Photography by Lisa Carney
Oh good, well let's go ahead and take a look at some of your images and so you've brought a few in. Tell us a little bit about either, what this was for, how this was used.
Absolutely, all right. There's a photographer who I work with quite a bit and I have a few of his pieces and I absolutely adore working with him. His name is Dana Hursey and Dana and I do collaborative work and what he was looking to do is doing these kind of otherworldly pictures that were more illustrative, almost like an illustration, and kind of bordering that line between photography and illustration, and he did this series on 1950s, like a 1950s-style genre, but with something a little off to it, and what I really liked was developing the look with him and we did a bunch of test shoots and came up with the look that he felt comfortable with, that he liked. It was really fun, it was very collaborative.
So you were working for quite a while in this process.
Yeah, for a while, yeah, and that's the beauty of...
developing a relationship with a photographer, because you can, one, understand their sensibility and what they're looking for, and I think most professional photographers, as a rule, not all of them, are not great retouchers and they shouldn't be, because they're shooting, they're out there working, and honing their craft while I'm honing my craft, and when we can come together and collaborate, it's really great.
Yeah, now I know, I've been amazed at the rise and dominance of Instagram--
And the filters and stuff, so do you use filters or plug-ins, that whole genre of--
I have to tell you that those filters and genres of image-making, for me, is a little bit of the bane of my life because what will happen is a photographer will come up with one and what my job is to do is to make things reproducible and changeable, so what I have to do is figure out, for this look for example, you might be able to find an Instagram filter that makes this. My job would be, you come to the photo and you say, can you reproduce that look in an editable format? So Nik Efex, for example, do you know those filters?
Oh yeah, yeah.
So Nik Efex, as we knew, Google was going to discontinue them. The minute they stop selling it, you know, it's being discontinued. (gentle laughing) And in the entertainment industry designers love that look so I've been spending the last two, three years, reverse-engineering those filters into curves and adjustment layers.
Oh gee, right.
So that I could reproduce the look.
That was a good question, so those filters, while they're great for a conversation, they're a bit of a handicap 'cause what happens when they don't make them anymore?
Or the software doesn't get updated?
Well, the gripe that I have with them is that somebody will see this photograph and they'll go, wow, that's a great photographer. They'll completely forget about the retoucher, I'm sorry.
Hopefully, no hopefully, we're invisible, we should be.
And they'll say, wow, that's a great photographer, that's a great photograph, I wanna take pictures like that, what's the filter that you used?
And then they're gonna want to use that and it's like, well, if that's what you think the key is, everybody else will just copy that, and then it's gonna get discontinued and you won't be able to use it.
Right, and you'll find there's areas of advertising photography that get really popular, so for example, Jim Fiscus had a look that was very popular, High Pass look with the glow; Jill Greenberg as well, and they run their course. So you get the look, people like it for a while--
Yeah, you get the fad, it comes in.
And then it goes away.
Yeah, yeah, let's go to the next one here.
Same photographer, now if you look at Dana's work, I think you look at this and you look at that past image, you wouldn't think the same photographer shot it.
No, it's a very different style.
Yes, and Dana, I just love working with him and it is over-retouched, but it was the look he was going for, and he was going for this kind of robot-y mannequin look. So that's why that's so smooth.
Now, my guess is because, as I said, you're in a different part of the galaxy than I am.
Yes, yes, absolutely.
And so on an image like this, it looks pretty straight out of camera with the exception of the skin, and so am I guessing right that it's the skin that--
It's completely not what he shot.
A whole new, I'm sorry, but I don't show before-and-afters as a general rule, because it can be a little discourteous.
Well, we all know what the real world looks like.
Right. (laughing) There is nothing in this that was remotely what it was shot but the thing that I should state about working with him is it's a conversation we have so we know where we're heading.
So it's not that he made a mistake and I have to fix it, it was that it was all shot with the end result in mind.
So, I might diverge off here a little bit.
Like if you look at an entertainment magazine, that's got pictures of, you know, all the stars in it and stuff, are they being worked on in these?
Oh, Sweet Jesus, are you kidding? Yes, absolutely, nothing is--
Everything, I mean, except for the paparazzi photos, where they're trying to get them at their worst.
