Listening closely to what our clients want and need is one of the most important skills a retoucher must master. With that in mind here is the next installment on the “Insights on Retouching: From a Client’s Perspective” series. This interview is with Sam Northway, Art Director at the Los Angeles based ad agency HYFN.

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

Sam: I use retouching everyday depending on what project I’m working on. I often have to retouch and color correct and composite images. Images are one of my favorite mediums to work with.

2) Dennis: So you end up doing a fair amount of the retouching yourself?

Sam: Well, I end up doing all of the compositing and based on workflow will retouch and work with retouchers. Often times, it’s just the workflow is too heavy, I’m not able to retouch everything, art direct and work with the client all at the same time.

3) Dennis: Sounds like you’re more involved in the hands-on part of retouching than a lot of other art directors I’ve come across.

Sam: To be a good art director one must have experience playing all of the roles in “the room” to have a good understanding of workflow and dynamic.

4) Does your agency hire retouchers for projects or do they prefer to leave that to the photographers they hire?

Sam: I think it really depends. The budget and timeline play a big role in the decision making, also who is available for the team. A good team is the most important thing, and a positive attitude makes any skill worth multiply by 100. When it comes to retouchers, the consideration is experience with subject matter. Often the photographer will have retouchers that they work with.

5) What do you look for when working with a retoucher?

Sam: Color, lighting, texture, and the overall quality of the work they do.

Clear communication is very key. Especially, if you’re working on something abstract or conceptual, then you really want to work with somebody who’s a good communicator and is open to ideas and exploration.

Documenting the process and what step you’re on and what needs to be done next is important. I try to check in with my team as often as possible, I give an update and expect one in return.

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

Sam: Well, I think at a basic level, speed and quality. But on a technical level, for me it’s color and technique of treatment and lighting. Of course, it depends what kind of project you’re working on. My dad used to always say the only difference between an amateur and a pro is how fast the guy can get it done. The pro has done this many times in the past and knows how to get it done, whereas the amateur takes longer because they need to learn how to do it. Ultimately anything is possible and we can all learn to make magic happen.

7) What do you feel is the most challenging part of retouching?

Sam: Keeping up with the trends can be a challenge, color is always changing. A popular skin tone now may not have been the popular two years ago. Color can be adjusted in a multitude of ways. The techniques do not change much, but the looks always do.

The most challenging retouching projects are projects that don’t have enough budget to achieve exceptional results. When there’s a budget and you have properly planned it, we designer/retouchers can make anything happen. In the retouching world, you can really pretty much make anything happen. No limitation. That’s what so beautiful about what we do. If you have the time and the budget you can make it.

8) Do you look for high end retouchers to have a “style”?

Sam: Yeah, definitely. If we’re going for a particular look, or going for something conceptual and I need somebody really specific for that.

9) Of quality, speed, price which are most important to you and your clients?

Sam: For me, the budget can grow a little bit, it can shrink a little bit. I’m given a loose sand box to play in, so to speak, but I have to make it work with what I have to work with. So for me it’s just the quality and the consistency.

10) Do you have any “Pet Peeves” regarding retouching? (Over done reshaping of bodies, plastic skin, problematic techniques?)

Sam: It just has to be done right, it’s about the outcomes, but obviously, it’s a big pet peeve when you receive a file that’s not well organized. Like when the assets or layers are not well organized, labeled, and documented.

Also, I don’t like it when people use smart objects incorrectly.

11) Are there any trends in retouching you’ve been seeing?

Sam: I think color trends and treatments, super high definition versus raw and candid. Trends are going towards a more candid and raw style. With social media, all the brands and are trying to be more relatable, more real.

The super high gloss look is still there. It’s never going to go away. It’s still a huge part of advertising and growing products, making them look glossy. But right now there is a whole other piece of the pie with candid style photography. Facebook advertising has taken over. Social media advertising is such a big influence right now.

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