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Here's What It's Like Testing For The Best Retouching Studios

Here's What It's Like Testing For The Best Retouching Studios

This is something I wish I could have read 10 years ago when I wanted to test for a retouching studio. If you've ever been curious what it's like testing for one, this is exactly for you. Even if you aren't, it's just fascinating to read about what level of skills are needed! 

Respected industry retoucher Richy Ferrell has close to two decades of experience retouching at studios in New York City, Detroit, and Atlanta.  He's currently Senior Retouching Manager at SmoochNYC (http://www.smoochnyc.com). 

I recently read his story on this Facebook Group on retouching. I personally asked for his permission on being able to share his story. I am happy he agreed. 

Here is his story:

 Astrid Sterner - Interview Magazine

Astrid Sterner - Interview Magazine

For those interested in working at retouching studios, I’ll share some of my experiences of testing with them. The first studio I was at in New York had me test after I had freelanced with them onsite for two weeks; my freelance role was to pick up the slack while the lead retoucher was on vacation. Since I had an insight as to how the lead retoucher liked to work and build files, the test went rather well for me. I was given a beauty image that the studio had completed months prior. There was the base layer, a markup layer, and a reference of the finished image on top, my task was to match the reference as closely as possible and to show my layers so the lead retoucher could assess my skill and file structuring. Things I had to match were the liquifying, physical retouching (cloning/healing/dodging and burning), and selective and global color. The goal was to complete the image in about 3 hours. 
After a few years at the first studio, I was ready to move on. I tested at four studios of various sizes and renown, each of which did things very differently. Each test/interview was for a Senior Retoucher position. 

The smallest, most boutique-y of the studios had me come in, have a short interview, and then had me work on a single black and white image editorial fashion image with a lot of markups and masking to be done. They gave me an hour to do it. I don’t think they ever expect anyone to finish, but it’s an interesting way to find out how much and how well a prospective hire can do in a short time frame.

 Sebastian Kim - Vince Camuto

Sebastian Kim - Vince Camuto

Another studio had me come in for a full day after an initial interview. I was given three images; the first was a full retouched image with masks to color match to a similar looking reference. I noticed that the masks were not fully correct in that the liquify had not been applied to them, not sure if that was part of the test or not, but I’m thorough so I fixed them and proceeded with the color matching. The second image was a three-part hair composite. I spent most of my day on this one. The last image was a beauty shot that was from a film scan, which really shows how well the tester does with retaining texture since the grain is baked in. I liked that they had me in for the whole day, that way both the studio and I could have a sense of whether or not we’d be a good culture fit.

Another more boutique-y studio sent me a link to test files that I was to complete on my own time. It consisted of a product shot with the request of removing deco (the logos and type that are printed on the product), an editorial fashion image with specific shaping requests and color looks, a small section of a celebrity beauty portrait, and a four-piece composite.

The largest and most well known studio wanted me to come in for four hours initially, but at the interview I let it be known that I had the entire day to devote to the test, so they threw two additional images at me for a combined six hour test. The first two images, the ‘senior’ portion of the test, was strictly color matching a physically retouched and masked file to a fully color graded reference image from the same campaign. Skin, clothing, backgrounds, hair, jewelry; very intense. The ‘bonus’ images were an editorial fashion image with specific markups to tailor the clothing and change product colors to a specific pantone chip, along with standard skin and background clean up, and a beauty image. In hindsight, I probably should have only done the senior portion of the test, the other two images were hastily done.

 Astrid Sterner - V Magazine

Astrid Sterner - V Magazine

Each studio I tested with had a few things in common; mac-based, proofing with Epson printers running gmg color proof or color server, Eizo monitors, medium or large Wacom tablets, and each one gave me ample time to set up Photoshop how I wanted. I brought my brushes and actions with me on a thumb drive and asked if it was okay to load them up, they were all cool with it.

If I were administering a retouching test myself, I think having the tester come in for the day is the ideal way to both assess their retouching skills and their personality fit with the rest of the team. Hope this helps!

- Richy Ferrell

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