In this week’s blog post, we leave the technical aspect and dive into some theory that does not have anything to do with the actual process of post production.
We will focus on how you can train your eye in order to evaluate photos and what needs to be done to them.
Why is it important?
First of all, “training the eye” has kind of a strange ring to it. By saying that, I usually mean several things that play into it:
One of these things is developing taste. Yes, taste is something that can be learned and that we don’t just happen to be born with. Taste develops over time and by consuming good “content” and more often than not, we do not realize our own bad taste as we don’t know any better.
Another thing, which is very important when it comes to retouching is experience, and getting a “feel” for the industry we are in. I’m talking about stuff like trends, what is popular in which market in which country on which continent, and keeping those things in mind while we work.
While we are connected all over the world and learn the same techniques for retouching, what is actually asked from the clients all over the world couldn’t be more different.
In Europe alone, these things even vary from country to country which is something to be aware of. Not just in terms of retouching, but the entire production. In London for example, the trend in fashion leans towards very gritty looks, shot on film with only a very small amount of retouching. Paris however, hasn’t changed much from what they have ever been.
How to improve
The first and most important step is to understand that you are probably not there yet. Now, this isn’t meant to be offensive – no matter how experienced you are, there is always room to improve and to learn — especially in the beginning; i’m talking about the first few years — we tend to think we’ve figured it all out but in fact we don’t even know about what we don’t know yet.
Understanding that there’s a whole universe of things related to our work that we don’t know and ultimately knowing what we don’t know, is the biggest step towards improving.
Once this understanding is there, you need to understand that we are influenced by what we see and are surrounded by on a daily basis.
Social media is a massive two-edged sword. While we can expose the world to our craft, we are also exposed to all the noise the rest of the world is putting out there.
Unfortunately, there is no predetermined filter for what is good and what isn’t – We have to do that ourselves.
On social media, we have large groups for photography, retouching and anything else, with people posting whatever they want. There is nobody curating anything and usually a large audience applauding and praising everything – just like when a baby burps.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is great and fun for people who just want to have fun and share what they do, but if you actually want to make steps forward, this is not the way.
Here, the path to improvement splits in two ways that both need equal attention. One, is training your eye, the other one is getting critiqued by people who are already good and know their stuff. This is for another time though, as today, I want to focus on learning how to “see”.
Cut the noise
Speaking of social media, it is absolutely necessary to cut out the noise.
By that I mean removing ALL the photos from groups and photography sites from your feed.
No need to leave groups, just unsubscribe and nothing will show up. Same with sites on Facebook and private profiles.
By doing this, you make sure that you’re not flooded by bad images. Because when for every 1 good image you see, 20 bad ones follow, you will not always know what is actually good and think that the majority of photos you see are the good ones. I’m calling that the “Social Media Bubble”. It was even worse a few years ago, when everyone who did photography for a year offered so-called “masterclasses”, marketed with imagery that is very “banging”, “in your face” and therefore great to grab attention on social media.
Maybe that’s still a thing… If it is, I’m glad I don’t see it anymore, because I removed the noise!
Focus on the good things
Staying with social media, this is also a good place to start surrounding yourself with good influences and great imagery. It is hard to find out where to start if you don’t yet know what is actual great content, so here’s a few ideas for where to start your journey and go from there. (Disclaimer: Since I work mostly in fashion and beauty, I don’t have much to suggest for other fields of photography):
Magazines & Books
Besides social media, fashion magazines, indie magazines and coffee table books are a great way to improve your taste and knowledge about how images in this industry look, what’s currently trending (in terms of photography but also in terms of the subject, which is for example fashion or beauty products).
Personally, I like having physical copies of magazines, but digital works just as fine. Especially as it enables you to read magazines from other countries as well!
For a start, the magazines I suggest looking into are the usual suspects. Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Numéro and Rolling Stone. Besides the production value being huge (which doesn’t necessarily mean great quality), these magazines can be trusted in showing very high quality editorials, as well as ads. When it comes to ads though, be aware that anybody (with money) can run an ad in these magazines, however, it’s usually the same brands and their productions are usually of very high quality – and these are the standards we want to break into.
Next up would be indie magazines. These focus mostly on editorials, they don’t come out as frequently but are often very well curated. It’s important to know that anyone can have a magazine, so these aren’t always a safe bet. However, there are some great ones. Some even come in the size of a coffee table book and are like a big art book to flick through.
But as I said, be careful with your selection – online magazines with paid submissions are not what you want to look for, as you can literally pay to be published (there are exceptions). A few suggestions here would be:
TUSH (https://tushmagazine.com )
Numéro Berlin (http://www.numeroberlin.de )
Wonderland (https://www.wonderlandmagazine.com )
Rollacoaster (https://rollacoaster.tv )
And then we have coffee table books! My personal favorites. They look amazing as decoration and are full of great work. There are books by brands, magazines or photographers.
Often, especially books by brands and magazines, they feature photographs and illustrations from the very beginning of said magazine or brand. This is great because it shows how trends change but the quality and the essentials of the photography hardly changes at all. You will find for example, that model characteristics are pretty much the same now as they were in the 60s. Compositions follow the same rules, the way the product gets put in focus didn’t change much either.
This is great to learn that first of all, the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented and second of all, it won’t make you stand out to simply break the rules. They’re in place for a reason and have been there forever. Unless you know and follow them, there’s no way of breaking them appropriately.
Here are a few from my own collection of books that I love:
Vogue – The Gown (https://tinyurl.com/yc2386j6 )
Chanel – The Lagerfeld Campaigns (https://tinyurl.com/y78nce6z )
Peter Lindbergh – A different view on fashion (https://tinyurl.com/y7pq8qo4 )
My “secret” tip is also checking out https://models.com
Here you can look at all the latest editorials and campaigns – and the best part is, that it’s almost guaranteed that it’s good work, as only people with SOLID references are being listed.
Other good ways to train your eye are for example going to museums!
Looking and sensitizing the eye to curated art will help internalize what is great art and in reverse, what isn’t.
And apart from that, just being aware of our surroundings. I’m talking about ads, posters, shots in movies, shapes, color combinations etc. etc.
There’s a takeaway from everything.
Let me know how you think about that topic and if you have any recommendations in terms of books!