Interview with Lisa Carney
Alright, it is now time to bring on board my special guest, I'd like to welcome Lisa Carney, come on out, thanks for joining me here.
Thank you John, thank you for having me--
Professional retoucher. Pull up a chair, let's have a talk here. So for the folks at home who don't even know what a professional retoucher does, explain briefly what it is you do.
So what I do is primarily in entertainment, but I do do product retouching as well. Photographers and or companies that own products and whatnot will come to me and say, great we want our images manipulated in whatever way they're looking for, and I retouch them, so I'm a Photoshop artist.
Okay, so how clear are they about what their final vision is.
Oh boy, that's the million dollar question. Some are beautifully clear, because they understand the process, and some are not clear because they don't understand the process. And what I mean by that is I've literally had clients say, "Oh we love the look of this ad, "can you just...
have the people turned around?" (John laughs) As if there's a button on the computer to take a portrait from behind as opposed to forward. So literally those kind of questions.
So do you work in Photoshop?
I'm 90% Photoshop yeah.
So how did you get started in this? Or when did you get started and how long--
Oh my lord, 100 years ago is what it feels like. I got started easily well over 25 years ago. Photoshop didn't even have layers back then. And I went to a photography school, and I thought I'd be a portrait photographer, and when I got out, I realized that I really had this affinity for montage. You know Jerry Uelsmann style work?
Really really drawn to that. In my personal work I would take transparencies and cut them up and layer them and then make prints out of them. So I got out of art school, owed a lot of money, a lot of money, and there were already a lot of photographers in Los Angeles shooting. And I realized I had this skill, and there was this thing called Photoshop starting up, and there was a buzz about it. And I just kinda went left instead of right, and 25 years later here I am.
So what was the first version of Photoshop you used?
Good lord, Photoshop 2.0.
I dunno, Creative Live did a video on current Photoshop experts going back and using Photoshop 1, have you seen that?
Yes, I have, and I would be hard pressed. But I still remember, I have to tell you, even now in Photoshop I still use some of those really basic, basic, basic tools. Like channels, channels came out in 2.0, and I still retouch using channels. Because that's just, that's how I learned.
Really? Okay so take us through the process as far as, somebody comes and they say, we need a project worked on.
Okay, so there's a couple ways this works out. On a good job, how it works out is, I'd like to stress that, a photographer will contact me and say, I have a job, client A wants these shots done, and I'll get the production notes. And what this photographer will do will say, great, how should we shoot it? What color backdrop should we use? What kind of stop differential do we want on the lighting? What color backdrop? How far away should I be? Do you need plates? A plate would be if you shoot the environment without the product in it, or without the person in it. So that's an ideal job, if a photographer comes to me before the job is even shot.
It sounds kind of unusual--
It is, more and more photographers are realizing they save money if they do that. Occasionally I get brought on set during the shoot, and that is fantastic. I get half the retouching done. 'Cause things like, when you have something on paper, on screen, and you've set up your shot, when you put that item actually in the photo, as you're standing there it looks fantastic, but when you get that actually printed out you realize, oh I should've just been down two more inches and it'd be perfect. And when I'm on set we can actually do that. And before the set is struck we can fix it.
Oh that's nice.
Yeah it is really nice.
That makes things a lot easier.
It saves a lot of money actually too.
So, what percent of your job is fixing mistakes that photographers made, versus just making something look good?
Oh, that's a really good question. I would say about 50-50. And I'd rather, I'd phrase it a little different, it's not necessarily a mistake photographers made, but it's perhaps not recognizing that a collar was sticking up. Or the light didn't fire in the background. Not necessarily a mistake, but just a little tweak.
And that's gonna happen to all photographers--
'Cause things happen very very quickly in our world.
Yeah and especially with people. The body might've been perfect this way, and then the smile was just a little bit better, so we need to switch the head.
Right right. So, explain some of the different genres that you work at.
Okay, I would say a good 80% of my work is entertainment. So that's all compositing. It's taking different shots, a lot of head strips, different bodies. It's hard to get actors to show up for photo-shoots, so what you'll have is you'll have a head from a scene in the film, and then you have to put it on a body double.
