Creating the Image Part III of IV – Retouching

Here we are at part three of Creating the Image, our brand new blog series that breaks down and takes an in depth look at what really goes into making Chris’s personal, conceptual portraiture. Back in January of this year we created some persona work, with the intention of not only making amazing images, but documenting the entire process from concepting and brainstorming, to shooting, editing, retouching and all the way to the final product.

For our third post, we wanted to focus on the process that begins after the shoot wraps and the set is struck. With all of the pieces planned and photographed, the project transitioned over into the hands of our in-house digital artists. Working closely with Chris from the beginning stages of the shoot, they were able to work together the final composite in record time. Keep reading to learn more about the process of putting it all together…

When I started thinking about explaining the retouching process, I knew it would be best to defer to the experts. Therefore I took a few minutes and spoke with Emily Von Fange, one of our digital artists who worked on Paper Airplanes Girl. The rest of this post is in Emily’s words, with my questions and prompts in italics.

How do you and Chris work together?

When Chris is working on a shot that will have major compositing we’ll discuss the process from the beginning. In this pre-planning phase, he’ll ask me if there’s anything I can think of to make sure we have every component (background, subject, exposures, etc) we need.
When it’s possible, I’ll be on set. Sometimes the shoot is in our studio so that makes it easy to leave my workstation every so often and see what’s happening as Chris and the crew are preparing. I’ll look for potential problems/things that will take longer to retouch than to fix while shooting, or details that would make compositing easier.

(The original background plate before removing the sky)

How did this final image come together?

The final image came together after a couple discussions with Chris and some quick mock-ups. the mock-ups help translate what we’re both envisioning because we can both sit down and analyze what’s working and what needs to be changed. When we’re discussing and critiquing the process, I try to pay close attention to what Chris is describing, certain words or colors he may mention again and again in reference to a particular shot. After the initial direction is worked out I just jump in and start putting things in place. Since we work in the same office I can ask questions or Chris can look at my computer for a minute and suggest something as I’m working. From there it’s just a lot of time in in Photoshop.

(The finished background plate)

This particular image wasn’t logistically challenging because we had carefully planned all the pieces. It was time consuming, partially because we had to cut out so many planes and then move them around until their positions felt right. But all the elements were lit well and shot appropriately. Since the process wasn’t haphazard, I could spend more time as an artist trying to create a final piece of art rather than having to work Photoshop magic piecing things together that didn’t fit.

(Our subject composited into the scene… she looks a little strange without the airplanes)

The biggest challenge is always in two parts: doing my best to make all the different parts blend together in a natural, realistic way and of course, trying to read Chris’s mind.


(that’s a lot of paper airplanes to mask out)

Pre-planning and pre-visualizing are not just helpful, but necessary. I can not stress enough how important it is to know what you’re doing – how well you’ve planned and executed your shot is directly proportional to how good it will look and ultimately, how much it will cost. Spending an extra hour or dollar planning and shooting can save ten-fold in the long run.

(The final image)

Last but certainly not least, where do you source your inspiration?

For inspiration I search in all sorts of places. To keep on top of trends, looks, and “what’s hot,” I look at publications and sourcebooks like Communication Arts and AtEdge, things like that. I also tend to get inspired by illustrations – a magazine called Juxtapoz is one of my favorites. I also really like the painters Joe Sorren and Mark Ryden. As an artist, I think it’s really beneficial to expose yourself to more mediums than just the one you work in.

Any questions? Leave them in the comments or let us know on twitter or facebook.

Stay tuned, we’ll have the final part in the series coming up soon on the blog. Once an image is finished with retouching, it can only be the beginning of what we do with it – in the last post, we’ll discuss the final output and value of the photograph, not to mention showcasing it all of the various facets we’re using it in.

3 replies to “Creating the Image Part III of IV – Retouching”

  1. Excellent piece. I would love to be able to afford a professional retoucher (artist). PS is not my strong suit. Your retoucher does fabulous work!

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