure to bring out the subtle detail in the hair around her face as well as paying careful attention to accentuating the shape of her face. Then I adjusted the color and contrast of the image and finally brought out the blue in her eyes, bringing them closer to the color Liz was famous for.

Below is the before:

liztaylor_courtlynSMN_2287 B4

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Insights on Retouching: From a Client's Perspective with Jason Lau of Team One

Listening closely to what our clients want and need is one of the most important skills a retoucher has to master. With that in mind I’m excited to begin this series of interviews, appearing once a month, focusing on the client’s perspective. Each month I’ll be conducting these interviews, featuring folks like Jason, who represent the client side of high end retouching.

As Senior Art Producer at Team One
Jason Lau has produced advertising campaigns for clients such as Lexus, The Ritz Carlton, JW Marriott, Renaissance Hotels, Belkin, Haagen Dazs, Flexjet, Heal The Bay, Nissan, Infiniti, Principal Financial, Masterfoods and Playstation.
1) Talk about your role in using retouching and what kinds of projects Team One uses retouching on.

Jason: We retouch everything. A lot of the times when we're hiring a photographer we want them to hire the retoucher that they feel most comfortable with and who can achieve their overall look. There also have been instances where we have paired up a photographer and retoucher if it's a budget issue. Or if the person is new or don't have the resources or bandwidth to do their own retouching or team of retouchers. But most of the time, we'll leave it up to the photographers to take care of that. That’s pretty much the involvement the art production team has with retouching. Once the photographer retoucher is done with image, it then goes to pre-press for final color. 

2) Does Team One ever bring retouchers in-house to work on projects?

Jason: Most of the time we deal with the photographer and photographer’s retoucher. In most agencies there are retouchers in house, but again, we tend to leave it up to the photographer to handle their final look. In addition our in house studio\retouchers only have a certain amount of expertise. Just depends on the agency. Currently we have a freelance art director who used to be a retoucher. It's working out perfectly since we can utilize him these skills. But most of the time, we typically outsource the job.
3) What do you look for when Team One does hire retouchers?

Jason: We look at their body of work. The work that we do for our clients tend to be on the more realistic end. Even though a lot tends to be composed, it has to look real. Especially when we do have the CGI, it all needs to look real. In addition, it needs to feel hi-end. But that also goes hand and hand with the photographer that we end up shooting with.
4) In your opinion, what separates a high end retoucher from an average retoucher then?

 Jason: They should have an idea of what looks good and how things are supposed to look. There's been times when you see the first round of work and it doesn't look real. For example, lighting. Directional lighting, where is the shadow falling etc. The retoucher\operator should have an artistic sense and creativity in them. They should be enriching the image.
5) That's a good point. So what do you think is the most challenging part of retouching?

Jason: The biggest challenge is making it feel as real as possible. Even though, as a consumer, you may know it's not realistic situation.
6) Can you talk about the role you see communication plays in the process?

Jason: Communication is key. For example, when there's good amount of feedback on the retouching. I've received the next round and maybe half the notes were addressed. It think as the retoucher, you make it a point that you communicate what was addressed and what was not. There's time we need to see rounds sooner rather then later. Knowing that we're rushing the process at times, it's important to communicate. It leaves us wondering why the changes weren't addressed, did the photographer see it? etc. 
7) Does Team One look to the retoucher to have a “Style”?

Jason: If we're working with a photographer, obviously we're looking for the photographer's look and feel. But if we’re looking for something that’s directly like CG\retouching, then I think that having a style or certain aesthetic is not necessarily needed. It just needs to look premium, in my case.  But I think that the retouchers should probably have a range of looks because you only make yourself more valuable in the sense retouching can vary so much.
8) Of Quality, Speed and Price which are most important to you and your clients?

Jason: I think it's quality, price and speed. Though it all goes hand in hand. In terms of cost, I tend to like seeing project based bids rather then per hour. Though it can be vague, but there should be a general brief of the amount of retouching each image should entail. Before the work is started, if the post house feels differently then what was estimated, a conversation should be had.

 9) When it comes to skin retouching do you have any preference about the techniques the retoucher uses, or is it just the end result that matters?

 Jason: I just care what the end product looks like. Do what you need to do to make it look real. Retouching beauty shots and models tends to be a bit challenging. A big note about skin is that the skin doesn't look like plastic. We should be able to see pores.
10) Are there any trends in retouching or color grading looks you’ve been seeing?

Jason: The look I’ve been seeing lately in general is more of a de-saturated look. At one point a couple of years ago there was a sort of hyper saturated look, but right now this de-saturated one seems to be the trend. Very cinematic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Makin' it Real

14-2596 AF1 High Top Master_Landscape_0054_newruff_w1c-dd4

How do you photograph a line of custom shoes before any have been made?

