Join Becci Manson for an in-depth discussion in this video Becci Manson: Retouching and restoring - Film, part of Becci Manson, Retouching and Restoring.
(easy jazz music) - Retouching doesn't have a great reputation still, and I think it's an awful shame because it's not just about making someone skinny or making clothes look perfect and skin perfect. The retoucher has a lot more to do than they used to. It's retouching where you're actually creating something, something that was only ever imagined in someone's head. Whether you have to shoot extra things that are then manipulated and put together, or whether you actually draw them, it's a very different discipline, and you're very much more an artist.
There's a bigger skill set involved. When you're trying to create something that someone else has thought of and follow their line of thought, it's a much more disciplined thing to do. When you deal with photographers and art directors, it's very predictable that things are gonna change, and that you could go back and forward on something five or six times, or you know, however many times because one art director might say one thing, and then it goes one above him, or the photographer will say one thing, and then the art director, and then they agree and then it goes to the you know, um, creative director, and then it goes to the client, and the chances of them all agreeing first time every time are so, so slim.
It doesn't matter how good you are. The thing that will make you good and make you efficient is being how prepared you are for them to be like, "Actually no, can we go back?" because that will happen. (throbbing electronic music) More often than not, I'm often on set, which really helps me understand what a photographer, or an art director, or even a client wants, and often it's the only time everyone is in the same room together. Nothing gets lost in translation, I know the directions people are thinking and feeling about, and apart from just the conversations on set, there's some jobs where it's such an exact science of matching things that were shot at different times, or being shot at different times.
With this job for Details magazine, it was shot by Christopher Griffith, a great client of mine, and we have the shoot on a rooftop in Brooklyn for just the models. Christopher chose the time of day it needed to be shot because he needed the time of day that the original was shot. See on this one, there would be a board here, and the guy would just be having one hand on the board and it caused that shadow to fall. He'd shoot off a couple of shots, I would have the background shot, and just be like, "Yeah, this is great." or, "You need to be higher, you need to be lower." It becomes quite a seamless, cohesive job.
There's not that hair-pulling-out at the end by the art director or the photographer or the retoucher, wishing that it would've been done slightly different on set, it's done. (calm flowing music) While I was managing the retouching department at my last company, Annie Leibovitz got in touch with us to work with her on a campaign for Gap and Product Red, and what was interesting to me, apart from simply working with someone like that and seeing how, like, someone like Annie Leibovitz actually works, it was for me one of the first times and the photographer had actually bothered to pass on the information to the retoucher more than just, "Clean up this, clean up that, do that." It was more about, alright, she wanted to shoot black and white, but it's a Product Red campaign.
It's red products, so you obviously can't do that, but it was a feeling she wanted. Weeks later when it came out, I said to a friend of mine, "Oh, Product Red campaign, we did that work." and she said, "Oh, that's great, but yeah, "I've seen that on the side of a bus, "but what did you do, it's black and white." And I realized we'd done it, we'd hit the nail on the head. People, even though it was not black and white, it's far from it, the memory that people are left with was exactly that.
Simply because of that feeling she wanted and photographers, when they give you that are going to get a whole lot more out of the retoucher. (hip swinging music) This is a project I did with Christopher Griffith, photographer, and he was tasked with making the car look like it was created in this plume of ink and smoke. We had to come up with a way of shooting it in a huge tank of water.
We shot the car first, and then as we started shooting the ink it was a case of just quickly throwing these shots that were taken and seeing if it would work. You know once the first shots of the ink were done and I put it on the car, I saw this huge disparity between how it sat next to the resolution of this perfect, shiny car, so I was there also to make sure that it would continue to work, no matter how close you came in and how much detail you go into. And at this shoot, we actually had to go out and get a bigger camera so that the ink was shot at an even bigger resolution.
Otherwise, it was always going to look not as good as it could, and if I know that it could have looked better, I'm always going to be disappointed with it. (reflective electronic music) Well the reason I started volunteering, you do the same thing day in day out, you need to get out of your room, you need to do something different, something better maybe, and I found an organization after the earthquake in Haiti called All Hands, so I did that with them and it was fantastic.
It was only a few months after I got back from Haiti that the tsunami happened in Japan. And I just went there with a view to volunteer like I had in Haiti, just clearing debris from people's homes and helping people just get back on their feet again, but it was while I was there I started seeing all the photographs, realizing how many things were in those piles of debris that were little pieces of peoples' lives, and everyone was finding these photographs and they asked me if I wanted to start helping them clean them.
