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The Only Proven Way to Master True High-End Retouching

The Only Proven Way to Master True High-End Retouching

Zahar is a high-end retoucher who has worked with Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, and other magazines. His commercial clients include some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Dior.

Photographer Turned Retoucher

Zahar’s own journey started off in photography. He started at high school and found it to be a rather magical thing. Capturing his family and friends, he progressed in his career. Many post-production artists start their journey this way, as post-production is an art few are aware of. Zahar was unaware of post-production at that point.

The Only Proven Way to Master True High-End Retouching 1

He was lucky to join a photography company — not as a photographer but as a writer. He didn’t have a camera, so writing was pretty much all he could do while staying in the industry. He wrote different advertising texts and managed social media. Zahar recalls these days as a time when he managed to meet new people and grow his network of creatives. It is crucial for every photographer to have a strong friend and acquaintance circle, as those are the people who will help you out in your journey. 

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Desiring a career change, Zahar quit his job on good terms but was depressed for several months. At some point, he opened up Photoshop and tried a simple technique: dodge and burn. Zahar shared his work on social media and got an overwhelmingly positive response. Photographers liked his art, and he got the boost that took him to the next step: high-end retouching. 

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Few post-production artists start off wanting to be in that role. Photography is a concept that is larger than life; there are infinite ways to make money within photography. From Zahar’s example, I would encourage photographers to always keep exploring their art, industry, and most importantly, themselves. Zahar found his passion simply because he had an open mind.  

Hard Work and Consistency = Elle Jobs

One of the biggest jobs Zahar had was for Elle magazine, not by scale or pay, but by significance. It was indeed his first Elle international project. Getting there is quite simple, he says: hard work and consistency.

The Only Proven Way to Master True High-End Retouching 4Having worked with Zahar as well as other post-production artists, I can relate to that. As a photographer, I need to have consistent results for my editorial and commercial work. Professionalism is indeed about being able to produce the same exceptional level of work every time without exception. Consistency and exploration result in defining a style that is recognizable and fun for you. Yet, consistency isn’t about the brush you use or the way you remove dust on backgrounds. It’s about your philosophy as an artist. It is also about what you consider to be beautiful.  

Post-Production Is Therapeutic 

Zahar tried himself in a variety of areas: photography, art direction, styling, makeup, and even modeling. He quickly found that post-production was the most fun for him and chose it to be his ultimate career path. For him, it allows collaborating with creatives worldwide while also having time for his individual creativity. Indeed, as a post-production artist, he can work with any photographer in the world. Nonetheless, the process itself is largely controlled by him. Although when starting, out he would do exactly as photographers told him, he moved on to putting his own @justlike_magic touch.

Ultimately, he loves retouching because of how calm and therapeutic it is. 

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Good Retouching Takes Your Ideas to the Next Level

In a different article, I wrote about the importance of retouching. Yet, there was some negative feedback on it, mostly from photographers who didn’t understand the value it brings to them. While that depends on who is working on your images, a good post-production artist can enhance your images beyond what’s imaginable. Having worked with Zahar for a while now, I am still blown every time I download the files. They are far beyond what I could think of and quite frankly, much better. At his level of professionalism, he is able to read the image like a book and know exactly what it needs. 

Zahar believes that post-production artists can help make photographs, visions, and ideas real. 

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Learning Retouching: From Real Pros Who Know Aesthetic

Perhaps some of you are interested in learning to retouch. There are plenty of courses online that may offer some solutions and tips. However, it is vital to know that what you’re learning is relevant. When starting out, Zahar managed to connect to fellow artists and learn from them. Moreover, he used Deviant Art to find inspiration. It is crucial to learn from working professionals in the industry. In fact, it is best to find someone doing what you want to be doing and learn from them. While there are large retouching academies, I personally found that they have little to do with what is the industry standard. Sure, the techniques are advanced and the end result is different. But retouching is far more than just cleaning the skin and changing shape. It’s about the aesthetic. The same exact raw file would look very different in Elle and Glamour. Vogue is in a league of its own.  

What You and I Can Learn From Zahar

I learned a great deal from Zahar, not only about post-production but also about aesthetics. He confesses that he is still a learner, as any humble professional should be. What he does know and pay attention to is aesthetic. His free Instagram masterclass is not only about technique but also about aesthetics. In my photographer’s opinion, aesthetics is the next step. The best analogy I can give is learning light and then using that light to create different moods. As with everything in the professional world, just knowing a technique won’t get you beyond your local camera club.  

Don’t Hustle, Have Fun With It

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To anyone who is inspired to try retouching or perhaps take their work to a new level, Zahar would suggest to be mindful of yourself and take it one step at a time. From his own experience, health is the most important thing. Overworking is the opposite of creativity and can lead to dark places. Oh, and meeting deadlines doesn’t hurt, but that’s true for all creatives. 

