By a complete stroke of luck I was able meet and get to know a little bit about the keen eye behind the high end boutique retouching studio Solstice Retouch, Pratik Naik. Now you can too - he was cool enough to spend some time to answer some questions for Retouchist.org about his work, life, theory, and practice. He’s not only a really talented artist, but a teacher too. You can find his training content on RGG EDU.
First a quick story about how Pratik and I met - we sort of ran into each other one day, inspirationally that is. I’ve been running Retouchist.org for a couple of years writing about technique and practice in commercial retouching. One day I landed on Retouchist.net by mistake, only to find out that Pratik had been steadily curating and producing good content there about retouching as well. Pratik’s Retouchist was pretty new, but I could see that a lot of energy was in it, a lot of audience engagement, and that although it was also on the subject of retouching, his focus was distinct from mine. As it turns out he never knew there was another Retouchist, he came to the name on his own.
Fast forward to present day, and Pratik and I are moving forward with each of our Retouchists to give readers both stories - Editorial and Commercial Retouching so often exist in two different worlds, and the one thing I hope is that having both sides of the coin in such close proximity is that we begin to bridge that gap and get into each other’s conversations.
So please, read Pratik, read my stuff. Comment on his, comment on mine, start crossover conversations with the goal in mind that we’ll learn new techniques and get better.
I’ve also got to add, I just recently got introduced to Pratik’s audience, and they’re fantastic. To bring together a group unique and tasteful enough to do stuff like this is a rare gift.
My personal favorite, so touching :)
OK on to the interview with Pratik Naik of Solstice Retouch.
Can you give us a roadmap of how you found your way to a career as a retoucher?
It sort of came by accident, as all good things probably do. It started early on with a passion in the arts, progressing into an introduction to digital manipulation in high school. Finally, when I picked up a camera, it just clicked. I somehow gravitated more towards adjusting the photo to “perfection” rather than getting the shot. I loved it so much that I took a good shot at it. I have failed many times at other things, but this one really stuck! Finally in college I had enough experience as a hobby to start pursuing it professionally.
Was there a pivotal moment that you decided, "Right, I'm going for retouching?" and specialize rather than being a generalist or pursuing a different role in art & design?
Piggybacking from the story of my path, it was the moment that I had begun getting more requests for retouching than I ever imagined. Early on, I was on Model Mayhem and had a limited portfolio. Once people saw my work, they were willing to give me a chance. I learned as I went along but ultimately, the flow of inquiries made me realize it was for me.
You have a very impressive body of work in fashion - do you consider yourself a fashion retoucher by choice?
I would consider it by choice, but even more so, a skin obsessed retoucher. I really enjoy working on skin. I sometimes have a different end goal in mind than traditionally expected. For instance, I like leaving a lot of color variations in the skin intentionally to illustrate a more human element than evening certain things out on purpose. Of course, this is only if it matches what the clients wants. I imagine myself coming from the mindset of a photographer as opposed to a retoucher.
How do you meet your clients?
Oddly, they all have come to me through word of mouth. I haven’t advertised much or marketed in the traditional sense, mostly because the word of mouth has kept me busy enough. They notice I have worked with a certain person so they will reach out to work together as well. Events that I take part in really help get the word out there.
Are you part of a community in retouching? Who are your people? What do you do to elevate each other?
I do enjoy staying friends with retouchers and enlisting their services for my company as I grow my brand. They each have their specialties. Some are better at compositing than others, some better at a portrait-type quality in skin work while others are great with in-depth beauty work. Some are wonderful at color while others are a mix of all of these elements. In turn, I like to always provide input on improvement, bringing them on bigger jobs, and helping them in their own careers should advice be needed. So not only is it a job, but also future advancement with their business through insider input.
Retouching is such a black box, especially at a high level. What were the biggest contributors to your learning? Mentors, books, YouTube, Trump University?
I can say that Trump University has a great retouching program! I advise anyone to join if they wish to really suck at life. Haha, I think always studying and being open minded has been excellent. As you know, being on jobs provides a lot of opportunity for growth. The hardcore feedback you get till everything is to the client’s liking has been the biggest experience. This is why asking for critique and studying other established retouchers is a very strong way of advancing your own skill set aside from just working.
For the young upstarts, what's your advice for learning how to get good?
Don’t be afraid to get critique and be thankful when someone shows you what they see. You’re not perfect and no one is the best. We all keep learning and growing and you have to be open minded to grow. You will be ripped apart many times, but the growth will be great. I think that’s how working out works when it comes to muscle growth. Individual growth is no different.
What should a novice never do with her portfolio?
They should never deliver a message that is inconsistent with what they want to do. I once had a lot of different styles in my book and I kept getting random job requests. Your book is a reflection of what you offer and want to offer.
What are the best resources out there for learning real high end retouching?
A great place to start is the High End Commercial and Editorial Post Production Facebook Group (http://bit.ly/2c9bznD). It’s a nice place for critique and connecting with other retouchers. And of course (retouchist.net) as well as sites like rggedu.com where I will be showcasing a few videos as well.
How do you approach an image? Are you systematic?
With fashion/beauty being my primary emphasis, the overall cleanup of the skin is my general starting point. Anything with the healing and cloning brush goes first. I follow it up with dodging and burning till any transitions are evened out. Next, I tackle any color issues on the skin by evening that up. I leave liquifying and sharpening till the end.
Do your images stay intact through the whole process or do they get deconstructed?
They stay intact in the sense that my workflow is very clean and simple, I don’t use things like frequency seperation very much so I have one base layer, and lots of blank layers and adjustment layers to get to my end goal where it’s easily adjustable in the process.
What's your special power - what do you bring to the job that no one else can?
Usually the job isn’t over when the client is happy, it keeps going till I am happy. I know others who feel the same way, but I can say with confidence that I care as much about the images as my clients do, because I also shoot and know what it’s like giving up your images to someone else. As far as no one else? I can throw in a great cat joke in the mix! Haha.
Frequency Separation - there's a lot of back and forth out there on its legitimacy. What's your take on a) the methodology itself and b) the popular debate.
I am kind of glad that topic has almost calmed down. Once people realize the ways of dodging and burning and how nothing can replace it, they suddenly understand. I also have gotten tired of the discussion. I’m open minded and feel if people use it or do not use is their own decision. As long as they are aware of the pros and cons of each and know how to use it to their own advantages, they are free to do as they like. Ultimately, as long as it gets to their vision and their client’s vision, that is what it boils down to. The reason I stay open minded is because techniques and technologies will evolve and we’ll find new ways of retouching in the future. I want to be able to adopt it without being stuck into the past just because it’s how we’ve always done it.
What outside of commercial art informs your practice? What art do you like?
I used to paint and draw a lot more than I do now, but I’m constantly experimenting with different mediums that are on the horizon. Sadly with a lack of time, I merely seek and appreciate the works of others instead and find enjoyment in that.
What's your mantra?
Do whatever makes you happy. It won’t be easy, but happiness is worth the fight.