Photography, Retouching, and Life. 

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Neil Snape Talks About Getting It Right In Camera Without Photoshop

Neil Snape Talks About Getting It Right In Camera Without Photoshop

Coming from personal experience working as a retoucher, I've found that transparency is something that helps everyone. It helps retouchers produce better images. It helps photographers understand exactly what a good raw image should look like before retouching. The list goes on down the entire industry. 

On this topic, I wanted to interview photographer Neil Snape. I've looked up to him for years and he is a photographer that is extremely talented, and also does a great job of getting the shot as right as possible before post production begins.

In this article, you'll see 5 of his unretouched examples. As in, nothing done in Photoshop itself at a pixel level, and mostly done at a global level in the raw stage. I wanted to clarify that as it can have different meanings. 

For photographers who are newer, I thought this would be a great insight into getting it right as possible before any post processing is considered.

I wanted to ask him questions regarding his thought process on lighting and prep work before the shoot even begins, and through the process of the shoot. 


With getting images as clean as possible out of the camera, I assume the model choice and lighting is most imperative. What else do you consider something that is often overlooked?

Light is best observed then adapted to the subject. Any model is a good model, as long as the light conforms. Observation of light character in a known environment makes it easy to have expected results. When it gets tricky is when you are outside a familiar space, more choices have to be made faster without time to test. What makes for volume in a 2D image is what is often inadvertently overwritten by adding light with reflectors or sources causing double lighting. Careful placement of reflectors makes or breaks the very intent of having beautiful direction shape by way of shadows.


What is your philosophy and relationship with retouching. What are things you consider necessary to lessen or remove, if any at all? And what do you think should always be left in?

As time goes on the more editing one can do in a RAW image processor the better and more pristine the base image will be. All images opened in Photoshop are encoded. RAW images are not yet encoded and have technically more room for crafting the image. Neither a RAW nor an encoded image has infinite range of modification. Yet a RAW with edits within a reasonable range have a better rendering ability keeping a certain level of integrity. RAW processors on the other hand are not efficient at moving pixels around.

For me the term retouching is anything outside of what was done in a tradition analogue process which includes choices such as fil, development, enlarging, and certain post processing such as platinum baths. After extensive shaping in the RAW processor, I send the image to Photoshop when necessary for some pixel pushing, say anything that is temporary like a blemish scratch out of place hair. Delicate areas that can quickly over retouched are armpits, stretch lines, skin folds and more questionable areas. Going lightly is fine, but the wiping out of all traces of humanity are not going to make for anything more than a perfect plasticity.

The hardest area to retouch while retaining real detail is necks when the light is steep. One area that is easy to control but often retouchers don't understand when to stop is lines on fingers, knuckles, or anywhere around hands. Perhaps cracked lips too, you have to remove some lines but not all!


You make many good points, do you ever come at a crossroad where you may prefer a certain lighting setup, but you know it will over accentuate areas that you know would stand out too much without retouching? For instance, maybe a model is posed in a way that emphasizes rough areas of the skin, do you adjust for post processing in mind, or do you specifically light scenes for emotional impact? Or perhaps something else entirely?

Pictures with hard light are powerful by nature of the light itself. Seldom is it flattering, exactly the reason you have to observe when it is going to cause the least damage. Lighting placement doesn't change good control and accurate placement adapted for each physiology, and light quality will always apply. One of my signature elements is shadows, across the body hiding parts that will add mystery and or create form by volume.

Pictures without shadow can be interesting but often have little dimension. The stronger the shadows are the more you feel the power of form. With direct sun the highlight to shadow ratio is beyond what a camera can handle so one has to choose carefully the exposure. When doing so it will always look different to the eye when shot as compared to the final results. Reflectors of course can and are used, yet I am very specific about maintaining the direction of light not filling at opposing angles which would kill the volume that make pictures strong. Post processing on the raw leaves lots of room for tailoring contrast and local detail without removing integrity. Cameras still seem so basic compared to what can be done on the raw.

Emilie P-106.jpg

Speaking of lighting, when you want to light a scene, how do you decide what lighting setup you will be using? In that, is there a process you go through mentally? Or what factors must be thought of before deciding your setup?

Since my motivation is sunlight, I have to work with what I have. Daylight changes so fast, it is like dancing with it as you make pictures, in and out of sun, shade, a shadow, a reflection here and there. Magic happens quickly, quietly, all I have to do is have the dance steps with my model. When it is raining, inspiration then has to be added light. Omnipresent overcast light is still beautiful, it just needs some help. For that I have recently started to use LED lights to supplement daylight.

Stills photography is relatively easy as we don't have the power needs of film. Flash is very efficient, and you can make dramatic images with little lightweight gear. That said, if I have to do dramatic lighting, like beauty clinical images, it is easier with top end equipment as modeling lights are better designed to represent the actual flash tube. I learned most of the basics of lighting when I first started. Now it is just those subtle details that were learned through trial and lots of errors (spelled complete failures). A little tip, if it is front lighting with beauty dishes, octaboxes or box lights use the edge rather than point the light directly at the subject.

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