Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Pratik Naik, a high-end retoucher based in the United States. Naik has worked with some of the world's finest photographers and has a lot of fantastic advice to share about the retouching industry. In the interview, we talked about about Naik's background, what tasks retouchers often perform, as well as what types of computers retouchers should use. Let's take a look!
QHi Pratik, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Hello Grant, it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me on Tuts+! I am a commercial and editorial retoucher in the fashion industry. I also do plenty of work in advertising as well. As a retoucher, I have to ensure that the photographs that are handed to me are perfected to the point that the client gets exactly what they want.
QWhy did you decide to become a retoucher? Do you shoot photography, as well?
Retouching was the end result of years of self-expression. When I was younger, I would often find myself immersed in some sort of art form, whether it was drawing, painting, Photoshop, or photography. In that order, my craft also evolved, taking what I learned from the former and moving it into each stage. Finally, retouching was the perfect combination of all of these elements. I fell right in place to where I belong.
I also shoot as well but find myself doing less of it. When inspiration strikes, I will pick up the camera and go capture what I have in mind. Usually, it still stays in the realm of beauty photography. Studio work is my favorite because it's like a light playground. You are the creator of your own scene! I find that aspect the most exciting. When you throw in all the other elements, it becomes wonderful for your mind.
QWhat type of retouching projects do you typically work on?
My typical day can range from working on celebrity headshots to elaborate fashion stories filled with extravagant outfits and the best models on earth. It can take me from a studio in Denmark to an alley in the NY and finally ending up in a beach in Australia. I love being able to sit at my desk and travel to each scene. With my vivid imagination and brief history of what my clients go through on set, it feels like I'm right there with them. I also do corporate headshots, fitness, commercial campaigns, and everything you can imagine. Fashion stories still remain my favorite.
QWhen most people think about retouching, they probably think about removing skin blemishes and making people look thinner. While that is certainly a task that retouchers perform often, what other tasks do you perform on a daily basis?
When it strictly comes down to the tasks that I have to do on jobs, the list can be quite long. Aside from skin work, I have to clean up environments where I have to remove anything that is deemed distracting. That could typically be left to my eye or they may give me a set of notes. Also, it's not uncommon to take better hand positions or expressions from one image and use it in another. So for instance, if you have a shot that looks great but her arm position is a bit off, we could use a better arm placement from another photo and composite that in. This could be the same for a whole arrangement of objects like limbs, garments, jewelry, hair, etc.
Even with skin work, we have to even out textures and colors that are found through the range of skin tones to make them look appealing without it looking overly retouched. So that part of that process occurs right after removing blemishes as well.
I also get requests to add color tone to the images. It's optional but some photographers like to add a certain look to their photos, and I help them get there based on what they have in mind.
QYou mentioned that you have always been interested in art, that you also enjoyed drawing, painting, and photography. Do you remember a single event that helped you to become a retoucher, as opposed to an illustrator, painter, or photographer? What pushed you over the edge and in to retouching? Do you have any advice for artists that are at a similar crossroads in their life?
Oh, yes! I remember taking a stab at graphic design and realizing that it wasn't for me. The amount of competition in that industry was so high that it felt like it was not worth it. When I jumped into the retouching industry, I found that there were more photographers who were looking for retouchers that couldn't find competent help at the price range they were comfortable with paying. Initially, this kept me busy as I came in at a great price to quality ratio that secured me plenty of jobs. As time went on I became more selective and business grew from there. I also did not feel as creative being a graphic designer than I did being a retoucher. I suppose the reason is that retouching allowed me to reflect on my drawing skills more closely than being a graphic designer. With graphic design, I used the pen tool a lot. It felt more technical than artistic.
I also found shooting was my initial gateway to discovering retouching. So with these two facts, it secured my fate in retouching.
QWhat type of files do you request that photographers send you? What is your preferred resolution, file format, etc? When working with very high resolution images, what type of workstation would you recommend that our readers use? What type of computer, monitor, and tablet would you say is best?
I typically work with raw files such as .CR2 (Canon) or .NEF (Nikon). I also deal with medium format files from medium format cameras like Hasselblad or Phase One. They also have their own raw formats as well. These give me the most leverage as it contains a vast amount of information to pull from. I can adjust exposures and colors in a way that a tiff file or a jpg cannot.
The beauty of technology these days is that many entry level computers can run Photoshop well enough. I remember teaching a few workshops recently where my students came in with Macbook Air laptops. I was unaware that it could even run Photoshop. Through the course, I found that they were able to keep up with me and it did not lag at all! I did not expect that from something that was paper thin.
In the end, you could spend thousands of dollars on a computer. Take a look at your budget and buy the best device possible. A positive is having a computer that has a fast video card, a solid state drive (SSD), and at least 8 gigs of ram (16 preferably). The great thing about Photoshop is that it doesn't require as much as you would need for video editing. So you can make do with less if you don't have a larger budget. The most important element is the monitor. I personally use the NEC line (MultiSync). Anything with a great IPS panel display is my preference. You could even buy a great laptop and hook it up to an external monitor if you find yourself always on the go. This way you can have a solution that works for home and travel without fragmenting your workflow.
With tablets, Wacom makes amazing tablets that seem to last forever. I really like their Intuos Pro line. Even their entry level devices do the job just great. If at all possible, give it a try. They even have a large used market out there in case you want to try one before getting a better one.
I've learned that everyone has their own unique preferences based on their own reasons. Keep on researching and keep your budget in mind. There are so many great options these days on every front.
QIf you could give our readers some advice about getting in to the retouching industry, what would it be?
Prepare to work your *ss off. With there being no barrier to entry, you are competing with the world. Someone starting today can access the same market you will be in. You don't need to be physically present to get a job. My clients live all around the world and I've never seen most of them. When I first started, I remember not taking a day off for three years. Christmas, New Years, and Thanksgiving were all just days that I would be retouching. Nights and weekends were also to my disposal. My mentality was (and still is) that you must do something that no one else has done before you to get to where no one else has been. It's a quote I recall hearing and one that made complete sense. Work harder than anyone you know because someone else out there is trying to conquer the same goal you are. You better get to that finish line first.
Secondly, you must have the skills of an entire office. From business sense, accounting, marketing and social networking, client relations, and so much more. Never assume that just by doing good work you'll make it. You must do your best to get your name out there in a world where everyone is trying to get noticed. Good work isn't enough to be the best.
QThanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Is there anything else that you would like to add? Are you working on any exciting projects that you can share with our readers?
It was a pleasure! I'd like to also say that if you're ever looking for inspiration, always look within. I wrote a post on it for those of you who struggle to keep going.
Ah! I always have a few things coming out, ranging from commercial campaigns to editorials. Due to the nature of our secretive field, we can't mention specifics before they release. But keep a look out, you never know when you'll see my work around!
Thanks again, it was a pleasure being here!