The Art of Photo Retouching to Ring True

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We ask Val some questions about what photo retouching is and how she uses this skill to help us serve our clients.

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This week, we asked Val Waligoski, DKY Senior Production Artist, to share her thoughts and experience in photo retouching for the benefit of our readers. One of the tools Val uses extensively is Photoshop to help our client, Winnebago Industries, more accurately showcase its product imagery. So we asked her some questions to better understand what photo retouching is, how she uses this skill to help us serve Winnebago, and why this is critical in helping our client Ring True.

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DKY: First off, why Photoshop?
Val: I have been doing Photoshop work for more years than I want to admit, and I have to say it is my all-time favorite editing tool. There is nothing it can’t do, if you have the time to work with it. One of the toughest things to master is knowing when to stop. It is possible to retouch an image too much, to the point that it appears fake. My job is to bring photos to the place where they are the best they can be without making them into some kind of Frankenstein photo.

DKY: Where do you start?
Val: Photos come to me in a variety of formats. JPEG and raw are the two most common. Working in “camera raw” is a good starting place because all of the data the camera captured is there and easily editable. Each camera and lens captures images a bit differently. On top of that, the tone, lighting, and exposure all vary from photo to photo. Usually my first step is to remove the distortion the lens applies when the photo was taken. The angle and lens play a large factor in how much distortion the photo has to begin with.

I also make sure the color and appearance of fabrics, floors, walls, and counter tops [in motorhome interior shots] match the actual product. This can be tricky because the lighting and camera can really alter color. I’ll sometimes need to whiten the ceiling to replace the yellow cast that can appear from shadows and the camera angle.

DKY: Beyond the technical corrections, what are you doing to add a more human element to the images?
Val: Sometimes, I’ll add a photo of fire in the motorhome’s fireplace to make it appear that it’s on. Through different blending options, I try to maintain enough of the original shot so that it looks and feels authentic to real life.

I also add scenes to television screens and laptop displays to give the photos a more realistic, lived-in look. Another thing that needs to be adjusted from the original images is the time on the clocks. Because the photographers work around the clock, sometimes we receive images showing a time of 1 AM, which would  contradict the sunny scene I’ve added outside the motorhome’s windows.

I also make sure dashboard back-up screens show images that could fit with the scenery I’ve placed outside the windows. Broadcast stations and other information also need to be added to the radio display screens so it appears the photo was taken when the radio was in use. The ultimate goal is to represent an environment you’d expect when someone is using their coach.

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DKY: We know that not all your retouching exists for the sake of better representing, and ultimately selling, clients’ products. Tell us about how you work your magic to keep client processes and schedules moving along speedily.
Val: Occasionally the photo units are not quite finished when the photographer needs to take the photos. When that happens, there may be some final pieces that are missing which need to be edited in or out of the photos.

For example, sometimes the fabrics or floors change after the coach is shot, so they need to be updated in the photos as well. The goal is to keep the photos as current as possible, and that requires extra TLC in the photo retouching process. Exterior shots will also need work, and those reflections can be a bit challenging. Also each coach has multiple color options, and because it’s not feasible to shoot each color live, I add those different color options after the fact.

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6The work Val does brings tremendous value to Winnebago. Rather than driving a motorhome to a scenic location and incurring fuel costs and time costs for a photographer/assistant and art director, the raw shots are captured onsite at Winnebago Industries’ studio headquarters in Forest City, Iowa, and then sent to Val where she works her magic on an Apple workstation.

Her attention to detail in fine-tuning each shadow, shade, color, and light source helps accurately depict the many splendid features of a motorhome so it rings true in the mind’s eye of a future owner.