Today I’d like to invite you to read my interview with one of the Retouching Academy instructors and my fellow countryman, Commercial & Beauty Photographer & Retoucher Mikhail Malyugin. I must confess I love Mikhail’s work, so it was a great pleasure to pick his brain about all things retouching for you, our readers.
Tell us about yourself. How did you come to being a retoucher/digital artist?
I am a commercial photographer and retoucher based out of Novosibirsk, Russia. I mainly shoot Fashion, Beauty, Advertising and also work with private clients. I started retouching right when I became a photographer about 6 years ago. I was very inspired by the work of western photographers and wanted to be able to create beautiful images on a similar level.
At some point I started receiving emails asking if I was accepting retouching jobs, so I eventually started retouching for clients. I also got into teaching retouching after people started asking me if I was teaching my techniques. It’s been about two years now that I’ve been traveling with my masterclasses in Russia and I also teach online (stay tuned for the Retouching Academy online and offline retouching courses – RA) .
Did you have any formal training in photography, traditional or digital painting?
I haven’t received any formal education in fine arts or photography, I’m completely self-taught. I’ve learned everything through trial and error, tons of educational resources on the internet and a lot of practice. I would spend a lot of time on retouching just one picture at first (sometimes up to 8-9 hours). I enjoyed it and would get carried away in the process of finding out new tricks and trying new techniques. I watched lots of video tutorials, read tons of articles on retouching, followed the work of many European retouchers and tried to up my game and create similar great things.
It didn’t always work out the way I would like, but then it was all about the process. I experimented a lot and I would often completely switch my entire retouching workflow (the set of tools and methods) for something new. I felt like it was very important to try and test everything on my own.
What types of retouching do you do for clients mainly? Who are your clients? What type of retouching is your most favorite?
Usually my retouching clients are photographers from Europe and America. I get requests to retouch Fashion and Beauty shoots for magazines, advertising and even private clients. Mainly the work that I am hired for is images in which natural preserved skin texture, clean colors and tasteful body outlines corrections are very important. In other words, I am hired to perform clean, highly professional and very accurate and detailed retouching, which is exactly what I enjoy doing. That’s what I love creating as a photographer as well.
I believe I get approached for such jobs because my portfolio mainly consists of similar work. So as a result I get paid for what I love doing the most – what else can an artist wish for?
I also work with advertising agencies, and retouch for various advertising campaigns. And I have a few magazines among my regular clients.
I love retouching and shooting Fashion and Beauty, but I am most attracted to Beauty, I think. I love retouching skin, making it beautiful. I often work for many hours on just one photo, especially if there’s a lot of skin in it, simply because I love such meticulous work, very detailed and precise pore and skin texture retouching. That’s the type of work that I am enjoying, so I never get bored. I think it soothes me, helps me to relax, you know what I mean? I perceive it as a hobby rather than toil.
Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way, it often depends on the client, and the way our communication flows. And of course it hugely depends on the source file that I am provided with. I will take on a job if I am not personally interested in, only if it is well-paid and the client is a nice person with adequate expectations. Sometimes I get requests like “10-30 images with perfect retouch due by tomorrow, and if you can offer a discount – even better!”. I normally deny such jobs and stay away from clients who don’t understand what goes into a perfect retouch to begin with.
At the end of the day, a lot depends on my relationship with a client, not even the type of photography they need me to work on. My personal interest in the job and the results will depend on the clients’ requests and expectations. I mean, sometimes I am asked to do things that the source material would not allow me to. The expectations are set too high for what I am presented with.
For example, you can’t achieve perfect, highly detailed skin texture from a source file where the photographer misfocused, or shot with very high ISO speed and the images is full of digital noise. Or an image that was photographed with a hand-held camera, at an unreasonably long shutter speed and/or with wide open aperture. When I realize that I can’t achieve the result that the client is expecting from the source file they have, I am always straight forward about it. I don’t want to stress about it and waste mine and their time.
You have to understand that retouching capabilities are not unlimited, and the source material will determine how far it can be taken. Thankfully, such clients are not something I have to deal with too often.
What are your three personal qualities that you think have really helped you to become successful in your craft and business?
Firstly, I think that the most important quality is a desire for self-improvement. I always seek new information on retouching and try new methods and techniques. I mean, despite the fact that I myself teach retouching and travel with masterclasses, I am always in a continuous learning process. I think anyone who strives to be an exceptional expert in their profession possesses this quality no matter what field they are in. The world is constantly changing, and the beauty industry is no exception, so we have to keep up with the new trends and techniques.