Right, right, oh yeah, I mean, because they look like you and I, you know? They've got this going on, they've got their hair sticking up, there's something wrong, this needs tucking or whatnot; there's not a photo out there in any kind of publicity manner that's not paparazzi that isn't worked on.
Really, and so, everything.
How do you feel about that?
A little awkward at times, but I think it's interesting, I struggle with it a little bit only because in my mind, since I know, 'cause I'm working on it, I think I'm a supermodel, I know I'm this, (John laughing) I look the same as everyone else, but I remember and I reflect at times that other folks don't have that same privilege view that I do, that we're all beautiful and that it's, you know, who cares if there's a little of this?
So yeah, I get conflicted on it.
Yeah, I mean, if they don't hire you, they're just going to go to somebody else, there's lots of retouchers that they can go to.
Yeah, and I suppose that what I try to do in my industry, again, is to try to push back and not have it be so much.
Do you just steer the ship just a little bit more into the normal world?
Yeah, yeah, because I don't think it looks good otherwise. Super skinny isn't--
Yeah, and who wants that?
All right. Okay, now this screams Hollywood to me. (laughing)
Yes, and this was part of the conversation, again, this is with Dana Hursey. I call it digital Botox and it's this kind of satire on what we're doing here. (John laughing) We're all over-cleaning up everything. I will have to tell you, however, this lovely lady needed, like, nothing, I mean, her original, she's absolutely stunning. That's a head strip, the body was cut off.
Where do you cut it at, the chin, the neck?
No, about a quarter of an inch under her chin, the frame was just cut, it was so different.
He was handholding so we just had to do that. So this is kind of a commentary on beauty and retouching. (laughing)
I saw this and it was just so clean and so perfect and the teeth are just way too perfect.
Absolutely, and it's satire, this was actually satire, and maybe it didn't go far enough, I'm not sure. (John laughing) But I will tell you, in all honesty, she wasn't far off from there.
She was otherworldly.
She was good?
She was otherworldly.
So how did this photo get used, where would people see this?
I'm actually not sure, that's an interesting thing, I am literally in a darkroom retouching and I often don't know where they're going.
No idea. Isn't that interesting?
They need it and there it goes.
Yeah, and occasionally, I'll see something out in the world and I'm like, oh, hey, I did that, oh, look at that! Where I often do know the end usage is for entertainment because I need to know sizing.
Right, right. Yeah, that can be tough, I remember back a long time ago, I was doing sports photography and back in the days where Sports Illustrated was shooting film, they would shoot a big game, they would sent everything FedEx overnight and they were done.
And then like, oh, you're on the cover, oh cool! They didn't ever have any say in it, it's like, you're in charge of your one little department--
You're master of that little domain and then after that, once it's gone, there it goes.
Yeah, that very much is where, I mean, people don't even know I do anything. If I do my job right, people don't know I did my job.
Don't notice. Okay, so let me just take a wild guess here, this is a composite.
Oh wow, I'm so right on!
And again, this is another instance where I have no idea where this was used for, so occasionally, I get hired by agencies on behalf of photographers so I don't even know who shot this, and asked to do some fashion work on it and do some minor retouching and I am often times a cleanup person and what that means is a job will go to somebody and it doesn't get executed well and I get to fix it.
That's always fun.
That's tough, clean up messes.
Yeah, cleanup crew, so I actually have no idea where this and the next piece that you have actually ended up being used for or who it was for, 'cause it was for an agency.
So there's beauty and there's fashion, both of which I know nothing about. What are some differences or similarities?
Excellent, well fashion, I'm gonna say this in the nicest way possible, in fashion photography, it's really about an object, not a person, so there's a lot of trimming and moving and skewing and the person is treated more like an element.
They're not a famous person, in that general sense.
They're just a model, they're just a figure, they're an object.
Yeah, well, it's the clothing and it's an object for, think like a rack for the clothing and I don't mean that in any kind of disrespect, verses, let's say, editorial, so if you're doing editorial work and it's about the subject, actually the person, you don't over-manipulate, you don't squish and skew and change 'cause it's a character of the person that you're trying to communicate. This, it's the dress and style and the vibe. If that makes sense so these get liquified and warped and trimmed and stretched. In an editorial or entertainment, you never flip the person. You never flip it, it's the Golden Rule, do not flip it.
Left and right side are different.