Last Fall Nike partnered with Pendleton Woolen Mills to create a line of custom shoes to be featured on their NikeID website. The only trouble was since these were custom shoes, none of the them would be made before the campaign went “Live”.

What they did have were some prototypes made from light gray leather and rolls of Pendleton wool fabrics. So when they asked photographer Michael Jones to create photos of the new shoes he brought me on board to handle the extensive retouching that would be needed to pull this off.

Working with Michael we formed a plan where Michael would shoot the gray shoes as is, then shoot additional frames with the fabric draped over the shoes. There were 19 shoes in all that would need to be “created”. When the gray shoes arrived Michael discovered that many of the base shoes would need to be cobbled together from several other shoes.

Using a strap from this one and a sole from that one my team and I first built the proper base shoes then went to work compositing the various shots of fabric draped shoes adding lighting and shadowing to bring out the shape and form of the shoes. Then the stitching was added along with changing the colors of the soles and swooshes where needed.

All in all 19 shoes were created with the first line going live mere days after delivery.

Here is a sampling of some of the shoes created as part of this campaign.

14-2596_AM1_Mid Multi_landscape_0907 W414-2596_AF1 Low Top_Blackwatch_landscape_0256_ng1-dd4

14-2596 AF1 High Top_Landscape_Grey_W5a14-2596_AM1_Low Grey_landscape_W5

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

X-Men Character Poster


I love working on movie posters! There is something cool about working on a campaign for a big block buster movie like the latest chapter in the X-Men series. Last Spring I had the pleasure of working on this character poster featuring the young and old Magneto for the ad agency Trailer Park.

For those not familiar with the long process for creating a movie poster there are many rounds of design involved where the designers for the ad agency work closely with the studio client to create the final design. (It’s not unheard of for these designs to involve over 100 rounds before they get approved.) Once the studio approves the “Comp” the file is then passes on to the “Finishing" stage where high end retouchers complete the process of creating the final high res image for the poster.

The Finishing process involves adding a little extra canvas for “bleed” to make sure there is plenty of room for cropping and the various frames the posters will be placed in. Then it comes down to scaling the image up to the final size, usually based on a 27x40 crop at 200ppi, and the painstaking process of going layer by layer by layer replacing the low res images from the comp with the highest res versions available while adding the necessary retouching, masking and color adjustments to make the final image look as perfect as possible.

As you can guess the Photoshop files for these posters can get pretty big. The final file for this one weighed in around 10Gb and had around 70 layers.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Relaxed Glamour

Relaxed glamour should look effortless. But we all know true glamour takes work.

So when Dallas based photographer Stewart Cohen, who creates some wonderfully glamorous shots, needed someone to add a touch of Photoshop Magic to make this image look effortless he called on me.

In addition to the usual work bringing out the glamour of the model, this project involved combining several images together to get just the right balance of detail and lighting between the view in the windows, the model and the room itself. Reflections and stray roof panels were removed from the windows. Then the lights in the room were brought up just enough to give the image a nice home away from home feeling.

Here's the before image Stewart sent me to work on:

Friday, April 25, 2014

16 bits to the Rescue!

Ask any retoucher what their number one arch nemesis is and they'll probably say "Banding"!

You know them, those curving lines separating each band of color as the tones go from light to dark. These bands are caused when each step in color stands there screaming for attention. They taunt us while we endlessly work to chase them away.

Kind of like this:

_DS10337_W1b-8 crop

Recently I was working on a series of images for a luxury lifestyle brand. The final step in working on these files was to give them a cool color treatment. Two of the images were very similar shots of the model, Amanda, in a kitchen setting. After applying the vignetting and color grading to these images the bands above popped up saying "Hi there!".

Here's where many retouchers would say, "Should have been working in 16 bits from the start!" But alas here we were, right at the final step when we're getting bitten by that 8 bit banding bug. Too late for such a simple fix, right?

Maybe not!

You see that was when I remembered a tip from one of my retoucher friends, Carolyn Winslow. While most folks would say it's too late to gain anything by converting the file from 8 bits to 16 bits per channel Carolyn had shown me this very cool trick that saved the day.

So I took my layered file, complete with all the adjustment and vignetting layers and converted it from 8 bits to 16 bits. At first there was no difference. Zooming into a 100% view gave me a nice smooth image, but any other view brought back those vicious bands.

But then I flattened the file and Voila! the bands disappeared, vanquished by the coolest, easiest trick of all.

_DS10337_W1b-16 crop

This coolness works because as Photoshop converts the file from 8 bits per channel to 16 bits it adds just enough dithering to break up those bands. But while we're looking at the layered file Photoshop still gets hung up in the way it draws the image on the screen. Flattening the image completes the process and makes it much easier for Photoshop to reveal the nice smooth gradations we wanted all along.

With the bands gone we can convert the image back to 8 bits if we want, safe in the knowledge that our enemy, the evil bands, have been vanquished once and for all.