Insights on Retouching: From a Client’s Perspective with photographer Hunter Freeman

Last spring, digital artist, Dennis Dunbar, started a series on retouching that aimed to provide some perspective on the process.  Since then he has published four interviews.  Of course, one of our favorites is with Hunter Freeman.  I love his answer to #7.  So true!

Thank you Dennis for starting this conversation.  To read what else he has to say about the industry as well as his other interviews, link to his blog  here.

Contributing Blogger: Dennis Dunbar
Listening closely to what our clients want and need is one of the most important skills a retoucher must master. With that in mind here is the next installment on the “Insights on Retouching: From a Client’s Perspective” series. This interview is with photographer Hunter Freeman.

1) How have you been involved in using or buying retouching? And what kinds of projects have you worked on that involved retouching?

Hunter: I have worked on projects that run a fairly large gamut of capabilities that are needed and effects that are desired, everything from projects that were going to require a substantial amount of CGI from the get-go, to work with things that are just basically very simple retouching, and everything in between.

2) Do agencies prefer you to have your own retoucher, or do they seem to prefer to take that work in house?

Hunter: They do both. I’m inclined to be suspicious of in-house retouching, depending on the agency. I usually have a couple of people that I like to work with. So, I will recommend someone for the retouching, and the agency will either get in touch with that person or they’ll say they will handle it in house.

If there is any kind of higher quality needed for the retouching, my experience has been that most times the agencies are going to go to somebody outside the agency that specializes in retouching.

3) What do you look for when working with a retoucher?

Hunter: I look for the ability to illustrate reality, and/or somebody who has the ability to put things together in a way that, while it’s clearly retouched, it looks and feels appropriate, somebody whose work looks transparent. It should look like a seamless photograph as opposed to something that has been cobbled together.

I also look for that artistic eye. Prior to the digital world, the best retouchers I worked with in New York were real artists. They literally were artists and illustrators that worked with dye transfers, and were able to illustrate and combine elements that looked unbelievable. They were great.

With today’s technology anybody can composite images. But to make it look like nobody has worked on it is I think much more challenging. That’s what the best try to do. They try to make it look like it was all done in one shot.

4) What separates a high end retoucher from average retouchers?

Hunter:  The better retouchers make it look believable, like the shot wasn’t ever retouched.

There was a product shot I had recently that I needed cleaned up and outlined, so I sent it to 2 retouchers to see how they would handle it. One person came back with a very clean image and had put a little shadow below it that looked very nice. The other one came back with an image that was clean, but just okay. And the shadow looked a bit messy, like they weren’t sure what to do with it. It was OK, but not really keeping with the higher standards. And why aim low?

I don’t think you achieve greater results by accepting adequacy every time you shoot, you get better by trying to do better the next time. Whether you’re a photographer or a retoucher, every time you do something you can try harder to do better.

The people that I work with as clients, they want the best. So, I have to make sure that they have the best I’ve seen that’s presentable.

5) What do you feel is the most challenging part of retouching?

Hunter: Through the retouching process, the hardest thing is getting to the approval point without seriously affecting the time that’s been budgeted, both by the retoucher and by the agency. Estimating that ahead of time is challenging. So, I think the most challenging thing for retouching is managing the process through completion with relation to the time that has been estimated and budgeted for.

6) Do you look for high end retouchers to have a “style”?

Hunter: Depending on what I am doing, I will look for examples of what they’ve done to make sure they have experience in the kind of images we’ll be creating.

7) Of quality, speed, price which are most important to you and your clients?

Hunter: I’m laughing; because it used to be you get good fast and cheap, you pick one, and then pick two and now everybody wants all three.

For me I want it to be good. I want the finished results to be good, to be really good. In a lot of ways speed is really dependent on what the client wants the final result to be.

In a way it’s like if you’re running the 100 yard dash. If you are going to run 100 yards in 10 seconds, you are not going to be carrying a 60 pound pack. When we estimate things in photography, the client will have a budget and we always say, “here is what we can do for that amount of money.” It’s not a question of cheap or expensive, they may want it cheap but it’s not cheap if it doesn’t get you to where you want to go.

8) Do you have any “Pet Peeves” regarding retouching? (Over done reshaping of bodies, plastic skin, problematic techniques?)

Hunter: Well for me it’s when something is so poorly retouched it’s just seems like they weren’t even trying. It doesn’t happen that often, but it does.

Beyond particular techniques and styles, which are really been driven by the client, it would be how women are depicted, but then that’s more a societal problem than something about retouching in general.

I think it’s always a good thing when retouchers point out what’s been changed when somebody was retouched, to disabuse people of the notion that these people look so fabulous all the time.

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