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A Retoucher on Set: Why It’s a REALLY REALLY Good Idea

by Lisa Carney
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source: Lisa Carney

Here’s the thing. Despite the myths going around, not everything can be fixed in post.

Well, actually, maybe they CAN (mostly)― given all the time―and money―in the world.

On what planet does THAT job exist?

Photoshoots are money pits. I don’t have to tell you. So why not spend a small fraction more to eliminate HUGE cost and time overruns later―overruns that could be eliminated simply by having a skilled retoucher on set?

How so, you ask?

Imagine these scenarios:

1. Someone chose the wrong lens/focal length:

The shot that looks great standing on a seamless suddenly looks all wrong when it’s dropped into the layout. The perspective is off. The distortion of the figure doesn’t fit the environment you’re dropping it into. Ooops. That’s gonna require lots of billable hours to fix.

source: Lisa Carney

2. Camera height:

How many times have you realized POST shoot, that if the photographer would have just dropped the camera down 4 inches―or up― you’d spend less time (read less MONEY) body shaping. A simple change in angle could save thousands of dollars.

source: Lisa Carney


Learn the secrets to starting your own professional retouching businesses from one of Hollywood’s most respected retouchers, Lisa Carney.


3. The image is all wrong for the layout size:

You’ve seen images with a fantastic rim light at magazine size that look like bad masking errors when reduced down to a WEB BANNER.

Hmmm, had there been a retoucher on set, woulda, coulda, shoulda taken another shot while the scene was set instead of spending $$$ to fix it later… if it’s even possible.

source: Lisa Carney

4. Rubber band legs:

God, how I HATE rubber band legs. With all the other details screaming for attention on the shoot, they’re SO easy to miss. PULLING the pant legs straight on set saves thousands. Yuh huh. THOUSANDS in retouching fees. Its such an easy fix on set. And who notices it? Yup, the retoucher. The one person on set who’s fixed that error forty zillion times in post.

Now let’s scale this up for the real world. Imagine you’re doing a gallery shoot, and you have 60 images of an actor to retouch…and every ONE of them needs their rubber band legs straightened. A simple tug or two ― maybe tape ― and all that expense evaporates.

And while I’m feeling generous, here are some more notorious image pitfalls to watch for:

source: Lisa Carney

-Manicures: having a manicurist on-set costs far less than retouching chipped nails. Am I right?

-Get a lint brush. Seriously. Get two. Best $1.25 you can invest.

-Refresh the seamless OFTEN. It’s paper. It’s cheap.

-Loose threads on clothing. So what if it takes a minute to find the scissors.

-And while you’re at it…clean your props. Jeez a little canned air and a dust rag’ll save hours of spotting and clean up PER IMAGE.

-Ear and nose hairs. Eeew. Sorry. I’m just going to leave that there.

-Polish the shoes. Clean the sneakers. It’s a lot cheaper than having people like me do it in Photoshop.

-Watch for eyeglass reflections. If you can’t avoid them, shoot some images with NO glasses so the eyes can be stripped in easily.

See? None of this is rocket science.

It all seems so obvious now. So why can¹t photographers or clients make these calls on set?

They can. Some do. But in my experience, it plain doesn’t happen. Why not? I’ve been on a lot of sets. Here’s my take:

1. It’s rare for clients to fully grasp how difficult some post changes are to make. ―Why is it gonna cost ABCD…WOW! to take the wrinkles out of that jacket so it won’t look lame on a billboard?

2. There are about a billion other things going on at the same time. Their attention’s on shoot time, coverage of subjects – placating everyone in the room – putting out unexpected fires (last min layout changed, wardrobe malfunctions, issues with cast and crew).

The retoucher only has one thing to focus on. ONE. Ensuring that the client’s ideal vision is being realized, before it is too late to fix it quickly or inexpensively on set.


Learn the secrets to starting your own professional retouching businesses from one of Hollywood’s most respected retouchers, Lisa Carney.


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Lisa Carney

I am a retoucher, primarily in Entertainment and Beauty industry.