After spending many months not doing any portrait work, my mind wanders to social media and beautiful images. Sometimes you can’t help but notice such a huge gap in your photos or edits when looking at other peoples work. I see such amazing edits where the skin looks so perfect but it’s balanced well with the overall look of the image. I have seen so many artists like this on Instagram and their work is highly regarded and you see many comments and likes. Whilst it is not about the likes, its clear their work is first-rate and why many people aspire to create such work. This got me thinking about outsourcing edits and whether it’s actually worth it.
Out of the blue in October I was emailed by a digital re-touching company offering their services, which made me think. The company offer a free trial of one image and have different types of edit on offer, namely – portrait, model, high end and jewellery. This made me think about my own editing and that of my friends. So I came up with this idea of comparing a professional retoucher to a few of us amateurs and contacted a few people. The people were chosen because of their standard of work and merits.
(Original file below no editing, just converted to JPG)
To come up with an interesting article and one that was fair it was clear we would need to use people with different skill levels. I knew from the start who should judge this experiment, it’s the one and only Rahim Mastafa from Sugarbox Studio.
Rahim is a great talent in the digital world and often creates stunning composite work with athletes and those in the fitness world. He has great skill and often produces behind the scene videos on Youtube, showing everyone how simple it is.
His merit as the judge was decided because he also is a professional in the world of editing for many famous TV shows in the UK. Rahim has also appeared on my podcast show, check out this link to find out more.
The digital retouching would be arranged with rephotosolution.com. At this point, we wouldn’t know anything about the person or what they use. I suspect they may use a few different people for editing, but whether this works in a consistent way is unknown.
Jay Good – the next person was chosen to represent the high-end amateur and someone who I also hold in high regard for his edits. I’ve seen Jay take pictures that look as black as midnight and once edited his masterpiece appears before your eyes. He has a great eye for detail and what works, along with his directing skills when working with models. Jay uses an Intel i3 HP laptop running Windows and Photoshop CC2019 on a 17” screen using the built-in trackpad.
Andrew Walmsley – representing the low end/beginner amateur. This would not only be a great personal challenge for me, as it’s essentially a huge task to try and compare my skills to these people! Andrew uses a laptop running Linux based system and free (open-source) program called Lightzone. The computer is running an Intel i5 2.5ghz chip (dual-core) with 8gb of memory and inbuilt graphics. The screen size is 13” and uncalibrated. Andrew chooses to only use the built-in touchpad for editing.
The idea would be to find a suitable image that would fit editing for a professional, so a quick look through some of my portrait work and voila. I wanted this to be documented in the sense we see how much time we worked on the image and also note a few details about our equipment too. Once all 3 images were ready, these would be labelled randomly and sent across to Rahim the judge, so only myself knew which image belonged to whom.
Once Rahim had these, he would write a small paragraph about each, saying what was done to the edit and then to ascertain which was the professional’s edit. After Rahim had finish judging them each image could be shown to each other, to look more closely and consider Rahim’s thoughts.
It seems only right to put these in some order, to make it easier for you the reader to visually see the difference.
Image 3 feedback by Rahim
“This is my least favourite. The colour tones are off. The skin is on the green side, the edit on the jacket and sleeve is pretty poor and very noticeable and the tattoo on his thumb has been removed, which is part of his character”
Image 2 – Feedback by Rahim
This one is second-up. It’s too cool for my liking and the highlights are nearly overexposed. There is also a noticeable edit to his sleeve and bottom of jacked nearest to the light.
Image 1 feedback by Rahim
This one is the best for me. The warmth, exposure and colour balance are great. I also prefer the crop. A good job has been done on the skin too. Slight imperfections have been removed whilst keeping a natural feel. The wrinkles on both the jacket and shirt have been dealt with nicely too.
For me this was an interesting comparison as Rahim not only picked up on which image was edited by the retoucher (image 1), but he also provided clear reasons why he thought this. It was always clear to me from seeing all 3 images initially mine (image 3) was very inferior and Rahim clearly picked up what I had tried to do and what I did wrong. Rahim provided me with feedback that will help me going forward. As far as image 2 he also pointed out it was overall very close in quality to Image 1 by the re-toucher which is a really big compliment for Jay, so well done my friend.
Another interesting point by Rahim was, would you rather spend your time editing/re-touching or pay someone else? You have to consider the efficiency of your workflow and what time you have personally and also not everyone can master all areas. I thought Rahim’s point was quite valid here, I’m content being better in some areas, though it would be great to improve my editing at some point.
Once the experiment was over, I also sent over the professional image to Jay so he could look at closely too. He provided some valuable information about the edit too and noticed they had tried to spot heal the loose hairs, but this has left a small halo (see images below).
Whereas, if you look at Jay’s (below that) he choose to leave them in place.
After careful thought of Rahim’s critique and suggestions, as well as Jay’s. I am still of the opinion retouching is a skill and it’s worth its weight in gold too. Like Jay says you can learn this yourself with a little time, some software and patience. But if you’re a professional photographer it may be more efficient to pay someone else to do this work for you. After all, in this example the company charge $8 for this type of work which seems quite modest, especially after talking to people like Calvin Chinthaka who regularly shoot fashion (for more details listen to this podcast).
It was so kind of everyone to take part in this little experiment, it’s a good thing to keep challenging yourself. I am not afraid of having criticism when it’s due and by people I respect.
I urge you to check out Jay’s work – his Instagram is https://www.instagram.com/sonyshooter2019/,
He’s a great talent and I’m always learning from him. Jay has taught me how to use studio lighting and regularly allows me to use his equipment.
Rahim can be found on social media too, please look at his behind the scenes videos, they are really useful (and fun).
Youtube – link
Instagram – link
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