Meet one of the retouching industry’s biggest names, and find out why she got into the field, how she got her start, and why Natalia’s work is so coveted by clients.
1. How did you start your career in photo retouching?
I started retouching by coincidence, I studied in graphic design but never thought of retouching as a career or job. While I was pregnant, 8 years ago, my overprotective family did not let me go out, I started then playing with Photoshop and loved it, I entered a few contests on the website Worth1000. When I won, the father of my child was impressed and asked me “why don’t you do that for living ?” It all started then.
2. What was the first technique you have learned?
Masking is the first thing I learned and one of the things I still recommend. I think you can do what I do just by understanding (really understanding) masking, curves, adjustment layers, channels - Healing and cloning.
3. How did you approached your clients when you were starting your career?
Email, I sent around 3000 emails worldwide and got like 2, maybe 3 answers. I kept doing that every month, till I had enough work.
4. What makes you better from other retouchers? Why clients come to you?
I don’t think clients come to me because I’m better at retouching, they come to me because I’m constantly doing things and I’ve never failed a client. Quality is much more than technique.
From my latest note
“Quality is not just about the retouching itself. It’s also about you as a service provider, and the added value of service that you provide. Some examples of added value of service include: honesty/being “real” (a commodity in today’s industry), your people skills, meeting deadlines, offering feedback and advice to your clients and perhaps most importantly, doing slightly more than is expected of you.”
5. How did you manage to keep your clients?
Let me give you an example: Not long ago, we did an ad for HONDA. The original idea was to have a model on the desert and the brief was quite simple, most of it was done on set.
The quote was given and I got the images (Main image, sky and extra ground to expand the background)
The client though (HONDA) was happy with the image on the set, but then, the Ad agency proposed two different ideas (they so shouldn’t have) and the client loved them!
We need then, to change the horizon and make the image twice as big from the sides and extract the model, with shadow and light cast, to add a car later on.There was not enough sky or ground to do that .
It was a friday and I asked for extra images, and a paid stock image that I needed to complete the assignment - At this point, changing the original quote was not even mentioned - Everything needed to be run by the agency and client.
I had the choice to wait till monday for the request but I didn’t.I, instead, bought the stock myself and manipulated (hand draw) the rest. Sunday the image was ready.
On monday, when they said there wasn’t enough time because the image needed to be printed that day and everyone was freaking out, I sent the file on an external drive with all the layers, for the designer to do as he pleased without risking quality.
That’s being efficient and that separates me from other retouchers.
6. What is the work you are most proud of?
The work I did for the cover story of The Big Issue (A charity project magazine in the UK) I got to contribute with a good cause, retouch a favorite artist of mine (Fatboy Slim), photographed by the great John Wright with a great concept (turn him into a “DJ” machine bot) and I got paid for it!
Great opportunity, loved the results.
7. What is the work you spent most time on? How long did it took you?
Another Cover, for Fabulous magazine. It was a 2 foldings cover (when open) and it took me 15 hours for a full composite of 25 images.
8. What was the most expensive contract you worked on?
9. What do you charge today?
I usually quote commercial with a brief in hand. Taking amount of images, output size, clients, deadlines, budget and use into account.
Editorials, submissions and portfolio (unless specially commissioned / beauty or hair starting at $250) - $150 to $200 per image
Same with catalog - But it can vary depending on the amount of images. We work around budgets for batch work.
10.Do you suggest for beginners to start working as a self-employed, work for a retouching studio, photographers, join an agency? What are the benefits of each of them?
Working for a retouching house/agency/studio gives you the experience of working with high demanding accounts, real clients and deadlines, standards for publication and print specs that you would take twice or three times more time to get by freelancing.
The disadvantage is that you don’t usually get to work on a full project (you can do hair but not skin, masking but no color, etc) you can’t take credit for the work you produce and you don’t build your own portfolio.
An agency/studio/retouching house open to the possibility of you taking in outside work would be ideal but is not the norm (They usually have exclusive contracts)
The worse you could do is work for a local portrait (soccer moms) photographers, since you get the worst of both worlds.
11. What is the future of photo retouching according to you?
No idea, 3D is trending, but by no means I think a retoucher should learn 3D - We have a 3D artist in the studio (I’m all for specialization - jack of all trades, master of none and all that) - This holds specially true in advertising.
I think, every studio will have to become multimedia at some point. Illustration, retouching, 3G and Video.
Freelancers will be hired by these studios at some point.
12. Do you plan to launch a community for retouchers? How will it works?
I’ve decided it’s a bit more complicated than that. We tried to create an organization locally, and the general opinion of retouchers are so different from mine that It’s not even worth it.
13.What is the question you would like to be asked? What would be your answer to that question?
Why do you do retouching?
Because I can’t not do it. (So you want to be a writer? by Charles Bukowski )
14.What advice would you give to our students?
Stop complaining and start doing.
Be critical with whom you choose to learn from.
Thank you Natalia!