Professionals in our industry keep coming up with new photography and retouching styles and techniques, and it is necessary to keep pace with all the innovations. It’s even more important to not only understand these techniques but also test them out yourself. You just never know when your dream client comes around and what they may ask of you. And no matter how much you research and learn, there will always be something new and noteworthy. One should never be satisfied with their current level of expertise.
Secondly, I think it’s the quality of work that you aim to deliver. An attention to detail is one of the most important aspects of it. I pay a lot of attention to the smallest details, and often end up spending a lot more time on an image than I get paid for – I am done when I am personally happy with the result. Every image I retouch is given the same care and attention as if it was created for my own portfolio. This only makes sense because when I am hired to retouch a photo, my client expects to see results on par with what is in my portfolio and it’s my obligation to meet their expectations.
Lastly, it is the sense of responsibility and punctuality. You can’t not meet the deadlines set by your clients and I always aim to deliver final images before the agreed upon deadline. I often request more time for the job than I think it may take at the negotiation stage, so I have enough time to finish everything and hopefully deliver it early.
I also occasionally choose to pass up on a job if I feel there is a chance that I may miss the deadline because of my current workload. I think it’s better to say No rather than over-promise and not deliver on time.
How did you get your first publications? What would you recommend beginner photographers and retouchers to do to get their work published?
My first publication, well… My first publication was my interview in a local magazine. It was an article about me featuring some of my work. Later I started receiving lots of offers to shoot or retouch for Russian magazines, and after a while I started getting my work published in international magazines as well. Sometimes magazine editors contact me asking to publish my work, and sometimes I reach out to magazines offering to shoot something for them. At this point I get my work published in European magazines every couple of months on average. My most recent published shoot was Plastic Beauty for Some Magazine.
What I can recommend is not to be shy and reach out and offer your work to magazines. There are many publications that you can contact even via Facebook. And if you ever get a chance to get published with no monetary compensation – take that chance regardless! Tear sheets and editorials with your name in print in your portfolio are worth a lot. There are always photographers who offer retouching jobs for credits in print, meaning that if, for example, you retouch the photographer’s editorial you won’t get paid but your name will be mentioned in the publication.
What are the common photographers’ mistakes that you encounter that make it more time- and effort-consuming for you to retouch their images? Could you name at least 2-3 things, please?
The most common mistake, which is very difficult to fix in post-production, is a missed focus. For example, a photographer-client asks for a “magazine-like” beauty retouch, and sends in a photo, where he focused on a knee… Well, what sort of miracle do you expect from the retoucher? Make sure you watch your focus point when you shoot.
The same goes for motion blur when images are photographed with longer shutter speeds. I’m not saying it’s bad, sometimes it looks great, but such images require a different type of retouch – you can’t expect a perfect skin texture in the final photo. Also, heavy underexposure in the shadows and overexposed highlights are a common issue.
I’m not even talking about costly “little” mistakes such as frizzy or poorly styled hair, smeared or inaccurately applied makeup and nail polish. Dear photographers, please keep the final result you’re aiming for in mind as you shoot! Oh, so many times I kicked myself for not fixing such little things in my own shoots – and I’ve learned from my own mistakes. Pay attention to every little detail, everything matters, especially in close-up beauty photography!
For example, if you are planning to shoot hands in your close-up beauty images – the model’s nails must be flawlessly painted… or at least, very very accurately. Fixing and cleaning cuticles in Photoshop is a very time-consuming task, therefore it increases the time and cost of the retouching job.
Hair is another common problem area. Pay a great deal of attention to the hair – how it is styled and whether or not it is frizzy. The lonely flyaway hairs that cross the models face in front of her eyes are the most annoying.
Makeup. This is one of the most important elements in the creation of outstanding images, so make sure to be very selective with the Makeup Artist on your team. In close-up beauty photography, a great deal – if not everything – depends on how well your MUA does their job. Poorly applied makeup is difficult to fix even for a skilled retoucher. Sometimes it may even require a complete make-over in Photoshop, and if that’s the case, then why did you need a MUA at the shoot to begin with?
Watch out for the following things: eyeliner should be applied evenly, the line must be as accurate as possible, the same goes for the lips outline. Lip color should be even (unless it’s meant to be ombre). The blush must be well blended and not look like brown stains on the cheeks. Eye brows should be symmetrical and of a natural color. Any makeup smears and smudges should be fixed right then.
Skin tone. It must be nice and even, but it shouldn’t look like a thick layer of product to the point that skin pores are plugged up. Beginner Makeup Artists often make that mistakes, and unaware photographers only notice it when they get to the post-production stage.Good Beauty, Fashion & Portrait photographers and retouchers should be familiar with the basics of makeup artistry. Especially photographers, so that they can speak the same language with their MUA, and can explain what they actually want on the model’s face.
