Ed #7 Retouching

Retouching Rules

Regardless of the type of retouching that you’re doing, it pays to follow a few simple rules. The first is to capture as much information as possible at the beginning. Some professional retouchers prefer to begin with a traditional film image and then convert it to a digital image, because the film offers greater saturation. If a digital image is used, it should be captured at the highest resolution possible. Digital files at lower resolutions may be used, but they often must be retouched more extensively—or even “reshot” on the computer. If you’re planning to create a composite image made from a number of separate images, each of the images should be as clearly defined as possible. It’s also a good idea to shoot the background by itself, with no models in it, so that the retoucher will have the most to work with when it comes time to assemble the final image.

Remember too that the credibility of an image rests on making sure that the light is believable. The best, most convincing retouching demands a good understanding of how the eye “sees” lighting, perspective, color, and depth of field. If a hand is shown in the foreground, for example, it should be sharper than the arm that’s farther away in the frame. Shadows should match. Bad motion lines, poor outlining and muddy color all can give a retouched photo away quickly.

Corrections can easily go too far. Subtle improvements are the most believable. Skin should look like skin, not polystyrene, and no one should look too good to be true. Many people wish that their teeth and eyes were whiter than a picture portrays them, but if all the eyes and teeth in a group portrait are brightened to the same degree, the result will look like a toothpaste ad. To achieve the greatest impact—and the most credible image—and keep a client out of trouble, designers and art directors must resist that client’s urging to make things perfect. Adding six inches to the CEO’s height may seem like a good idea until the manipulation is discovered and everyone starts calling him “Stretch.”

Also keep in mind that some types of photos have been devalued by the widespread use of hundreds, if not thousands, of books, magazine articles and scores of Web sites have been devoted to explaining how to use the tools that Photoshop®, just as counterfeit currency drives down the value of legal tender. That may be especially true for photos that rely on a large mass of objects for their impact. The photo of the fleet of company vehicles, for example, or a crowd scene, may not be as impressive as they once were if everyone knows that such images can be easily created on a computer. A photo of a beautiful person can now leave us asking: how much retouching was required? Some of the wonder has gone out of a photo of a beautiful moonrise over a city skyline.

While designers and art directors can often handle simple retouching tasks on their own, many have found that it’s better to work with a professional retoucher, especially for large or complex projects. People who use the technology every day are more practiced and can spot opportunities for improvement that may not be seen by a less experienced eye. Professionals also understand how to best capture the original image or images to ensure that they’re easy to work with, and have a good understanding of the requirements of different media. Art prepared for newspapers, for example, will not transfer well to magazines. The same holds true for coated and uncoated papers. Color that pops on a high-gloss coated paper may turn dull and muddy on an uncoated stock.

If you choose to work with a professional, it pays to get them involved early in the process, especially if large amounts of manipulation will be required. Planning for retouching should begin at the time the photographer is selected. Often, the dialogue begins with determining the look, feel and effect the client is looking for. Discussions should touch on what will be featured in the photo, the best way to capture the data, the size and proportion of the finished image, how the color should look, how any type that appears should be treated and a number of other concerns. Retouching also should be factored into the schedule and budget. While cleaning up an image may only require hours, or a few days, creating complex images like some of the ones that appear in this publication can take several times longer.

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