Do not flip, fashion it doesn't matter, in fact, this one, her hair, two pieces are from the same side and it's flipped over and made into something new. (John laughing)
And let me guess, it's three photos?
Actually, I believe this one might have been eight. Believe it or not, the people get stripped in, like, one piece of fabric comes from something, I don't actually remember on this one but yeah, you'd be amazed how many photos there are.
That is surprising.
Well, if I do my job right, you don't know. That's a plus.
This looks like a movie poster.
Yeah, same thing, same fashion, but I will tell you, I don't know if you've noticed out in the world, the genres have started to meld more so gaming now looks like entertainment, and editorial is starting to shift more towards entertainment as well. It's trends and fads.
And so, what do you do to stay on top of that?
You know what's interesting, as the retoucher in the closet, as I like to call myself, is I am often not the purveyor of that. My clients come to me because they have a look they want to do and I exercise that look for them.
Yeah, I mean, I feel like a second set of hands to the photographer, so I'm trying to execute the photographer's vision, not my vision, their vision.
Right, it's interesting, yeah. It's just an interesting world!
It's completely different from yours, so on that note, I should say, that I do my own personal work that is my work and it's photography and it's got nothing to do with any of this world and that's my vision. This is my assisting, I'm actually helping someone produce what they want to produce.
Right, so one of the challenges in any type of art is knowing when you are done.
How do you, I mean, is it like, well, that's how much money they gave me and that's how much time they get? Or I think I got what they wanted?
You know, that's a really great question, I have a few rules that I try to do. First, you give them what they ask for. Second, you try to give them what they should have asked you for. And then three, you give them what they didn't ask for at all but is a better solve, so depending on the job, if I can give them three different versions, I will do that.
Oh, okay, I was gonna ask you, do you give them different versions, like, I know this is what you asked for but I just did another one that I wanted to play around with.
Right, and I will tell you on that clothing catalog, that's how I did it.
I gave them what they asked for, and then I said, could we do something a little different? And then, here's a split-the-difference between the three.
When you present that second one, your version, do you have any phrases that, you know, try to soften it, not like, you made a mistake in what you asked me.
Oh yeah, don't ever say that.
But like, I just played around with this to see if you'd like a different version.
Well, I have on occasion done where I've said, well, have you noticed the trends are shifting towards less retouching or there's been a lot of commentary about over-retouching or bad Photoshop, so would you consider heading to this gentler version?
With a little a caveat of, I will of course do whatever you like me to do.
Right, right, that's your job.
Yeah, it's a tough nut, it is, it really is.
Yeah, that is a very interesting field.
And talking about, how do you know when you've gone too far and when you're done; that is a really seasoned question. I think initial retouchers when they're starting out, chances are they're gonna be what we call, hand-fisted and going a little heavy, so my advice would be when you start, go ahead and do what you're gonna do and then just pull it back a little bit, if that makes sense.
That makes total sense.
Because the knee-jerk is gonna be to go too far.
Really, 'cause in my photography class, my fundamentals class, when I go into Lightroom and talk about saturation and sharpness, what I say is, "Go to the point where you say, oh my God!" And then come back to like, one-third of that.
Where you can clearly see what's going on, and then when you come back, it's just the subtle hint because once somebody, like, oh, you really over-saturated that, you know, you've clearly gone way too far.
And you want just that subtle look.
Yeah, and also I think what you're talking about, is a little bit about when the process becomes more the focus of the image than the actual image.
Right and photographers can get all geeked-out on the tools.
HDR, HDR! (laughing) Yes.
Yes. All right, yeah, we have a book here, so tell us about this.
Yeah, so this was such a great project. So there was a photographer, Michael Muller, he's an entertainment photographer, he shoots a ton of all the Marvel, crazy, American hero, that kind of stuff. He's a big underwater shooter, he loves shooting sharks and nature. Well, his wife wanted to do a mermaid book. So he shot it and then I got to composite it, this is all completely composited, so imagine that's your daughter, and it was a whole book on mermaids and I think it's just a lovely, lovely book and the nice thing about this was, again, it was a very collaborative process so they had the idea and the rough notion of what they wanted the image to be but I got to do the images completely.
It was one of those rare occasions where I got to actually put my two cents in there and explore aesthetically and I think it came out really sweet.
