If you’re seriously considering a future career in retouching, you’re undoubtedly aware of the huge range of potential options and specializations in the industry. From working fashion in-house, to remotely delivering an architectural interiors project, or assisting at a shoot as a digital operator, we get the option to experience a rewarding variety of work.
Broadly, the three main business model disciplines you can follow are:
- remote freelancing,
- the more traditional in-house work at a company,
- and working on-site as a digital technician, assisting the photographer at the shoot itself.
You may be a flexible retoucher able to provide a service in each discipline, or specialize in just one or two.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the preparation you might need for the challenges of each, whether you plan to freelance from a home office, get a salaried position in a marketing department or go for a more flexible between-option.
Over the last decade, remote working has become much more common across the world. Where ten to twenty years ago ‘working from home’ was a dream for most, it’s now a perfectly attainable and viable career choice.
Besides a good workstation and software set-up, you’ll need to have in place a solid infrastructure for delivering large files to clients on tight deadlines. When choosing an internet provider firm for the best upload speeds available, these aren’t always championed alongside the headline claims of streaming and gaming speeds if you’re buying a consumer line, so you may need to check through the details of the services they offer carefully.
The way of transferring gigabytes of data is essential. A private server is great but not vital, wetransfer.com’s free user account allows for up to 2Gb of data sent to any email address, with an option to upgrade to 20Gb. Dropbox is another commonly used transfer service. I’ve received files through these services from a long list of major companies, they’re in no way lesser than or ‘less professional’ than a private server.
The remote model allows for any worker in any world location to interact with clients all over the globe, a perfect option for those too far from major cities to find on-site work. It can be a slow start and income will be unstable as it is in any freelance field, but steadily building solid relationships with clients can lead to regular work and a great annual financial return.
As this market is the most easily accessed, without the need for an employment resume or a relevant degree level education, maintaining a good portfolio and online presence is vital for the remote freelancer. Competition here is tough, but there are plenty of commercial projects available for stand-out talents.
While getting a full-time job working for an ad agency or a company with an in-house marketing department brings all the stability and benefits of employment, most of these companies also have go-to freelancers for the busier periods of the year.
For full-time work, having a relevant education and experience and traditionally responding to a job opening with a CV/resume is still as valid as it has always been. If you’re lucky enough to live near enough to a company that hires retouchers, or are thinking of moving to one, even cold-emailing marketing and/or art directors with a brief cover letter explaining your skill level and availability could get you a job. They may have needed you for weeks already.
Be prepared for the retouching terminology you’ll encounter in a specialized workplace, and always bring your own graphics tablet just in case. You’ll commonly be briefed on the campaign, given proofs and markups, access to a workstation and the project server. You’ll need to save your files in a way that helps your colleagues work with them too; ways of doing this vary but this should be explained to you, just remember to keep neat PSDs. If you’re required to export jpegs for proofing, know which color profile to use, for example in the UK FOGRA39 is common.
If you don’t want to be tied to a salaried job, keeping good relations with local ad companies is a great way to ensure regular retouching work. You might be called on a Monday evening and asked to work for three weeks starting Tuesday at 9am, but being prepared for that means you’ll enjoy your down time in-between, a big draw for most freelancers.
Of all the retouching work-based scenarios, in my experience, these tend to be the most fun. You get to be at the shoot and meet the photographer, stylists and models (and often a representative of the client) and directly influence the final product along with the whole team. As retouchers, we’re often outside of the early process so these opportunities are rewarding.
Your job will be to monitor the output from the camera live at your workstation and you’ll be given varying levels of freedom to balance or treat the shots in RAW software to the photographer’s instruction.
In turn, you will provide your input and flag any issues you anticipate in the retouch process. Some photographers will expect you to interpret a style from a mood board and work with minimal distractions, others will always be grateful for your request for the stylist to fix a stray hair or smudged makeup. It’s important to get a good feel for the way they like to work. Good prior communication on the photographer’s requirements is essential.
You might be expected to provide a portable computer or laptop to work from, I won’t mention a particular brand here but well, you know… Also, bring a spare external hard drive. Although the photographer will likely have their own, I’m sure they won’t mind me saying they aren’t immune to forgetting a spare and they’ll love you for the save.
A lot of professional photographers will tether (link to your workstation) using CaptureOne, so I’d highly recommend you preinstall it if you plan to digi-op a lot. Other RAW capture software is available so be sure to discuss this with the photographer beforehand.
Whichever path, or paths you choose, hard work, learning (we’ve got you covered), practice and professional diligence can lead to great career rewards.
Good luck from us all at RA, and keep an eye out for our next blog post!