Before setting off on her own to start Happy Lane Collaborations in 2015, Ginnie Assenza worked at the famed ad agency RPA. Her first years in account services on Honda National Advertising was followed by 15 years in Art Buying, with her last 7 years as Manager, Art Services. During these years and with her opposite role at Happy Lane, she’s seen a lot of retouching both from client perspectives, art production management, vendor relations as well as by art/creative directors . With an education in Fine Art, she understood that there is a highly creative as well as technical aspect to commercial photo retouching. She built a strong foundation working as an art producer leading her to become familiar with the various aspects of post production.

As the prime moving force at Happy Lane Collaborations,,  she currently represents a range of artists including photographers, retouchers and CGI artists, and illustrators. Her company’s emphasis is collaboration between active participants on a project, including her clients – whether it involves multiple services (photography, design, retouching) or one, such as post-production. 

1) How have you been involved in using or buying retouching? And what kinds of projects have you worked on that involved retouching?

I’ve worked on a pretty good range of projects, many involving CGI imagery, or a combination of CGI and photography, as well as images that have had several stock images composited together. I’ve worked on projects with multiple animated frames which were then passed onto the web designers. There have been photos of celebrities needing various levels of approvals and changes, to background strips, product updates, reformats that needed width and height of an image stretched and cloned, and even refreshing vintage photos for special branded heritage print ads. 

2) In your experience do clients prefer the photographer to have their own retoucher or do they seem to prefer to take that work in house?

This can depend on client preference or protocols, or determined case-by-case. Well versed clients and agency teams know that a certain look can ONLY be achieved through the photographer’s retouching methods. However, even in this case, it can vary – major hero shots could be handled by the photographer, but the outtakes are not retouched at all by the photographer – leaving those to be retouched by in-house retouchers or even art directors, for that matter. These could be intended for micro uses such as social media that have small to no budgets for post-production. Very high end, large campaigns generally need the photographer to retouch the final images because the outcome of the work is often a result of not only the photography captures and processing but also who retouches it and is directed and overseen by the photographer.

If I notice that the photographer has a portfolio with images that vary tremendously in style, I ask, “Who handled the retouching?” The photographer will state which were handled by the client or under his/her hand or direction. It’s fairly easy for me to see inconsistencies. Personally, whether I’m on the production side or vendor side, I would want the photographer to handle all the retouching whether directly by the photographer or via a pre-determined seasoned retouching lead.

My advice is every photographer should partner up with a good retoucher. It may not always be needed, but it could be a selling point for large agencies and clients who would rather have it all handled under the shooter. Art producers and clients may expect the photographer to manage this area and it must be up to high quality levels that can serve many applications, known or not known at the time of shooting and retouching.

3) What do you look for when assessing a retoucher’s abilities?

It’s important a retoucher has a very good updated portfolio showing either a variety of looks and styles that have a consistent quality, or, if it’s a specialized look that it is consistently good. I don’t like to see something out of character with the rest of the book unless there are many samples to back it up. 

I might ask the retouch shop questions about “How did you achieve this work?” so I can detect that they have a solid method behind the madness, so to speak. It’s beneficial to know the retoucher has been through a good number of productions of various scales, from several images on one project to one-off shots.

Before hiring a retoucher, I want to come away feeling confident in their experience level. This can often rise to the surface through phone calls, portfolio reviews and of course during an estimate process. For instance, how much time it’s going to take for a project – if it seems about right to me based on my past experience. If a retoucher is saying he can do something faster than I can picture it being done, that might raise a flag for me. I’ll wonder if they have enough varied experiences to plan for the proper number of  rounds an image will require.

Basically, I ask questions to get a feel for how they work, how much they know, what their experiences have been, whether they ask questions, and if their communication is concise. I think it’s extremely important to have a retoucher with good communication skills, and to articulate their process so things are exposed upfront.

4) Do you look for retouchers to have a “style”?

Style has always been really important to me and the art directors I’ve worked with. There are retouchers who can do a wide variety of genre and style, and then there are those who specialize in a look. For instance, I worked on an interesting project where most of the photography was stock images, but it needed a very rich and sophisticated digital illustration. I looked for a retoucher whose work was more illustrative because that is ultimately what we needed.

If you are looking for something a little bit outside the norm of retouching you may need to find a specific retouch shop that can provide a consistent signature look.

