The Fashion industry has seen tremendous changes over the last three decades- marketing has become Omni-channel, realism and sustainability have become important, and the fashion capitals of the world are now truly across the globe, from Shanghai to Rio. Less visible, but probably just as influential is the growth of retouching to now become an integral part of commercial fashion photography.
What is Retouch?
Retouching is the process of changing a photograph to make it more in line with the photographer’s or brand’s vision. That means everything from changing backgrounds to removing blemishes on products, deleting stray strands of hair, and even compositing entirely original images. The photograph, once the center of the image creation process, is now just the first step in the final image creation. In a sense, Retouch turns the photograph into a painting, allowing the graphic artist to blend what the camera captures with what they see in their mind’s eye. This lets brands showcase their products in unique, exciting ways, giving visual meaning to their brand messaging.
We aren’t talking about basic cutouts and silhouettes here. We’re talking about high-end retouch- a skilled practice where the graphic artist uses a high level of technical skill and an empathetic eye to create end products that capture the essence of the picture’s intended visual appeal at a deep level.
Basic Categories of High-End Retouch
There are three basic categories of High -End retouch:
- Off-model Retouching;
- On-model Retouching; and
- Creative Retouching or compositing
Products are often photographed on stands and mannequins, hung from guy wires, propped up against supports, or maybe even stuck in place for the photoshoot. Retouch removes these extraneous distracting imperfections so that the entire focus is only on the product, as it should be. That could mean removing creases and wrinkles from clothing on mannequins, removing the mannequins or support stands entirely to create the “floating in space” look, adding shadows, removing unwanted reflections, doing color correction or exposure correction, and much more. Retouch doesn’t just streamline the creative process and reduce costs. It also allows brands to help clients see their products as good as they can be, minus the imperfections that creep in through real-world practices. This is important for brands because a brand isn’t just trying to sell a product- it’s trying to get customers to buy into an aspirational aesthetic.
Figure 2: Off-model product high -end retouching of a watch
On-model Retouching can refer to two things- Retouching the product while it is being used or is on the model’s body (e.g., changing the face or strap of a watch on a model’s wrist), and retouching the model’s features themselves. This is very important to set the right mood and context for the product to help prospective clients imagine the benefits of using the product themselves.
Figure 3: Blemish smoothening with Retouching
In recent years model Retouching has sometimes got bad publicity for sociological reasons. Some beauty brands have even sworn off of ANY model retouching, both to emphasize their support for natural looks as well as to create greater trust in their products. While we all know of the heavy use of retouch that created unrealistic looks in the past, most modern professional graphic artists agree that Retouching should be above removing mistakes and temporary imperfections without altering permanent features.
There is no controversy about this one! Creative Retouching is all about using imagination and the power of software to create digital “paintings”. Creative face-morphing, physics-defying imagery, and compositing are just a few of the several types of Creative Retouching available today. Creative Retouching is also useful to create images that aren’t technically against the laws of physics but really, really hard to capture, like an object entering the atmosphere, the exact moment of a water droplet hitting a surface, etc. In these situations, the creative image achieves almost the same emotional appeal with a fraction of the effort of the real thing and cost as well. This type of artwork allows brands to create striking imagery to evoke client interest or better communicate their brand identity.
Figure 4: Retouching to unleash creativity
Major Users of High End Retouching
High-End Retouching is integral to several industries’ product marketing processes. The Food & Beverage, FMCG, and eCommerce industries are the most common users of High-End Retouching. While F&B and FMCG applications are mostly about compositing and creating new, highly engaging visuals, eCommerce tends to be mostly about creating standardized looks, to smoothen the user’s journey on the eCommerce platform, avoiding distractions like harsh colors, irregular image dimensions, etc., and view the newer close-in views, to instill a high degree of customer confidence prior to purchase. In all cases, High-End Retouching helps the product images achieve the brands’ aspirations.
Figure 6: High-End Retouching for eCommerce is about creating high quality, yet standardized looks to create uniformity across a platform
Today, every brand, eCommerce platform, marketing & advertising agency, and product entrepreneur know the importance of getting the perfect image out there in front of paying customers. However, most struggle to actually get those perfect images. DIY is not always possible, in-house teams need time to skill up, scale-up, and scale down and too many so-called professionals promise too much and deliver too little. That’s why it is always advisable to choose a vendor that’s right for you. When you talk about major, established high-end Retouching companies, Manipal Digital Systems is one of the best in the business. With over 10 million images processed to date, the folks at Manipal Digital Systems are not just superb graphic artists but also highly experienced consultants who will happily sit down with you and consult on the best methods of achieving the results you’re looking for. Contact Manipal for all your high-end retouching work and you’ll be thankful you listened to my advice!