Sunday, March 21, 2010

Retouch Pro + Amy Dresser = Tutorial Heaven

I've never been big on video tutorials. I prefer to follow along at my own pace. So when I see postings for online events like "webinars" (a really ugly word, my son Max tells me) I tend to ignore them. But when RetouchPRO sent me an email about a "RetouchPRO LIVE" event with Amy Dresser, I signed up. The event interested me because:
  1. Amy Dresser is basically the supreme goddess of beauty retouching and has become something of a patron saint to the RetouchPro community. Seriously, look at her work.
  2. The event was scheduled to last 2 hours and the registration fee was only $10. Ten bucks to watch a top-notch pro retouch in real time? Deal.
  3. She was going to retouch a photo of a man. You almost always see retouching done on photos of women, so I was curious to see if the gender of the subject would change the method of retouching.
The big event was yesterday. I loved it and I took notes. I'm not going to try to deliver all the information (and shouldn't anyway)—for that, you can go to the RetouchPro channel on the YouTube Rentals beta site where it will soon be added to their already large collection of rentals. The only downside is that it costs twice as much ($19.98). Read RetouchPro's explanation of the Youtube rentals for more info.

And now...some random notes:

On sharing information
If nothing else, Amy Dresser and I share the philosophy that sharing information is good. Some people are guarded about their techniques as if revealing their trade secrets will make them useless. Amy, on the other hand, knows that no one can replace her own artistic eye and vision. She doesn't need to hide anything because the real technique is in how the brain works. It's the decision making, the seeing that matters more than the Photoshop settings.

On skin
Amy doesn't think gender or age should change the way you retouch skin. "Skin is skin. I have the same approach to everything," she says. The look of the skin (gritty, smooth, dreamy, shiny) is determined by the style, not the subject.

On technical details
She doesn't pay attention to histograms. She never looks at the "info" palette. She doesn't mess with most of the settings in Photoshop or on her Wacom tablet. She describes herself as "not very technical." Nice to know that you don't have to know every little thing about Photoshop to be successful.

On workflow
She does some basic manipulation in RAW, starting with exposure and working her way down. After that, she has an action that sets up her organizational system of folders and layers. Her organization reminded me of a paper outline—it's just a structure that reminds you to attend to certain points, then you fill it in as you work.

On getting things done
Amy works from general to specific. In other words, fix the biggest problems first and work your way to the smaller ones. For example, she's not going to make one area perfect before moving on to the next. Move around the whole face, make everything better and then better and then...oops. Times up. The client wants the photo. Aren't you glad you have a pretty decent overall photo rather than half a face that's perfect and another half you haven't even touched yet?

On little steps
Amy made about 30 separate curves adjustment layers (and quickly) to fine tune the skin tone. When she does dodging and burning, she works at 3%. When she paints (to colorize something or to add a little white at the base of the eyelid, for example), I saw her use as low as 1% flow. This is typical of her tendency to build up many small steps rather than do one sudden change. That way, if you make little mistakes, then they stay little. It also helps cultivate a subtle eye.

On zooming in
More often than not, Amy keeps the photo zoomed out to how it will look in print. That way you don't waste time doing pore-level changes that don't matter. Look at what people are going to see, and if it looks good then why go down to the level of the pixel?

On photography
"I'm actually not a fan of photography." Biggest shock of the session to me. Remember, she is a retoucher, not a photographer. She says she never takes pictures. As for me, I'm a photographer who sees retouching as a means to an end. I retouch because I can't afford to send my work to someone like Amy Dresser, and I'm enough of a control freak to prefer doing things myself if I can't hire someone way better. So, I'll forgive you, Amy, for not loving photography. After looking at photos all day long, you need a break. My suggestion: music.

On using your weirdness to your best possible advantage
"If you have a weird talent and you can find a way to use it for your career, then, like, power to you." Amy always had an eye for detail and color. I would compare this to my mother-in-law, who (as I have mentioned once before) seems to have the equivalent of perfect pitch for color. Amy's visual abilities wouldn't help her much if she were filing papers all day, but luckily, she found a job that turns those abilities into gold.

For future events, look on RetouchPro. That Youtube rental thing (at twice the price) might not be quite the right price point, but if you try it, let me know.


Unknown said...

I'd be interested to know a little more about "On Workflow." What kinds of folders does she create, or is it just layers that are organized into groups? It seems very smart at any rate.

carzy said...

cool blog,期待更新........................................

Astyn said...

THanks for sharing. Interesting.

A daydreamer in an overachiever's world. said...

This is an interesting post and I enjoyed having read it. it just me, or does anyone else feel sad that even the lovliest women are deemed unacceptable until they've been retouched and airbrushed to the point where they barely look human anymore? How can "real" women feel good about baring their faces to the world? It's really dis-empowering on so many levels. Ah well...I realize that isn't even the point of the post but I, for one, am getting tired of "perfection."

marc said...

@Susan: I totally agree with your point. I remember when I went to a presentation by Naomi Wolf when she first wrote "The Beauty Myth." It was very eye opening. It makes you wonder if seeing those kinds of photos all day is one of the reasons Amy Dresser doesn't care for photography. Personally, I prefer character over artificial perfection, but I can only remember two clients in the past 5 years who didn't want to be retouched.

Jere said...

Thanks, i also watched that seminar and asked Amy about that 'zoomed out' thing she does :). Good stuff.

Unknown said...

your blog is awesom,I check the Ammy dresser and its so cool,I want this for my retouch image project.

Anonymous said...

For everyone who wants retouched pictures of themselves should google for such a service online.