Clothing & Poses. Watch the clothes carefully, how it’s fitted and whether or not it is steamed. It is smarter to spend a few extra minutes to prepare for the shot than hours later in Photoshop. Watch for the model’s poses and assess the entire picture. Don’t only watch for the facial expression, make sure the model’s hands, fingers, legs and feet are posed and placed well.
Of course a lot of the things I’ve mentioned above can be fixed in Photoshop, but I encourage you to get things right while shooting. Getting things right in camera will at least save you time, or if you outsource your retouching it will save you money.
There are clients who don’t want to think about all this, they simply shoot whatever and believe that retouchers will take care of everything later: put parts of the body together for a good pose, re-create the hairdo, get rid of folds and creases on the clothes, fix and re-create makeup. But good retouchers won’t want to work with clients like that if they don’t pay well. Every skilled professional wants their work and time to be respected and appreciated. At the end of the day, my biggest piece of advice is: pay close attention to details during your shoots and get things right in camera.
Do you have any practical advice to give to photographers who are trying to master their retouching for their own photography?
Most of the things I’ve mentioned above is what will help photographers spend less time in Photoshop and always get better results. Besides, you should always keep in mind how you will retouch certain things – what you are skilled in and what you are still learning. Knowing what you can’t easily fix in post-production will help you direct your attention to those things during the shoot. As for your expertise in retouching itself, if you are a beginner in beauty & skin retouching, I would recommend to start with the essentials. Start with the basics – learn and practice Photoshop retouching tools on their own: Clone Stamp Tool, Healing Brush, Spot Healing Brush, Patch Tool, etc. – don’t jump onto learning complex retouching techniques before you get a hang of the basic instruments first.
I’ve seen many beginner retouchers make that mistake and start working with, for example, the Frequency Separation technique before they really know how to work the tools. They try, they fail, they get discouraged. Start with the basics and then move on up!
Work on improving your skills by constantly trying and practicing new methods. Don’t get stuck on one tool or one technique. I often get asked how I clean up skin in my close-up beauty images, what tools I use – well, it does not matter. The only thing that matters is how YOU work the tools of your choice. Try them all and see what works best for you, what you feel and utilize best. There are always dozens of ways to get the same results, you just need to find the ones that are best for YOU.
The same goes for the more advanced techniques (the Frequency Separation, Inverted High Pass, Dodge & Burn, etc.). You shouldn’t be using the same techniques and performing the same steps when working on different images. Of course, you need a lot of practice to become highly skilled with any one technique, but my point is there shouldn’t be one same algorithm for all images you work on. It’s great to have your personal main workflow, but you should have a few different techniques under your sleeve and be able to joggle them depending on the colors, light and textures in the image at hand.
If you are just starting your journey into the world of advanced beauty retouching, one of the most important things for you as a beginner retoucher – I believe – is self-control, self-awareness and vision. You must be able to tell when it is enough of retouching and when to stop. It’s a common mistake when beginners who have just learned a new technique use it and apply it excessively.
Typically the Frequency Separation and Dodge & Burn techniques get abused by beginners, and as a result photographs no longer look realistic, they look more like digital paintings and not necessarily attractive ones.It is incredibly important to learn to know when to stop. Pausing for a break every now and then helps to assess your retouching progress. Get away from the image you’re retouching and come back to it later with fresh eyes. Use Layers and don’t merge all of them while you’re still retouching, so you can go back and compare your progress with the original. Toggle the layer visibility and if you notice that you’ve overdone something, take the layers’ Opacity down to reduce the intensity of your corrections.
Remember, that the best retouch should be so subtle that the photo looks like it hasn’t been retouched at all. Keep things as natural as possible while removing the flaws.
Please share your favorite art, motivational or inspirational quote or advice with our readers.
Look at the top photographers’ and retouchers’ work a lot. Observe and work on developing your own sense of style and vision. Watch the industry trends and innovations and constantly work on your own skills.
More practice, more research and more practice again. Don’t be lazy, the hours of practice and patience will be worthwhile. You might spend 4-7 hours on a photo at first, but the more you practice, the faster you will become. Your retouching skills and the use of the advanced techniques should become your second nature. Only practice makes perfect.
Keep working hard and you will get to where you want to be with your skills!
STAY TUNED FOR THE UPCOMING RETOUCHING ACADEMY ONLINE & OFFLINE RETOUCHING COURSES & SEMINARS WITH MIKHAIL MALYUGIN IN 2014.
You can see more of Mikhail’s work and follow him on his: