There are those with hours of experience but don’t know what they’re doing. There are those with loads of knowledge, but don’t know how to do anything. Then, there’s a huge grey area of those who know what they’re doing and have done a lot of it. That big grey area is where you want to be.
Retouching is a practical task which involves repetition, patience, sensitivity and above all, taste. The photography business is business before it’s photography, but that doesn’t remove the art from the photographic side of the business itself. Thus, good taste is a fundamental quality needed in any retoucher and intuition tends to play a key role in one’s taste. However, retouching is, in it’s simplest form, editing. The idea alone of editing a photo, means fixing issues in an image. So when I hear a retoucher say “I’m self-taught.” I cringe. I can understand a photographer who declares he/she has great intuition and no education, I don’t agree with it, but I understand it simply because photographers are, after all, limited to reality and what enters the lens. So they are limited to what reality presents in that moment, and at best, can only choose how we see it. But retouchers have a world of options because we can add artificial elements that weren’t present at the time the photo was taken, and remove real ones that instead were present. We want to perform these steps, applying good taste and and some depend on their intuition that has gotten them this far. Cool! However, intuition will only get you so far for 2 reasons.
First of all, your intuition is guaranteed to fail you at some point due to a theoretical mistake. At some point, you’re going to have to create a shadow of some object you added to a photo in post. Perhaps the shadow you create looks nice, but is it realistic enough to pass? In this example, the photo was taken at he beach in June, and our focus should be on realism. So the art director gives you a baffled look and says that a light source like the sun doesn’t create soft shadows, and…you feel like an idiot. It’s a dumb example…but it is an example non-the-less. This could’ve been avoided by simply studying up on light theory.
The second reason, is troubleshooting. Now, I learned this concept back when I was starting out as an audio engineer. In the world of audio, you can’t see anything, you use your ears, and most of the time problems with an audio track don’t stick out like problems with an image. Most humans do better with their eyes than their ears. So in the audio world, we use a fair amount of theory. Theory allows you to troubleshoot based on the process of eliminating non key factors or simply by learning how to use good analytical skills in general pertaining to your field. Here’s a scenario: The client wants a person in the snow to have a shadow that didn’t really come out in the photo. So, based on where the light source (the sun) was, you added the shadow accordingly. Nice job! However (and here’s a typical example), the client says that something doesn’t seem right about the shadow. He can’t quite put his finger on what it is, but something’s just not right. So, you give it another look; the hardness/softness of the shadow look fine, the overlay looks fine. Suddenly, you start to put some pieces together; though the source is the sun, it’s softer than usual, the shoot was in Stockholm, Sweden. You then realize that due to the latitude of Stockholm, the fact that there’s snow means it was winter time…well, you realize that at that time and place, the soft winter sun would never be even close to directly over the subject. So considering the subject’s height, you need to adjust the angle from which the light is hitting, or simply…stretch the shadow because it’s too short for the surrounding environment’s details. That was a long example. If it went over your head, don’t worry, here’s a short and sweet example of theory: how do you neutralize yellow tones without removing them…add blue tones. You’ll know that thanks to theory, not intuition. By the way, if you caught on to the irony of the example with the shadow in the snow, great job. Technically, shadows will show up in photos where both the sun and snow are present. In order to get enough detail in the snow, you would have to lower you exposure or use a faster shutter speed, or even use a bigger f-stop. So you wouldn’t have a problem with a shadow on a bed of snow.
There’s a world of knowledge out there and if these examples are enough to convince you to start taking some courses or even want to refresh your basics, let me point you in the right direction. PHLEARN
I started following Phlearn (Aaron Nace) on YouTube back in the day, and Phlearn just got bigger and better over time. I won’t advertise it to you because that’s their job and I’m not sponsored. What I will tell you is that Phlearn has a huge archive of tutorials and resources and now even has comprehensive courses you can take if you sign up. I have a subscription that I renew each year simply because I use Phlearn as my reference for tutorials and new techniques. Sure, Phlearn isn’t the only one around and there are lots of great individual tutorials online, believe me. Phlearn is simply my go to guide. The best part is, Phlearn offers so much for free on YouTube alone so you can try their stuff out, and if you pay, it only gets better. PHLEARN on YouTube
As always, remember, if you’re reading this, you’re asking the right questions!