1) How have you been involved in using or buying retouching? And what kinds of projects have you worked on that involved retouching?
Scott: Well, being a principally beauty and celebrity portrait photographer I’ve been using retouchers in very sort of avid way since I really began my professional career. The vast majority of my professional career has been beauty, so most of the jobs I’ve used retouchers on have been for big logo hair and beauty brands as well as books like the book I recently did with Dita Von Teese.
2) Do your clients hire the retouchers themselves, or do they prefer to leave that to the photographers they hire?
Scott: I get both situations very frequently. If it’s a privately owned company that has less than a 1000 employees they will look to me, for the retoucher that I prefer. If it’s one of the big agencies they’ve got all that stuff in the house.
3) What do you look for when working with a retoucher?
Scott: I look for a light hand, someone with real taste. I can tell when someone has rushed through it, and I can tell when someone has meticulously worked every detail.
4) What separates a high end retoucher from an average retoucher?
Scott: I really like collaboration. I like when someone will come up with ideas on their own and say something like “What do you think about this tonality? Or this color grading?” I like people who are not afraid to make some suggestions and not just give me clean skin in general. Working on projects with me is more like a democracy than a dictatorship.
But I feel that so few retouchers do that. The heavyweights will give me something I’d never thought of before, they’ll do something that takes it to an entirely different level.
5) What do you feel is the most challenging part of retouching?
Scott: In the end I really feel a retoucher is an artist, not just a technician. A great retoucher has to have the eye of everybody involved. They have to understand skin, make-up, and lighting and they have to bring all of these things together to make the image better.
Retouching is like photography in that you’re never done learning. Like playing guitar, you never truly master it, you’re always working to get better.
6) Do you look for high end retouchers to have a “style”?
Scott: Yes, definitely. I like when people are enthusiastic about the genre they’re working in. In a perfect world where I could design my ideal retoucher it would be someone who spends a lot of time looking at fashion, beauty, advertising editorials, takes it all in, figures it out as part of their own sort of journey, how did they do this how did they do that? A real, what I would call chic experience. Just a kind of encyclopedic knowledge of both retouching and tonality, grading and just look and feel. They’re not afraid about having strong opinions on it.
There are lots of people out there who can make skin look really nice and maintain pores and all of that. But it’s what is going to ultimately make their agency, their client, their photographer look better and help set them ahead of the pack that really matters.
7) Of quality, speed, price which are most important to you and your clients?
Scott: I never personally care about the price I just want it as good so obviously quality is first and foremost, but it really depends on the client. Sometimes I get my full rate and sometimes I have to be fluid with the pricing and I like surrounding myself with people who can be fluid with it as well.
8) Was there a recent project involving retouching that was really challenging? And if so, what was really challenging about it?
Scott: The most frustrating type of revision process is when a client isn’t happy and doesn’t know why. Those are the kinds of jobs where what should be three days of retouching get dragged into three weeks of back and forth.
Having gone through experiences like this I’ve learned to try to solve as many problems as possible in advance if you can. For example if a client wants a good beauty shot for a hair campaign, say on a white background, even though it sounds simple there’s a dozen ways you could do that. So I’ll ask the client to put together a mood board with perhaps five of their favorite pictures in that space. And I’ll ask them what about these shots do you love? We try to leave nothing to chance from the very beginning.
9) Do you have any “Pet Peeves” regarding retouching? (Over done reshaping of bodies, plastic skin, problematic techniques?)
Scott: My pet peeves are rushed laziness or fakeness. I hate heavy, ham fisted fake looking things.
10) Are there any trends in retouching you’ve been seeing?
Scott: I can’t really speak to trends in retouching per se. But there are certainly trends in photography that ebb and flow, that come and go. I don’t know how much technology has to do it with. Retouching in Photoshop in the early days was a very scary time because most things were really overdone. Now I’m thinking the pendulum may have swung a touch too far in the other direction and really real and really unretouched seems to be what people are after. I like the spirit of it but I don’t always love the execution.
I’m different than most people, I’ve never requested any body shaping, any body sculpting, any stretching, any breast reduction or enlargement it’s just not really who I am. But I don’t think that strong visible smile lines and black circles under the eyes are necessarily a great idea. I like natural but we’re all just here to sell soap at the end of the day. I try to make people look at least as good as they ever have in their life. I want to make something beautiful, not perfect, but beautiful.