I knew a little bit about it, I knew a load of people back here that I'd worked with for years in darkrooms who I could get advice from, and they'd be like, "Alright, do this, more importantly, don't do this." and I was like, hand-cleaning the photographs and I had that moment where it was almost like, it's a shame no one's doing this, and no one's doing this digitally because some of this damage would be so easy to fix. There's literally millions of photos. I mean, we did a hundred and, we did just under 150,00 ourselves, but we left teams there who we'd trained who carried on.
This restorer, David Gentry, did such an amazing job. There's some areas, like some of the kids' faces, where you'd have to take one of the eyes and repeat it over, it's not gonna look absolutely perfect unless you play with it, but if there's nothing else you can do, you have to use what you've got. When I went to Japan and then saw all this I realized that in Japan they still print almost every single picture they take, even on a digital camera, and they have thousands of them.
And it's a good thing they don't always print them at home, they still go to a lab, because they would have lost so much more than they did. A photograph is, um, it's made by laying down the layers of dye on the paper, so when you just have an area that's yellow like that, that means the top two layers have gone and you're lucky to have that left, otherwise it would just be white paper. The red channel, the cyan dye is almost completely gone. The green channel, the magenta dye's almost gone as well, it's certainly been destroyed to a certain degree, but the blue channel has got almost all the detail still, so the restorer took the information out of that blue channel, put it in the other two channels, adjusted the level of the information, I guess, that was in there to match what the red and green channel needed, and then he comes back with an image that is just more than what we thought it could have been.
When a photo like this can be returned to someone like this, it makes a huge difference in the lives of the person receiving it. (bouncy playful music) Claire Rosen - The best thing about retouching is when you don't notice it at all, where people don't notice that the image is composited or put together, that they can just get lost in the sort of whimsical nature of the image.
Becci - I was going to say, how do you feel about the color now you've seen this one on paper? Claire- I think I'd prefer that the blacks don't feel like they have a dark weight of like a photograph, and that it feels more like a painting. Becci - Okay. Claire's a good friend, and an amazing artist. She's a photographer, and she's got this amazing creative energy that keeps pushing her forward. The project we're working on right now is a Fantastical Feasts, images of animals at dinner tables. She's trying to do them all in conjunction with a charity, where she can give back to the people who are actually helping these animals.
Claire - My favorite part about this project is actually doing them. We're having so much fun going to the farms, interacting with the animals. You prepare as much as you possibly can and gather all of the materials, and then you sort of have to surrender to whatever the animals will do, and it's a surprise every time, and it's usually better than you anticipated that it would be. It was really important to me that everything actually happen, that we weren't shooting this project in pieces, where there was an animal in a studio and a table somewhere else, but that everything actually transpired, even if all of the elements didn't happen at exactly the same time.
It might've been cleaner had we decided to shoot it in parts, but she was very generous to allow me to indulge in that. Becci - So this was the bison one she did in, ah, I cannot remember where she said she shot it, but it was like minus 15 outside, and every time she got out of the car to shoot the camera would only last a few seconds (laughs), and it would be like, no, too cold. Well when I get the images from Claire, she comes back from the shoot and she will get me these files, which have like the animals in place, the scenery as she wants it to be, and then she'll mark up, alright so take this out, take this out, which is normal retouching, you know, I want this, I don't want this.
And then what I do is I clean up all the masks, she's a photographer, she's got better things to do, so hers are really quick and rough. I clean up all the masks and make sure everything's sitting right, I make sure the light's all correct, I make sure the shadows falling where they should be, between the animals or between the food that's being comped together, and if I need it to look more like film I'll do a couple of different weights of High Pass, at different pixel sizes, and it sharpens different areas in different amounts, and unless there's a very specific reason, I'll always add grain.
It just makes the blacks a little bit more rounded and not so sharp, and the highlights taper out instead of just drop off, and it feels like a more complete rounded image. So between the two of us, with her coming up with the composition and me polishing it, and then together we say, "Alright, where's "the color gonna go, how do we want this finished?" we come up with the images. (calm soaring music) Every job is different.
The basic retouching that was always done is still done, but we've gone so much further now. You go beyond what you thought was possible, and it's pretty cool where you can go when you really push it.