And I would imagine that a lot of photographers who came up with an idea for a project like this, you know, the first instinct, at least from my perspective, is like, how can I get this in one shot in the camera?
And you can just run yourself ragged trying to make that come true, it's like, okay, I need this for this and I need that and I can't do the same thing, when, the solution was, okay, this needs to be a composite; it needs to be touched, it needs to be fixed later.
Yeah, I will tell you, retouchers have a similar problem so for example, let's take this, let's say I have a movie poster shot and they have a glass with the hands and they just want a different glass in there or a different hand. Retouchers will have to spend hours retouching out the fingers, instead of like, oh honey, just go shoot another glass and stick it in there. So we have a similar thing, we'll kill ourselves trying to illustrate something rather than just go take another photo and drop it in.
Right, and so, I guess I was kind of thinking about the plates that you were talking about.
Shooting just a blank of the scene, or just pretend like you're holding the glass, and don't even put a glass in there.
Exactly right, and that's when if a photographer can collaborate with a retoucher before the job.
They can tell those things ahead of time.
Ahead of time.
So now I can change it to a red cup if you want, but I can't now.
It's more difficult.
Or just put a piece of black tape over that and then I can fix it, whereas, taking out the whatever.
Right, interesting, thinking ahead, planning, a big part of photography.
And again, this is another Muller shot, and what I like about working with him is I feel like he really let me have some reins on the aesthetics for the color correcting and the tone and again, when you have a collaborative process, and you work with someone for a while, you can share a vision. When photographers are willing to open themselves up to have someone else come into the creative process and not just grab the whole thing, you can do some pretty amazing stuff I think.
Now this seems like a more complex image than any of the other ones, just 'cause there's more detail in this one.
Right, and actually, oddly enough, it had a beautiful backdrop and a set, this was one of the very few that's pretty much a straight-on shot.
Do you know how this was used?
Editorial, so Entertainment Weekly Magazine is what I believe, a vampire TV show.
True Blood? Is that it?
I'm not sure.
Okay, okay. Any idea on how long it took you to work with this one?
Three or four hours?
Okay, not too long.
No, not too long, I'm pretty fast, I've been doing it a long time.
You get it down, the tablets really make things fast to work with, excellent. Well, thank you very much for sharing those.
Yes, my pleasure, my absolute pleasure.
Let's take a look at a few of your classes here for folks who may be interested in these classes. Give them a brief, little intro to what each one of these classes are.
Excellent, all right, so the frequency separation. Frequency separation, I don't know if you know about it, it's a particular retouching process where you separate out the color information from the detail. And it allows you retouch much faster. But it's this kind of quirky, little, weird; it's not intuitive, let me put it this way, so this is a class that's really about demystifying and breaking it down and really explaining how it works and how you can really advance in it as well. That's a heavy retouch, that is not a beginner course.
Okay, what type of photography uses that the most or is there a type?
There isn't 'cause it's still kind of new.
It's kind of a new genre. This is definitely presented for portraits and just for portraitry. But there is a whole genre you can do with product and all of that but that is not covered in that class.
Okay, and that's our only before-and-after shot right there, isn't it?
Yes, and look how close she was! Do you see? She was already stunning as it was.
Easy job to work with.
All right, so color techniques for retouching.
Now, color techniques, this is a class that's gonna break down all about color, using color, adjustment layers; why would you use X adjustment layer next to B adjustment layer; which is the best one for what kind of results? Talks a bit about printing, people talking about color for printing so it talks about color space, color settings, so it's a little dry in that area, but it's very, very, very important to know where you are.
Now, is that kind of beginner, intermediate or advanced Photoshop level?
I would say that's intermediate to advanced, but when I say intermediate, it means that you have a basic understanding of layers, masks and selections.
So kind of know your way around Photoshop, basic understanding of the tools.
Okay, and then portrait retouching.
Portrait retouching is A to Z on portrait retouching so it's skin, hair, body shaping, color correcting, brushes, that sort of thing.
All right, and Photoshop level for that?
I would say that's a little higher than basic, because again, it presumes you understand layer masks.
Right, you gotta know where the tools area.
Yeah, know the tools, 'cause I'm not gonna cover any of those so I would say, just past basic to intermediate to definitely advanced.
I kind of run the gamut, it's a long course, it's a six-hour.
All right, well this is where photography gets fun when you start getting really specialized in there.