What’s the deal with Digital Retouching?

Just as creating a video production includes the shooting phase and the editing phase, the process of creating photography worthy of use in your company’s branding, marketing and advertising efforts should usually include at least some amount of post production in the form of digital retouching. Unless a photographer is capturing the simplest of shots, it’s doubtful that the image will look its best until a talented post production artist has applied their craft. Digital Media Services presents a brief overview of what happens during the photo editing phase and why you should almost always include time and budget for digital retouching.

Overview of the RAW format

Most professional digital photographers capture imagery using their camera’s RAW file format, which is a digital image recording format that saves the unmanipulated image data directly from the camera’s photo sensor. A RAW image can be thought of as a digital negative that’s yet to be processed for viewing, printing or further enhancement. The benefit of shooting in the RAW format is that it allows the photographer to preserve the highest range of image information from the camera sensor and therefore provides the greatest flexibility when processing the image for final use.

Viewing a RAW image, like viewing an old film negative, can be somewhat underwhelming. Because a RAW image has yet to be processed by any light grading, color balancing or sharpness settings, the image can look flat, dull or even unusable. However, unlike a JPEG or TIFF image, the RAW format has no “baked-in” processing and is capable of being enhanced in a number of ways to provide a wide range of visual styles.

RAW image file as captured by the digital camera

Initial processing of RAW files

Clients unfamiliar with the RAW image format will likely be less than impressed with a photographer’s work based solely on the look of the RAW files, so one of the first steps a photographer will perform after completing a photo shoot is to process the RAW image files into a more familiar file type such as JPEG using standard or custom presets from their preferred image processing software such as Capture One Pro. This step is similar to the developing of traditional film rolls. It provides an introductory processing step for the images that prepare them for viewing. It’s important to note that this initial processing is still only an intermediate state of post production as additional manipulation and enhancement will usually occur.

Processed image ready for client viewing

Digital enhancement of selected images

Once the client has reviewed all of the processed images and selected their preferred shots, the real digital retouching can begin. A digital imaging artist who specializes in photo enhancement, manipulation and clean-up can begin to work on the selects by performing fine tuning of contrast, color balance, saturation and other image settings. The retoucher can also correct imperfections in the images from lens distortion and dust and dirt marks. In addition, any stylized look that needs to be achieved can be created by the digital artist by further manipulating the image settings and by the creative application of filters and advanced layering and compositing techniques. Sometimes the goal is to achieve a look as lifelike as possible. Other times a very surreal look is preferred. In either case, a talented digital retoucher is the key to creating the desired output.

Retouched image with proper color and lighting balance and model enhancements

Removal of unwanted elements, enhancements and special effects

There are a multitude of additional enhancements that can be performed such as changing the color of a specific object or the removal of unwanted elements like power lines and displeasing facial wrinkles and blemishes. Sometimes a retoucher will need to perform advanced compositing techniques where portions of completely separate images are combined into one. For a look at how a truly talented digital retoucher can transform a nice photograph into something that grabs the attention of the viewer and presents the representative product or brand in the most favorable light postible, check out some of the work our preferred digital retoucher Ryan Jacobson presents on his website www.RyanDigital.com.

It takes much more than just a nice camera to create a top-quality image. Lighting, image composition, talent direction and digital retouching all need to come together to produce the most eye-catching and impactful imagery.

(Photography by Robert Kildoo for Digital Media Services)

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