Images used with permission of Zahar. 

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5 Common Portrait Retouching Mistakes

5 Common Portrait Retouching Mistakes

The vast majority of portraits you shoot will involve at least a small degree of retouching to create a finished image, and there are a lot of places where things can go awry. This excellent video tutorial will show you five retouching mistakes portrait photographers make and how you can either fix them or avoid them completely. 

Coming to you from FJH Photography, this awesome video tutorial will show you five retouching mistakes portrait photographers make. By far, the most common I see is simply overdoing the entire edit, causing the subject to look artificial. This is something beginner and experienced photographers alike can fall prey to, particularly since in retouching, we often work at a highly zoomed-in level, which can make it difficult to keep track of how the overall image is developing over time. A simple way around this is to simply make a habit out of zooming out every few minutes to keep an eye on things. When you are done with an edit, step away from your computer for a few minutes to reset your eyes, then come back with a fresh set of eyes to evaluate it one more time. You’ll often end up dialing things back just a little. Check out the video above for the full rundown. 

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Improve Your Portrait Retouching With This Full Tutorial

Improve Your Portrait Retouching With This Full Tutorial

Post-production is core to most genres of photography, though it is more important to some than others. Portraiture is one of the most intricate areas of retouching with tricky tasks like skin retouching. Watch as one photographer talks you through his entire portrait editing workflow.

Portraiture is undoubtedly one of the most popular genres of photography and for good reasons: people like looking at people. When I started out, I read a study (which may or may not have been legitimate, but it still sounds reasonable enough to me) that claimed photographs of people, on average, held viewers for the longest amount of time.

As I became more and more obsessed with portraiture, I noticed some gaps between my work and the work I wanted to create that other artists were. This has always been my method of improving at anything and I doubt I am alone; if somebody is doing something better than me and I like it, I need to work out how to bridge the gap. There were a few ways I improved my portraiture, with posing and lighting be two primary routes, but a third was post-production. I didn’t ever want to create unrealistic-looking glamor-style portraits, but I did want to edit my images to be more in line with commercial work.

If you’re looking to improve your post-production work for your images, one of the best ways to achieve this is to watch a talented photographer edit their image and talk you through it, which is exactly what Eli Infante does in this video.

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Should You Consider Outsourcing Your Retouching?

Should You Consider Outsourcing Your Retouching?

Photographers generally like full control over an image from the moment they press the shutter to when they export it and send it off to the client, and as such, the idea of handing over retouching responsibilities to someone else can seem ludicrous. Some photographers do it and actually prefer it, however, and this interesting video essay features one successful photographer discussing why. 

Coming to you from Daniel Norton Photographer, this great video essay discusses the topic of outsourcing your retouching. This can seem like an outrageous idea depending on the genre you shoot; for example, I can’t imagine landscape photographers doing so. However, if you work in a genre in which the focus is often less on producing a single memorable image and more on delivering large batches of images, it can be a real way to get back a bit of work-life balance. For example, I know some wedding photographers who outsource a large amount of their retouching and who love the time they get back for other things. It certainly is not for everyone, but it is something to at least be aware of if you work with large groups of photos on a regular basis. Check out the video above for Norton’s full thoughts.

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Astrophotography Stacking & Image Retouching Is Now Available In Affinity Photo

Astrophotography Stacking & Image Retouching Is Now Available In Affinity Photo

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Rosette Nebula SHO |
 

Version 1.9 of Affinity Photo launched earlier this year in February and introduced an array of useful and powerful improvements, from linked layer functionality to better organisation for LUTs, OpenCL hardware acceleration for Windows and long-awaited saveable workspaces.

 

Introducing Astrophotography Stacking In Affinity

Flame And Horsehead Nebula HaRGB |
Flame And Horsehead Nebula HaRGB

 

One of the more esoteric additions was the introduction of a new ‘Persona’ (or workspace) for astrophotography stacking. This functionality is not commonly found in image editors –  instead, it has always been the domain of dedicated astrophotography software, which can vary in price from free to several hundred dollars.

In this regard, Affinity Photo is relatively unique: it can perform the entire postproduction workflow required for professional-level astrophotography, all in 32-bit linear precision. The workflow is not complex either – if anything, the straightforward nature of the entire process may seem contradictory to expectations at first!

 

Astrophotography Stacking In An Inexpensive Photo Editor

Vela Supernova Remnant HaOIIIRGB |
Vela Supernova Remnant HaOIIIRGB

 

To understand the significance of having this functionality in a low-cost image editing application, we should consider the complexity of the stacking workflow and its requirements. We stack multiple exposures of the same subject to increase SNR (signal to noise ratio) – essentially, to reject noise and other artefacts from the final exposure, which allows you to pull through more meaningful detail of the actual night sky objects.