5) What separates a high end retoucher from an average retoucher?

It’s all in the visual result. If you can tell it’s been retouched, if the perspectives are off, if the tonality and texture don’t look right to the human eye, then you’re probably working with someone who is still learning and not quite a master of retouching. Which can also make me wonder if they are completely knowledgeable about layer management.

I also know that the ability to deliver pretty quickly is what most clients today are looking for. So it’s important that a retoucher be able to pick up on direction easily and quickly, almost as if the retoucher is one step ahead of the brief.

Communicating ideas can also be a big plus, offering some additional ideas, from a production or workflow standpoint, especially.

6) What do you think is the most challenging part of retouching?

The amount of time it realistically takes versus how much post-production time (if any) has been allotted by the client or agency. This gets back to communication, and why it’s important for a retoucher to probe and ask certain questions, even if it’s with a familiar repeat client. Retouchers are given a huge responsibility yet the amount of time is not always proportional to the work at hand. Not everyone hiring a retoucher knows that it’s an artistic and a technical process that can’t move faster than real time. Then there’s the time deciphering information from people over the phone, email or texts without much visual direction. This takes an organized thinker who can translate bites of info. There’s a lot of critical thinking can be needed when creating the reality a client is looking for, so it’s a question of how do you prepare for the “what ifs” because you won’t know what they are necessarily — being flexible and ready to deliver when those arise.

Add to that, some clients won’t know what they want exactly until they see it, so the retoucher needs to be nimble and able to handle the surprise comments. For instance, when the client suddenly realizes a part of the image doesn’t match the product correctness, or internally an aspect of the strategy changes mid-stream, this client still expects the retoucher to change gears smoothly and sometimes in the same amount of days.

Many things can come into play after the original project has been discussed and assigned so you need to be able to handle that.

7) Of quality, speed, and price, which are the most important to clients?

Well, quality (for me and those I’ve worked with) has almost always been first and foremost, but speed is more of a factor now, too. I don’t know if anybody is happy about it, but it just seems this has been the case recently — to turn post around faster and faster. To a point, actually, where it just simply can’t be done as fast as a client is asking for.

Many people are naive about expediting post work, the price actually needs to go up because more retouchers will be needed to work “that fast”. It of course depends on what client you are working with and what kind of budget they have – if you’re lucky, this can be a flexible area depending on what the delivery date and complexity of the project is.

Price wise, a good client already knows before getting into the project that it’s going to be a certain time and budget and they are after reliable professional high quality post.

8) Do you have any pet peeves regarding retouching?

I’m one of the lucky ones in that I have never worked with a vendor I didn’t respect, and loved to work with. The major thing for retouchers to be keen on is to be up front about how long it will take to do something and if they’re anticipating any conflicts. Be honest, just state what you can do in the time allotted because many times this will also make sense to an experienced producer and client.

Everyone is under a lot of pressure to do things well, on time and on budget; a fundamental aspect of communication is needed on the part of the retoucher otherwise a long line of people  can be let down — the final image delivery has massive impact on many channels for advertisers. You can be a really good retoucher, but if you’re late and are asking for more money later then it’s likely going to leave a bad taste in a client’s mouth; to a point, where you can lose a client.

9) Are there any trends in imagery or retouching in particular you’ve been seeing?

It depends on the area, whether it’s fashion, lifestyle, product, celebrity, automotive, and so on. One of the things I like about the latest automotive imagery is that I’m seeing a little bit more of a natural and realistic look, where with fashion and lifestyle the desaturated look being replaced with more colors and vibrancy.

I’m particularly enjoying the fun happy looks mixed in with some fantasy-like story telling.

It could be a reflection from what changes in fashion, for instance with women’s hair color we are seeing a lot novelty, brighter colors, patches of pinks and purples, even beautiful silvers. I think this trickles down and impacts the image post we’re seeing.

There are a lot of styles being accepted now. For instance, when I was growing up there were only a few styles that were displayed in popular media. Now with the variety of visual avenues and individuals driving images on Instagram, it’s raising the bar for creativity. Also, productions off network TV shows are really high level, with a wide range of looks from grainy, Old West looks to saturated dark and mysterious. It seems like a very exciting time to be involved in imagery from a retoucher’s stand point.

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