Home > FLOW, PHOTOSHOP > Career Advice From A Professional Retoucher

Career Advice From A Professional Retoucher

The majority of photographers I know have a love/hate relationship with post production and retouching. In fact, for most of them, it’s more of the latter. As a fashion photographer/retoucher myself I find I’m often in the minority as I personally enjoy both. Quite often I enjoy retouching more than shooting even. There are of course people out there who solely retouch and don’t shoot at all.
Today’s post is aimed mostly at people who wish to pursue a career in professional retouching. Although, in reality, the advice holds true for most lines of work.
Natalia Taffarel is a high end fashion retoucher and workshop instructor from Buenos Aries, Argentina. She is a highly sought after professional who’s work regularly appears in numerous major fashion magazines. Natalia recently published a blog post describing her thoughts on what it takes to make it in the ultra competitive field of fashion retouching. Below is the posting from Natalia. To see more of Natalia’s work be sure to visit her website at www.studiobased.com
Like many other creative trades, this is one you need to love in order to succeed.
Not a day goes by without me getting an email asking me how to achieve something in Photoshop. Furthermore, when I reply, the person is shocked that it would take so long. They are honestly amazed that it’s not some action or a one-click wonder trick.
Well… it’s not.
Learning is never fast or easy.
Being good at it doesn’t happen over night.
Building a retouching business takes time, and a completely different set of skills.
Nothing can be achieved though, if you are not passionate enough.
Lets define passion. A musician will listen to music all day and night, studying every style and author. They will know everything there is to know, about every facet of music, because that’s the way it should be! It couldn’t be any other way!
The same goes for visual arts. You can’t be a retoucher if you don’t enjoy and consume art. One needs to develop an eye for color, aesthetics and composition.
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it”. Ansel Adams
How do we “make” an image from the retoucher’s perspective? Taking into account the teachings of traditional art, such as composition, color theory and light behavior. Also, things involving drawing/illustration techniques are extremely helpful when it comes to retouching. Reason is, we are basically drawing over an existing gradient.
Anatomy, from an artist point of view, is also essential when working on human models, shape and bone structure etc.
There’s a retouching house in NY where they make all their retouchers study anatomy and test them on it. They need to know every bone in the face.
Understanding the market is also part of being passionate about retouching.
You can’t work in a market you don’t understand. Who are your inspirations? What are the industry standards? Why is copyright important? Who is your ideal target? What are the current trends? What has been done already? By Whom?
You should know the answers to these questions if you’re going to pursue a career in retouching.
The first thing I ask my students is “How many of you have the latest Vogue or Número in their home/office?”
You create your own limitations. If you don’t spend your time consuming art and images (quality ones), then you can’t train your brain to differentiate the good from the bad, and the bad from the ugly.
When was the last time you went to an art show? exhibition? museum? Think about it.
If you look at crap all day long, you will train your brain to think that is how images should look. You need to be selective. Not just magazines either. Otherwise you’re always following someone else’s trends. Look at photography books, National Geographic, photo journalism books and movies. Again, not just the latest hits, but older movies too. There’s not a scene in the film “Amelie” that couldn’t be printed, framed, and hung on a wall. Nobody is born cultured, it’s like muscles, they have to GROW IN YOU with time, effort, and consistency.
Another issue one needs to rid themself of: the need to make up excuses.
If you sit around and criticize others work and talent (or lack there of) on social sites; then you’re only creating excuses for yourself. You are simply wasting time, and developing a false sense of superiority that doesn’t help you grow or better yourself.
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people”-Eleanor Roosevelt
(And no small mind has ever accomplished anything).
I hear people complaining about new retouchers, or retouchers in other (cheaper) markets all the time. People believe that since these other retouchers are charging nothing for their work they are devaluing the whole market. They go on and on about how there’s not enough work, and how budgets continue to drop because of “these people”. “It’s not my fault that I’m not getting enough work, it’s their fault!”
If you’re worrying about this you should look at yourself in the mirror. It’s not the market that is the problem. It’s your work and your attitude. If you offer quality you won’t have to worry about this. I know we don’t!
Quality is not just about the retouching itself. It’s also about you as a service provider, and the added value of service that you provide. Some examples of added value of service include: honesty/being “real” (a commodity in today’s industry), your people skills, meeting deadlines, offering feedback and advice to your clients and perhaps most importantly, doing slightly more than is expected of you.
“Those that say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it” Chinese Proverb

If you are freelancer then you need to calibrate your brain to think like one. You are not only offering retouching, you are offering consultation. You must market and sell yourself as such. Potential clients need to know that you possess not only the technical abilities to complete the job, but also that you’re knowledgeable about the business as a whole. Both in terms of targets and in general context.
Building a business is not only about having a skillset either.
Think about where the real demand is, and what you’re willing to offer. As well as who else is offering the same as you at that particular time.
Also, skills DO NOT equate experience. That alone is the money point! (Pun intended) Whatever your rate is, expect it to commensurate with your skill level or expertise. Don’t expect to be making as much money as someone who’s been in the industry for ten years producing solid work.
Clients in general don’t just flock to you because you started a business. Connections have very little to do with it in the beginning. Very few people START with connections. The rest of us mere mortals have to build a solid client base, this doesn’t happen in just minutes or hours or days. It takes time and dedication.
The reality is, in the first year you will be working on really bad files to pay your rent. But don’t only work on those photos! You must also TEST on your free time in order to build a portfolio that WILL get the attention of the people you want to work for.
Dress for the job that you want, not for the job that you have. Otherwise you’re trapped in a vicious cycle like this:
1. I only produce lower quality work because that’s all my clients can afford. Besides they can’t tell the difference anyway
2. My portfolio is now filled with only lower quality images
3. I can only attract clients that have limited budgets that don’t care about better quality.
4. Return to number 1.
In this cycle, the client who has enough criteria and good taste to get the higher budgets (or to pay for high quality work), will never contact you or reply to your emails. Reason being, your portfolio does not show any high quality work.
Ergo: You’re trapped.
The belief that testing is “working for free”, is only shared by those who have NO IDEA how the market actually works. Professionals test all the time! They test with agencies and for personal projects. Pros do this because they know the images they produce in a test will attract potential high end clients. Pros know full well that these clients only care about editorials and personal work when deciding on who to hire for their next job. Of course retouchers also get the pleasure of having contributed towards making the world a better place (well, maybe not better, but prettier.) when testing.
Working for free is an oxymoron. NOBODY works for free. You work for credit, you work for recognition, you work to be in the minds of those who can help you advance your career. Such as: agencies, art directors, photographers, advertisers, rep houses and designers.
If you think the market is ruined by those working “for free”, think again!
Every time you find yourself thinking:
I’m not successful because of…
…the economy.
…my area.
…people who do TFP.
…people who live in cheaper countries.
…client’s not knowing the difference.
…my situation.
…my market.
“Society” ?
It’s not. IT’S YOU! Every time!

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