'Photo retouching isn't about making celebrities prettier'

Leading photo retoucher Natalia Taffarel explodes the myths surrounding this much-misunderstood craft.

Retouching has a bad name, but it's undeserved, says Natalia Taffarel

World-renowned photo retoucher Natalia Taffarel is in the UK this week to headline Train to Create, a series of events centered around photo retouching within the fashion and beauty industry (Friday 23-Sunday 25 May). We took the opportunity to catch up with her and find out the realities of working as a professional photo retoucher today...

Do controversies over celebrity retouching ever impact on you personally?

People don't usually criticize me for my work. My friends have no idea about the industry and my clients and co-workers know my style pretty well. All this is just media hype.

Our job is not to make celebrities prettier; we rarely make people thinner, taller or better looking. What we do is polish the image and get rid of distractions.

We are creating a product to sell and in that respect, it is pretty much the same as it has always been done in advertising.

The reality is that consumers are the ones who like those hyper retouched images, photographers and retouchers are not big fans of over-edited images. We try to keep it realistic; we try to enjoy looking at textures, deep colours and interesting composition. It's much more than making the skin perfect and the people skinny.

Do you ever get pressured to go further?

Retouchers generally work freelance so if I don't like a job I just can say "no". If someone wants to make me do something that I don't agree with, either ideologically or ethically, I just don't do it. I say: "Thank you I'm not the right person for it". So no pressure for me at all.

That is what I advise others to do as well. Most people say "but sometimes you need to get the job, you need to do it for the money". Well, no you don't, there are going to be other jobs. I believe that there is no reason to take on roles you don't want to do.

What tools do you use?

I use Wacom tablets, Apple workstation, Adobe's Photoshop and Lightroom, Capture One, Focus and that's about it.

What are the differences between beauty, fashion and editorial work?

The techniques and the workflow are the same. What changes of course is the intention, the aesthetic basis that you use in the retouching process. The process is the same; the decisions you make are different.

The decisions you make are based on the target, what the image is going to be used for, which media will use it, who the client is and how it is going to be printed. for example.

A beauty concept is about light, bone structure, skin; it is about makeup and whatever you're selling. Fashion is more about tones and light, selling the mood, the feel. The clothes, unless we are talking about strictly commercial catalogue fashion, don't matter. Only in catalogues, the real colours or details are important.

Natalia Taffarel runs retouching workshops around the world

Editorial is more creative. The images can be moving or out of focus, it can be dark with no shadow details. In editorial it doesn't matter, it's all about getting the mood right but when you do commercial beauty or advertising everything needs to be perfect. No deep shadows, not blow up highlights, nothing extreme, everything is controlled.

Usually when one does a commercial assignment you get a brief so you don't need to make the decisions.

What changes to Photoshop would make your job easier?

Something that makes masking faster please? (laughs). If they could develop a plug in or something, that makes masking easier, masking by colours like you do in video.

There are lots in Photoshop but you can't actually create a mask out of it. Someone to find a way create an alpha channel out of the internal LUT masks. That would be perfect. I know there are people out there who understand my pain!

Natalia Taffarel will be appearing at Train to Create, which takes place in London this Friday to Sunday. Find out more here.

Don't miss Photoshop Live!

If you use Photoshop in your work, you won't want to miss our own Photoshop Live event in Brighton on 18-19 July. Friday 18 will be curated by Computer Arts and Creative Bloq for creative professionals, with some of the biggest names in design giving talks. Saturday 19 July will be curated by Practical Photoshop for digital art with photography. You can find more details here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design and technology. He was previously associate editor at Creative Bloq and deputy editor at net magazine, the world’s best-selling magazine for web designers. Over two decades in journalism he’s worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella. Follow him on Twitter @tom_may.