So yeah it's fun, it's fun, it's very challenging in a lot of different scenes. So most of my work is in entertainment, and then advertising, advertising product, automotive, editorial, I love editorial jobs. Those are really fun, they're a little more fine art oriented. And then just basic beauty, cosmetic beauty.
So if somebody was interested in photography, how would they know if this was a good route for them to be on?
Ah, that's really, I think anymore now with digital technology, if someone is liking, as a photographer, getting into Photoshop, and manipulating their work, then chances are they've got the bug, as I call it, and they like that, and that's a good indicator. If folks don't want to touch their work, like I kind of gather that you don't, you're not really a big manipulator.
Well I have a journalism background.
And so actually when I was in college, my senior thesis was on digital photography, and what was possible, and what we could do, but journalists kind of say you're not supposed to really touch it.
Yeah, and I think that photographers should feel free to not retouch their stuff. Like, if that's what's in your heart, and you don't wanna do that, great don't. And if you have an inkling for it, like I clearly took to Photoshop like a duck to water, then that's the path.
Right, and so it does seem like this slippery slope. And it was a big controversy when it first came out, and it's still a controversy now. I mean, there's a number of photo contests that I've seen where they suddenly discovered that somebody did some photoshoping, and it's not what they were intending. Have you ever, you don't have to name any names, but have you ever had a job that you're working on, it's like, they're asking me to do something that just feels wrong?
Can you tell us more? Without getting the specifics.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, well I can tell you what I try to do. So in my work when I retouch, I try to no over retouch first of all, and I make the client ask me to go too far. And when I say retouch, I mean like body shaping, or over-slimming and making people look, what I'd call plastic or fake. So I as a retoucher try not to do that. And I'll make them ask me to, that's step number one. Step number two, I did a big swimwear catalog, it was huge, fantastic job, and the way the client used to have it the folks looked like Barbie dolls. Like, they were retouched into plastic. And it was a swimwear catalog for athletes, using Olympians. And so I asked the client, the creative director, who I really loved him, and I said, "Hey who's your client? "It's for athletes right?" "So when those gals work really hard to get those muscles, "that's a point of honor right? "They want those don't they?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Why don't we leave them in?" And he's like, "You know what's not a bad idea, "why don't we leave it in." (John laughs) So it's a subtle push.
You're very subtle. You have to very tip toe around those sorts of issues.
Do you look at other things in the industry as being right and wrong?
Oh heck yeah, yeah absolutely.
What do you see?
Well... This is me editing, because I'm not sure if I should say something. There are, I see for one, older women getting over-retouched, and I can't stand it. Yeah, that's annoying. But what I do when I, I have had a job recently where the sample that was out there was very over-retouched. It was a 70 year old woman, beautiful, made to look like a 35 year old.
And it's just wrong. And she didn't look like herself anymore. So when they gave me the portion of the job that was mine, and they gave me the sample, I asked, "Can I not match that? "Do I really need to take it that far?" And I think it helps that I've been doing this for 25 years, that I'm willing to push back a little bit.
Do you ever refuse to do work?
Just not your stuff?
Is there any particular gene?
If it's political area that I don't agree with I won't do it.
Because I feel like what I have is... I'm selling something, I'm actually enhancing something, and if it's a point of view that I don't support, I'm not gonna put my voice to it.
Okay that's good. So now do you work by yourself? Do you have other people that you collaborate with, kind of on a regular basis?
Yes and yes. So it depends, I have a pretty wide body of work, and industries I work with, so when I do entertainment, often those are very huge projects with very short timelines, so I'll work on a team.
And then I often have smaller clients where it's just me.
And I know this is, there's a wide variety that are, big change here, but how long does it take you to do a project? And what's the range, what's simple, what's complex?
Right, well given that most of my work tends to have a beauty slant to it, beauty takes a long time. So generally a beauty shot, a headshot for a gal is a four hour to eight hour job. If that kind of helps. All day. But I've also been doing this for 25 years so I've got some tricks in my bag, if you will, that can speed it up.
