Our first Beauty Retouching contest was a fascinating experience not only for our community, but also for the RA team as we got a chance to review the work of hundreds of retouching artists of all skill levels applied to two same images.
It is amazing to see how the attention to detail, color preferences and the perceived degree of perfection changes from one artist to another. And even more important for the outcome of the contest, as well as in the real-world practice, the general understanding of what beauty retouching is and its purposes in the business environment; how much and what is acceptable to change in an image, and what’s not to adjust unless requested in the brief.
We are very excited to share the interview with our First Prize winner in the Enthusiast Category, Luca Szalmás (New Zealand) today! Luca’s submission was the first choice for the Retouching Academy, Wacom and Capture One teams in the process of selecting the winners. You can see her winning submission at the end of the interview.
Retouching Academy: How long have you been retouching as a freelancer and when did you begin learning retouching?
Luca Szalmás: I first picked up a camera when I was 13. From that point on, my fascination with image making only grew. I was 15 when my parents bought a DSLR camera, I quickly discovered the manual mode and realized that it was possible to control the way the images came out. That alone blew my mind and I became obsessed.
It was at that time that I became familiar with Photoshop. I started editing my images, sometimes completely distorting them into something else. The process of capturing images, and then taking them into Photoshop to edit them was the main reason I was interested in photography at the time.
I kept doing what I was doing for a couple of years, and never really looked up any retouching techniques whatsoever. What I knew – I only knew from trial and error. That’s my personality type in general, although now I am trying my best to be proactive about my problem solving when I get stuck.
My life revolved around photos, but it didn’t really lead anywhere at that stage. I wanted to study photography at university. So, I applied, but of course I did not get accepted. In retrospect, rightfully so – I had no idea what I was doing!
A few years later I was still doing photography. With slightly better equipment, vision, production quality, but still not really anything I would be proud of today.
When I was 20, I was in desperate need of flexible gainful employment. My partner suggested I “photoshop other people’s photos“. I had no idea that was an actual job! That’s when I started freelancing as a “retoucher” on freelancer sites.
Eventually I sold my camera and fully focused on retouching. I became frustrated with the quality of my work two years ago. I’d never heard of the Clone Stamp tool or Dodging and Burning at that point. My workflow was more than destructive (I’m so sorry for my very first clients).
I saw that it was bad, joined a couple of retouching-related Facebook groups and read a lot of CC under other artists’ images. For a few months I absorbed as much info as I could. Finally, I decided to retouch my first image properly 1.5 years ago. That’s what I consider the start of my learning retouching, what I did before that had little to nothing to do with professional retouching.
RA: What do you pay attention to when planning your retouching steps for an image at hand?
LS: The most important thing is to know what type of image it is. Beauty? Fashion? Portrait? Lifestyle? E-commence?
Sometimes some clients ask for beauty retouching, but send headshots or fashion images. Obviously not every image needs the full beauty treatment. A family photo doesn’t need the same amount of attention to detail as a beauty image. I think the term “beauty retouch” simply sounds good, and people like using it while not necessarily understanding what it really means.
It’s important that we don’t just go in and edit an image for 3 hours just for fun. Since I rarely get a full brief, I have to figure out most of the time what to do with the images, so I investigate.
As a very first step, I look up the person who contacted me. I find their portfolio to see what that photographer is looking for. What’s their style? What they do with their images in general? It’s not always obvious from their message. Some people share these things with me in their e-mail, some don’t share anything, so I make sure I understand their needs before committing to the job.
It’s also very important to know what they will use the images for. If they want to use it in a small size on the web, that will get a different treatment than a billboard size image, for example.
If I do get a brief, I’ll take note of it and double check the final images against the brief to make sure that they get what they want and need. A good approach is to create an empty layer, and have the client draw on the picture – pointing out the areas where special attention is needed. Typically, I just do it myself 90% of the time.
RA: What is the hardware and software of your choice?
I used to use a simple keyboard for editing, but now I’m really into the Logitech G13 gameboard. I programmed it to work with my most used keystrokes and combinations and it’s amazing!
All of that runs on a custom desktop PC.
On the software side, I’m using Adobe Photoshop and Capture One for editing and Adobe Bridge to find my PSDs.
RA: What do you think is important to understand and do for retouching freelancers for marketing their services?
LS: I’m still trying to figure this one out. From my experiences so far, networking is probably the strongest marketing tool we have. Word of mouth can get you connected with people you may not even have heard of. It is better than a random new contact, because you already have some connection through a previous good experience with a mutual acquaintance.
Working hard and doing your best is a given, if you pair that with networking and persistence, you’ll be fine.
Talk to other creatives, help them, share knowledge, collaborate, work together, let your voice be heard in the retouching community. I can’t even begin to explain what joining Facebook groups and participating in conversations did for my career (Well, there’s still a long way to go, but you know what I mean).
Social media presence is very important in this day and age, use it!
RA: And lastly, please tell us about your retouching workflow.
LS: My workflow is very simple.
When I get RAW files, I spend a little time just looking at them first. My monitor setup helps with this – one in set in the landscape, and the other in the portrait orientation. I like to use the vertical monitor to see the images in full (when they are shot in portrait orientation, which they mostly are) and in big size. I make a mental note of the details that bother me, check skin, makeup, colors, clothes, details in the background.
Then I take them into a RAW converter, match the exposure, colors, skin tones, and anything that I need to fix but won’t need to come back to later. For example, if I see some sensor dust in the image, I get rid of it with a few clicks at this stage, because no client will ever ask to bring those back in a revision.
After that, I take the images to Photoshop. I have my base action, which creates all the groups, DB layers, visual aid, and a few basic layers that I’m going to use and build on during editing.
I start by cleaning up with the Healing Brush and the Clone Stamp Tool on an empty layer, or a few more depending on what I’m doing. Then I dodge and burn with a curves setup. For this I have a few subgroups, which give me control over the amount of DB, and I can take it back easily if I feel like it’s too much.
There’s a group for micro DB that I usually use as a last step in this part of the process, if I do it at all. A different group for very obvious spots that the eye catches instantly when looking at an image. A third group for bigger corrections, for example contouring (I rarely use this group). And one for exposure correction in case I didn’t do it during the RAW conversion stage.
The next step is color. Also using different subfolders for this: one for local corrections and one for color grading. Of course, every image is different, so I always end up customizing these folders and masking a lot.
My last layer is usually a smart object for liquifying. I like to do that as a final step, but want to have the option to go back and change some things on the lower layers.
Check out Luca’s RA Beauty Retouching Contest Submission: