Perspective, lighting and color. Shadows, midtones, highlights and contrast. You can dodge and burn. You can heal or clone. You could paint or even isolate frequencies. Photoshop is there for everyone. The tools are there for everyone, but if everyone uses the same tools, why do some images stand out among others? Well, because tools don’t make the difference, the retoucher does. Photographers and directors aren’t just clients, they’re people.

I work with people. Photographers put their heart into a photograph. When a photographer gives you an image, they’re entrusting you with something precious to them. I think, the most important tool that a retoucher should have in the box, that no software gives you, and that you only learn how to use over time…is caution. It sounds simple, but subtlety, nuance and finesse are all key qualities that take time to develop.


receiptVAT# 03601830833 is owned by Alex Harris. I am an independent retoucher and provide invoices to both domestic and international clients.

Triple Check

Hello retouchers! So, today’s tip regards checking our images on various devices and within different environments before we publish them or even send them off to the client.

Now, I know beating the clock creates a dilemma with this practice but I myself managed to work this into my workflow in two ways: 1) If I am the one setting the deadline, I just add 10/15 minutes to the deadline. 2) If the client is setting the deadline, I make sure I leave myself 10/15 minutes at the end before I send the images off.

The stage of checking our images comes at the very end. Consider it the final stage before exporting it for screens or all formats. In today’s world, like websites, our images will be seen on too many different displays to list. To keep it simple we’ll stick to mobile, tablet and desktops. Keep in mind, this practice is derivative, it has been widely used in the printing world under the name “proofs”. It seems fairly obvious that before printing a million copies of a business card, the printer will show us a printed copy of what it will look like, thus affording us a chance to make any last minute changes before it’s too late. However, it’s not taken much into consideration that digital images might also need proofs before they’re published.

In the audio world, proofs are a big deal. No engineer would even think about handing a mix of a song off to mastering (the last stage in the production process) without first listening to it in the car or on a stereo somewhere. Some still like the old trick of turning on a vacuum sweeper to check if certain things pop out of the mix or if it’s stable. Imagine you’re mixing a track that’s going straight to the clubs. Now, sure, you mix it in the studio, but you are definitely going to try it out in a few clubs before you send it to mastering because you need to make sure the kick does it’s job. In fact, in a good studio, you’re sure to find at least 3 different types of monitors (speakers) hooked up to the mixer. The primary monitors should always be pretty flat, with very little bias, allowing you to properly edit tracks and such. Then, the rest of your monitors, should have some sort of character, like big bass or LoFi like laptop speakers. The idea of testing your mix on all of these formats ensures that you will end up with an overall well rounded mix.

So, back to checking things with our eyes. We know by now that screens can differ due to too many factors to count. We know there’s probably a good reason why some screens cost significantly more than others and that it’s not only a matter of branding. So why is it that we don’t take all this knowledge, transform it into fore site and check our work before we publish it. Well, it’s simple, we have great monitors and take for granted that if the image looks great on our monitor, it’ll look great everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case. Don’t get me wrong, if you paid good money for that monitor because it had great specs and a great reputation within the photography industry, you made a smart choice. But you have to remember one thing, that monitor is merely a tool that you use and you alone in order to “monitor” you work and progress. It is a tool to you, but simply an expensive screen to others. People aren’t using tools to look at images, they’re looking at printed magazines, over and under lit billboards that go by in seconds, they’re looking at small phone screens covered by cracks, screen protectors and personal brightness settings and maybe even Night Shift, cheap office monitors that look like they’ve been to war and laptop screens that dim because the battery’s running out of juice. As retouchers, we need to keep in mind that our monitor’s role is to present a modestly flat raw image and allow us to accurately make changes to the prospective, colour and luminosity of the image. Hell, a lot of pro monitors require calibration out of the box, so imagine how well your image will be reproduced on consumer grade screens.

Checking your images on other devices is never going to end in a perfect image for every screen, but it will result in images that are globally appealing on any screen. If this concept isn’t exactly clear, I’ll give you a realistic example that you can probably relate to. You don’t have to like this song (personally I love it) but most people know of it and it fits for this explanation. Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence. That song was produced in a studio that probably cost a few million at the time to build between architecture and machinery. It probably cost boat loads to produce that song/album in there. The machinery was probably state of the art but the mixing and mastering engineers were monsters of their craft. Wow! Has it been a while since you heard the song? Curious? Well just get your phone and check it out on YouTube. Does that sound by any chance a tad bit insulting to the band, producers and studio that all that money, time and brilliance is going to end up with you listening to a song on a phone with one lo-fi speaker? Perhaps your answer is yes. But don’t worry. They’re probably not offended. The point is, we retouchers have clients that are photographers, who have customers which for the most part, don’t buy pro gear on which to visualize their content. I can completely empathize with customers because I was a customer long before I was ever a producer of anything, and that will always stay with me. Enjoy The Silence plays amazingly well on any medium and of course there are loads of other examples like Peter Gabriel or Michael Jackson and so on.

Each device you use is going to show you some aspect of your image that you probably didn’t notice on your monitor. To be fair, there a lot of ways you can calibrate your image by using filters in Photoshop or a web browser but personally I always prefer to go straight to the source so I can see exactly what customers will see.

Unless it’s a passion project, a photographer or director will already have in mind, that in the end we need to make things appealing for the audience. So go directly to the source and skip the headaches of work being sent back because it doesn’t seem to really pop on mobile devices. Let’s remember to save for web and check that jpg on multiple devices before we send it off.

As always, remember, if you’re reading this, you’re asking the right questions!