Retouching for Fashion

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I wanted to give you guys some background on the technical aspects of being a fashion photographer.  I’ll start with a little about retouching, but please write in and let me know anything else that would interest you.

We do most of our own retouching, I’ve got a great in house team, and I have a lengthy background with Photoshop myself.  (I learned on Photoshop 2.0……. I don’t even want to think about how long ago that was!)

My style tends to lean towards a refined but naturalistic look, often with a bit of a retro vibe.  This makes it easier on us in the retouching stages. We treat every image differently depending on the final look we want and how the image was shot, but generally we  just need to clean the skin up a bit, work the color and exposure, and then add any effects and final sharpen.  (If you want to see someone who does A LOT of work in the retouching stage, check out Dave Hill.  His work is amazing, and his Photoshop skills are beyond belief! )

We have a nice workflow and generally retouch around 200 to 300 images per month for various clients.  We shoot everything in RAW format and process via Adobe RAW into TIFF format.  If the image is for web use only we will then reduce the size of the image to 1200 pixels high before beginning any retouching.  This saves a huge amount of time, as there is much less detail we need to deal with.  The downside is that if in the future we need that same image for print use, we will have to retouch it all over again in high resolution.

Another thing that saves us time is really taking advantage of the Actions function of Photoshop.  There are certain things we do to every single image, and this can easily be automated by building an action.  Even if you are not doing the kind of volume we do in my studio, using Actions will still save you a lot of time.  And who wants to sit in front of a computer any longer than necessary!

I don’t think I need to go into great detail about every technique we use since most of it is pretty obvious and there is all sorts of information on the web about how to do it. For skin we use a combination of a “blending” layer and a “blurring” layer.  We always add a hue/saturation layer set to softlight, which is a great way to adjust contrast and exposure.  We get a lot of our color effects with “gradient map” and “solid color” layers set at different types of blending.  And sometimes we will use various techniques to add film grain, or textures like scratches and dust.

If you want to be a fashion photographer today, you had better be skilled with Photoshop.  It’s become an extremely important part of the process and many photographers have built their careers on the style they create in retouching.    Even if you are going to send all your work out to a retoucher, you still need to have a background in Photoshop to communicate your vision.  I even recommend that make-up artists, hair stylists, fashion stylists, and even models get at least some background in Photoshop.  It just gives you so much more control over your work.  If a photographer is too busy to retouch images for you, wouldn’t it be nice to have the skill to take the raw file and fix it up yourself?

Check out the before and after images below from a few different jobs.  You can see the “after” images are not all that far away from the “before”.  Having started my photography career before digital, I learned to make a clean photograph in camera.  After all, when I was shooting on a 6×7 medium format camera with transparency film I had to make sure I made a perfect image in camera…. even being off a 1/4 stop in exposure or having a slight color cast could sink a job!

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Written by Christopher Kilkus

January 23rd, 2010 at 7:20 pm

2 Responses to 'Retouching for Fashion'

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  1. Hi, i love your job, the second pic is my favorite, and i would like to know how do you get that color?? like a yellowish retro but bright color its just amazing, and the gradient, just a perfect compliment, you are just amazing can you please help me out??? all my work is for a nonforprofit organization but just because of that doesn’t mean i’m going to do a crapy powerpoint job, anyway thanks!!!


    10 Aug 10 at 6:56 am

  2. Thanks for the compliment on my work! I do all that color effect in post, and it’s a combination of a bunch of different color layers set at various blending types. I use two or three layers of gradient masks with a bluish shadow to a yellowish highlight, and/or a brown shadow to a yellowish highlight, set either as softlight blending or normal blending. This gives it a bit of an overall faded yellowish look, but makes the colors, especially the blue tones pop a bit. Then for the “light leak” look it’s about four layers or so…. some gradient maps with reds to blues set to screen or lighten blending, and a couple layers of solid red, and solid blue set to screen or lighten. Then all those layers are masked out and I paint them in at the edges and sometimes in other parts of the photos until it looks about right. Anyway, those are the basics but it will take a bit of experimentation to get it to look the way you want. Have fun!

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