Right. And I guess, we probably got some techies at home, what sort of computer, what sort of equipment do you use?
I use a trash can, a Macintosh trash can. (John stammering) I do believe it's called the Mac Pro, I'm sorry to say--
It's the black--
It's the trash can, it looks like a trash can. And I say trash can with love. I love my Mac computer. I use a Wacom tablet. I used to have the really gigantic one, but they don't make those anymore. They make them as a Cintiq. Which they're crazy expensive, they're beautiful.
And the process is a little different, a Cintiq you're actually looking at the image as you're retouching on it--
It's an actual display and you're writing on it.
And I don't particularly care for that, because where my pen is I have to, the image is, and it's in the way.
Makes me crazy.
I was trying, I mean I was at a--
Well it's slightly different, it's slightly off.
I was told they were called wacome, but not Wacom.
Wacome, Wacom, wacome, I don't care.
Yeah. And they were trying to sell me this screen that you write on, and I put my finger down, it's like I can't see exactly where I'm doing it.
And I'm fine drawing down here, seeing where my cursor is.
And that's how I work, I work this way, yeah.
How big is your monitor?
It's the largest Apple you can get? I'm sorry I'm really bad with numbers, but it's the largest screen Apple had sold, they don't sell them anymore.
And so, we'll talk about your classes coming up here to Creative Live. But any tips, just kind of general tips that come to mind for people who want to get into Photoshop and start retouching?
One, just start. First of all, just do it. Jump in, fully jump in. Two, if you're into retouching at all, you have to have a pressure sensitive tablet. Anybody trying to retouch with a mouse, no.
It's like working with a brick.
Absolutely. And you can't do what you need to do, because Photoshop is really illustration if you ask me. It's illustrating with photography. And so, yeah, just no. I gotta tell you, they sell really little ones.
They have little four by five ones. I'm a big fan, I have the medium size, I think it's six by nine, and I don't use it that much, I use it maybe lets say once a week for 10 minutes. But it's really nice to have.
They're nice, and honestly they have one that I think is $69, and it's about that big. And at least it's a start. And I will tell you, a business partner of mine, he's been doing this 25 years as well, that is his size choice for professional work.
Isn't that interesting? He likes this little tiny pad.
So it's a way to start. The other thing I would suggest for folks starting out in retouching is, don't try to be fast. Get good, then get fast. Because I find folks who are trying so quick to get the quick keys or the speed, that they lose all the quality. Get the quality, figure out the process, then you will get fast.
Nice. Now, you were saying that you were going to school originally for photography, portrait photography.
And so how does that influence what you do? Does it just give you a good base knowledge going forward?
Yeah I think it made me to be honest. So I have a full degree in photography, full, went the whole nine yards, got my Bachelor of Science in photography, and I think it makes me a better retoucher because I understand lighting. I understand the end goal. And I can communicate in the same language as my clients. So you'll find retouchers are either illustrators or photographers. As a general rule.
You know, you said something before we actually got started that kinda struck me at home, because it's true with me as well. What you're doing now, did not exist when you were in grade school, or high school, or in college. To get a degree you had to--
Isn't that crazy? Yeah.
I know, it's kinda cool in a sense.
Cell phones didn't exist.
Yeah. But if you go back and you're like, this is the skillset you need to develop, are there other things from your personal life that you think you've been able to direct into this? Like, are you good at drawing?
That's a really great question. I have a degree in art history.
And actually that was monumental for my career.
Oh I'd think so.
Absolutely, any kind of art history understanding, because it's understanding the reference and resonance of imagery, and how imagery is taken in by society and what we're putting out. So I think that was hugely important. Studying history of photography, hugely important for me. And I don't think people would get that as a retoucher, well it's just about making the image. For example, if I'm doing a movie poster, and we're talking about the vibe and the feeling, and someone, an art director, or creative director could say "You know I want a Maxfield Parrish look." Well I know who Maxfield Parrish, and I know what the look is. Or a Man Ray look.
Yeah it's probably not your--
Or William Eggleston. You know, those kind of traditional photographers.