Depending on the subject and its brightness, long exposures – sometimes in excess of five or even ten minutes – are usually required to reveal enough detail, and with longer exposures comes increased noise levels and greater risk of visual artefacts like star trailing, light pollution and light trails from aircraft flying overhead. These all produce challenges during both the stacking and editing process that the software must be able to tackle.

There’s also the requirement of being able to calibrate the image frames before they are stacked together. This is achieved using a variety of calibration frames, which are often shot during the imaging session, although with temperature-controlled sensors and mounted telescope systems this is not always necessary.

 

The Stacking Process In Affinity Explained

Stack Persona (alpha) |
Stack Persona (alpha)

 

The stacking process is easy in Affinity Photo: the light (image) frames and calibration frames are loaded into separate file lists within the Astrophotography Stack Persona, and you can configure various stacking options such as the clipping threshold, which is useful for rejecting aircraft light trails and other inconsistent pixel information. You then click the Stack button, and once the images have stacked you will see the final tone-stretched result. If you need to modify any settings, you can do so and click the Stack button again (with significantly reduced processing time) – each time you do this, a new layer will be placed into the Stacked Images panel at the bottom right.

Once you are happy with the result, you can click Apply and each stacked image is brought through as a layer into your main document’s layer stack. Levels and Curves adjustment layers are also provided by default which perform the initial tone stretching – you can tweak this further if required.

Stack Persona (white Fill) |
Stack Persona (White Fill)

 

For monochrome imaging, where narrowband or broadband filters are used to capture different wavelengths of light, you would typically stack each data set separately, then copy the final pixel layers into one document and blend them together. Layers may need to be aligned, which can be achieved by selecting them all and using Arrange>Align Layers by Stars.

From this point, it’s a fascinating editing process whose complexity can vary depending on the requirements of the subject. Light pollution can be tackled with the dedicated Remove Background filter, found in the Filters>Astrophotography menu. You can single-click to set sample points within the image and easily remove gradients from the background sky detail.

 

Remove Background |
Remove Background
 

The software also has a comprehensive set of masking and selection options too, so you can easily make selections of star detail or background detail, then apply adjustments and live non-destructive filters. For example, you can use a Minimum Blur live filter to reduce the intensity of stars in the image or use an HSL adjustment to reduce background luminosity whilst boosting deep-sky object detail.

Since Affinity Photo also supports macros (recordable operations that can be played back instantly), you can speed up any techniques you find yourself using frequently, such as creating luminosity masks, applying your own tone stretching or even setting up blending of the initial monochrome data layers to produce the full-colour composition.

Another technical advantage to highlight is the ability to complete the entire workflow in 32-bit precision. With the exception of Median Blur (and therefore also Dust & Scratches), all adjustments, tools and filters are available for you to use in 32-bit. This cuts out the requirement of merging or flattening then converting to 16-bit in order to continue editing, and allows you to take advantage of processing entirely in a linear colour space from start to finish, as well as making use of the extra precision.

 

Orion Nebula HaOIII |
Orion Nebula HaOIII

 

Astrophotography, much like regular photography, can quickly become an expensive hobby or profession. Therefore, in some ways, you may argue that an extra few hundred dollars spent on dedicated astrophotography software is hardly worth quibbling over rather than investing a smaller amount into a more general image editing application. However, even if budget is not a concern, Affinity Photo offers a streamlined and straightforward workflow, especially if you are used to other layer-based image editing software. It’s ideal for newcomers to the genre, but also offers several notable advantages to seasoned astrophotographers as well, particularly for non-destructive workflows.

 

Even More Affinity Photo Astrophotography Tutorials

For anyone interested in exploring Affinity Photo’s astrophotography capabilities, we have a plethora of tutorial videos covering the subject available both on our website and YouTube.

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Using a Check Layer for Retouching in Shadows or Highlight Areas

Using a Check Layer for Retouching in Shadows or Highlight Areas

When retouching your images, are you using a check layer to see what might not be seen in the shadows and the highlight areas of the photo? If not, you may be overlooking some areas that need work.

In this video, automotive photographer Andrew Link shares how he uses a check layer or helper layer in his work. In one of his speed edit videos, a few people questioned the purpose of a layer he adds that gives his image a weird effect. This “cheater layer” as Link calls it, is an “M” curved layer which he uses to help see into the dark shadows or the highlights of the image to see what needs to be corrected. Throughout the video, he shares what it was used on in a few different images and what are some of the areas that needed to be corrected. This helper layer can be useful when blending multiple exposures together, especially when you have different shadows in multiple images as Link shows in his last example.

When I retouch portraits, I use a few helper adjustment layers to aid in seeing what areas of the skin need to be retouched, but I don’t often use one to check the shadows and highlights. What other types of helper layers do you use in your work? 

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