Calling in the professional retoucher
Aaron K talks to professional retoucher Kevin Hyde about his job and how it fits into the image-creation process
These days, I expect that most professional photographers are pretty competent Photoshop users, as they would use it regularly to process, adjust, and manipulate their own photos. However, no matter how good a photographer thinks they are with Photoshop, when an important assignment comes up that requires complex and sophisticated post-production work, it always pays to bring in an experienced professional retoucher — someone like Kevin Hyde from Imagecraft (imagecraft.co.nz). With more than 20 years of post-production experience and a portfolio filled with advertising jobs for major brands, Hyde knows a thing or two about retouching. So, I decided to give him a call to find out what he had to say on the subject. The Photographer’s Mail: How did you become a freelance retoucher?
Kevin Hyde: Back in 1995, I started two apprenticeships — one each in pre-press and drum scanning — at a company called Tintz in Hamilton. That was around the time that pre-press went digital, and it provided a great foundation for me. In 1999, I went over to London and started freelancing — doing artwork, layout, and design for ad agencies. At that point, I shifted from the nuts and bolts of pre-press into the creative advertising world. I came back to New Zealand in 2004 and focused more on retouching. I started off freelancing at Draft FCB, where there was a growing need for specialist retouching services. I was at Draft for a few years and then freelanced at Colenso, where I got more into 3D-CGI work, and began combining the 3D with the retouching. What sort of services do you provide?
Retouching and 3D-CGI work. Quite often, it might be just a pure retouching job, working with raw shots provided directly from a photographer or via an ad agency. Or it may be a combination of retouching with a 3D element incorporated into the image. In
some cases, it’s just straight CGI-rendered illustrations on their own. What’s your primary aim when retouching?
In terms of retouching, I like bringing realism and life to a composition. There are all sorts of different areas of retouching, but I tend to do a lot in the compositing category. I enjoy the challenge of bringing different elements together in a way that looks as real as possible. Who are your typical clients?
Having come from an ad agency background, where I’ve built up a lot of contacts over the years, the bulk of my work still comes from agencies. But I also work directly with photographers I’ve met over the years or who’ve found me via my website.
Who do you end up interacting with the most during the image-creation process?
It tends to be the art director, because, with advertising work, it’s their vision that you’re trying to realize. There are numerous people involved in the process [who] … I’ll communicate with — photographers, producers, etc. — but, ultimately, it’s the creative who calls the shots.
At what point in this process are you normally brought in?
It depends on how things unfold. If it’s known from the outset that my skills will be required, then I’m brought in at the briefing stage. But, in some cases, a shoot may have already taken place, and due to unforeseen circumstances there might be a few problems that need to be sorted out, so I’ll be called in afterwards.
What are some of the biggest technical challenges you face when retouching?
There are the obvious things that you encounter when combining different elements into a single composite image. You need a consistent light source across all the images and also a consistent angle of view. For example, you don’t want to put a close-up wide shot of a person into a long shot of a background (or vice versa), because things end up looking forced — and it doesn’t matter how much retouching you do, you can’t iron those inconsistencies out.
What can photographers do to make your job easier and get a better end result? Ask questions. If there’s a job that they’re looking at that’s likely
to involve some complicated retouching, and they’re a bit worried about how it might come together in post, then they should just get on the phone and talk it through with the retoucher. It makes life a lot easier for everyone involved if you plan the shoot correctly.
How much time should photographers allow for highend retouching?
It depends on the complexity of the job, but you typically need at least a few days. You also need to allow time for three stages of proofing, where the art director, the photographer, and the client can provide feedback and make changes to the image before the final file is supplied. This process takes time, so you need to factor that in.
Any final words of wisdom that you’d like to offer photographers?
Shoot background plates and cover off left and right and up and down, because there’s always another media format that the client may not have accounted for initially. If you have those background shots up your sleeve, it’s a lot easier to extend an image.