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Job Description: Retoucher

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The job of a retoucher is far more complicated and exciting than just making exceptionally pretty people even prettier. Editing images and videos, or photographic retouching, helps the creative present his or her project in the best light possible.

Job Description, Salaries and Benefits

Retouching as a career generally involves using advanced computer imaging software to change or enhance the appearance of a photo or other digital image.

In recent years, partly due to the media, so-called ordinary people have come to understand that the seemingly perfect appearance of the majority of models is partly due to the work of talented retouchers. However, retoucher jobs often involve far more than that.

Not everyone is perfectly flawless and neither is every piece of work. Even if the designer, artist or photographer is a bonafide genius, their work will often contain a few sore spots. Indeed, even the supermodels on Instagram and on the billboards we see on the way to work have their flaws. Retouchers work to polish those spots.

Rather than being distracted by imperfections or flaws in the work, the viewer can focus on the message most desired by the artist. Whatever the subject matter might be, exceptional presentational quality is achieved via the work of retouching.

Daily tasks may include:

  • Manipulating photographs or sometimes videos in order to change the looks of a subject
  • Basic “fixes”, like erasing pimples or making a rough complexion appear even
  • More complex “fixes”, such as making a subject appear slimmer or even morphing two or more subjects seamlessly.

The Bureau of Labor Statistic does not record data regarding the salaries of photo refinishers in particular, but they do keep track of salaries of other professionals in similar fields. According to Payscale, however, the average salary for a retoucher in the United Kingdom is £22,880 for a junior retoucher, with wiggle room for salary increases.

What is the work like?

Retoucher input is required for a wide variety of activities, including: 

  • Using advanced computer imaging software to change or enhance the appearance of a photo or other digital image
  • Using software to enhance images by correcting resolution and composition, cropping images and adjusting tone, colour, saturation and brightness.
  • Adding or removing objects from an image or inserting text
  • Sharpening images or blurring them slightly to draw focus to the subject 
  • Retouch all or most of a subject’s skin in order to give it a smoother or more youthful appearance
  • Make a photograph subject appear slimmer. This may be required on certain parts of the face or body, such as the chin or legs, or it may be required on a subject’s entire body
  • Remove a subject from an image and, using layers, superimpose them on a different background

After all necessary changes have been made to an image, a photo retoucher might also be responsible for printing it. This generally requires the use of a high-quality printer, along with photo paper. When printing the photos, refinishers need to ensure that the properties of the image remain optimal for printing.

Hours and environment

Retoucher jobs involve working typical office hours but in some cases it can also mean choosing to work anywhere, including from home. Some retouchers, however, may work in photography studios. Some large companies might also hire staff photo retouchers or work with freelancers on a regular basis. Fashion magazines often work with photo retouchers, for example.

Other companies that may invest in the services of a professional photo retoucher may include advertising agencies and graphic design firms. Many photo retouchers choose to go into business for themselves, and work as freelancers or open their own studio. In recent years, the increasing popularity and ease of internet access have made realising this dream much easier.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Salaries for retouchers may start at around £22,000 a year
  • With experience, earnings may rise to above £24,000 a year
  • Senior retouchers may earn up to or even over £30,000 a year

Skills and personal qualities

There are certain skills that many retouchers have in order to accomplish their responsibilities. These include:

  • Attention to detail, as these professionals must be able to notice and correct even the most innocuous detail
  • The ability to understand how to use several different types of software and hardware.
  • A keen eye for art and composition that allows them to relate to what’s generally perceived as being desirable in an image
  • An understanding of the components of visual art and the elements of photography.
  • Photography skills are obviously a plus. In fact, many photo retouchers are also photographers as well
  • A strong understanding of colour correction
  • Proven ability to meet tight deadlines and motivate others to achieve within the required timeframe
  • An ability to work closely with photographers, designers and artists and exchange ideas and opinions while keeping a level head
  • A high level of proficiency with the digital editing process

Interests

It is important for retouchers to have an interest in:

  • Art and design
  • Design computer software 
  • Current trends and techniques in the creative industries

Getting in

There are opportunities for prospective photograph retouchers to study at both the college and university level.

Entry for young people

Colleges provide students with a variety of photography programs. Aspiring photograph retouchers can choose to follow a specialised course of study resulting in a program certificate, examples of which include the Certificate in Photography or a Photographic Artist Certificate. These programs vary from school to school and range in length.

Entry for adults

There are three main types of retoucher jobs: remote freelancing, on-site or working in-house at a company. In any of these business models you can work as a graphics or web designer, photographer, TV camera operator, magazine features editor, film/video editor, digital marketer, medical illustrator, advertising art director, media planner, visual merchandiser, digital media specialists or even consultancy with a wide range of employment opportunities in terms of employers and job opportunities such as advertising agencies, fashion retouching services for modelling agencies, printing agencies, corporate branding and image consulting and multimedia production agencies.

Training

Although no specific course of study is required, it is necessary that prospective photograph retouchers understand the foundations of photography, as well as the techniques and processes of photo editing and retouching. While some companies will prefer their employees to have a bachelor's degree, others will be satisfied with the associate's degree or technical certificate. It is important that aspiring photograph retouchers understand the differences between the many educational options and choose a course of study that aligns with their individual career goals.

A degree from an art school or traditional university can often be very helpful when pursuing a photo retouching career. Aspiring photo retouchers may want to consider taking classes in photography as well as graphic design. Computer courses are also helpful. Formal qualifications are certainly appreciated, though a portfolio of existing work is often more helpful.

Getting on

Before choosing a speciality to get into, you need to build your portfolio either through work experience or by volunteering to develop your skills and give you an edge in the competitive industry. These opportunities are available in various creative careers even as assistants. This also helps you build your interpersonal skills which will be critical for your career progression.

It takes passion, learning, hard work and lots of practice to get ahead in your chosen career and professional diligence will help keep your clients coming back.

Further Reading

Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers Using Photoshop by Scott Kelby - Each year, Scott Kelby, Editor-in-Chief of Photoshop User magazine trains thousands of photographers on how to retouch portraits using Photoshop through his live seminars. Now you can learn the same techniques he uses in his own retouching workflow, in the only book of its kind–one written expressly for photographers who do their own retouching.

Real Retouching: A Professional Step-by-Step Guide by Carrie Beene - Carrie is a professional retoucher and educator who has worked with some of the world's most prestigious companies. In this excellent new book, she'll share the techniques she has learned and developed over the years to help you navigate the often mysterious world of image retouching.

Commercial Photoshop Retouching by Glenn Honiball - Written by retouching veteran Glenn Honiball, Commercial Photoshop Retouching: In the Studio delivers advice for the photographer and artist working with Photoshop in a real-world commercial environment. It's the ideal resource for any digital artist who wants to develop and perfect professional-level retouching.

The Photoshop Workbook by Glyn Dewis - This tome reveals the creative skills that photographer and retoucher Glyn Dewis uses for his global clients. In this guide, you will learn not only his step-by-step Photoshop techniques but how and when to apply them so that you, too, can take your images to a whole new level. 

Adobe Photoshop Restoration & Retouching by Katrin Eismann, Wayne Palmer and Dennis Dunbar - Katrin Eismann and co-authors Wayne Palmer and Dennis Dunbar have reviewed, updated, and revised every single technique to address the most important features in Adobe Photoshop. Clear step-by-step instructions using professional examples highlight the tools and techniques photographers, designers, restoration studios, and beauty retouchers use to restore valuable antique images, retouch portraits, and enhance glamour, food, and architectural photography.

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