Alina Baikova is a commercial retoucher, working with photographers and glossy magazines from Russia, Europe and the US. She is also a lecturer of such courses as photo retouch and colour correction in Photocollege, the leading photo school in Russia.
How did you become a retoucher? Have you tried to photograph by yourself?
Now I can say for sure that I became the retoucher before I took up photography. I have started to learn Adobe Photoshop in 2007. My friend’s father was photographer, and when I was visiting her one day, I discovered Photoshop, so I studied the basics of retouching and even how to change picture background on the same day. I enjoyed retouching a lot, so I felt over the moon! My enthusiasm was followed by the intense desire to find the software; however, it was not that easy due to no subscriptions at that time. Therefore, I downloaded around 8 various programmes that helped me with retouching. Each of them carried out different tasks: one could do skin retouching only, another could whiten the teeth, third one helped to do makeup corrections, etc. Couple of years later I found Photoshop and started to edit mine and my friends’ pictures. There was not enough information at that time, so I studied the programme using books, or from friends.
I tried myself as a photographer 7 year later. I have shot weddings, reportage, beauty, lookbook and personal photoshoots. I took a photography course in Photocollege having already a sufficient experience in retouching. It was extremely important for me to understand the lighting principles in order to speak the same language with photographers.
What kind of qualities should a retoucher have in your opinion?
Retoucher is a key figure for photographer. Besides the programme knowledge, it is important to understand how the photo industry works, what the requirements are for the various types of photoshoot. Apart from this, there is a need to follow the visual trends, as you should know what to remove and what to leave.
Communication skills are in the second, if not the first, place.Negotiation, understanding the client’s needs, ability to explain or even to take a stand are also extremely important skills to have. Moreover, you need to have the ability to sit still, focus on details, to be an efficient person, who is driven to achieve great results. These are the basics!
There are a lot of people who do retouching, so what should you do to stand out from a crowd? How to get customers to choose you?
In fact, there are less retouchers than photographers.
This means that there are enough clients for everyone. Each year this profession comes in from the cold, becoming more recognized along with others such hair stylist, eyebrow designer or manicurist.
If you wish to be a retoucher in demand, qualitative portfolio is a key together with a good level of retouching skills, e.g., keeping the skin and its texture natural; also, it is essential to improve pictures and to bring them to a perfection without redrawing any details. Furthermore, ability to communicate and hear the client, to defend your boundaries, and to not dump the cost of retouching are the aspects that make you more attractive for potential clients.
It is known that you get paid more for retouching in Europe compared to Russia. Have you got any foreign clients? If yes, where are they from?
Of course, I have. The opportunity to work with clients all over the world and being paid in the US dollars inspires me to create, being location independent. I have customers from the US, Canada, the UK, Czech Republic, Belgium, France and Germany. In reality this list is a lot longer, which means that this field always offers you work to do.
Are there any differences between Russian and foreign retouching requirements?
Retouching trends between Russia and foreign countries are being aligned as well as fashion trends. Each country has its own features. For instance, in Europe you may be asked to not make any body corrections whereas in Russia you might be asked to make a model thinner. In general, all prefer natural skin tones, which keep its texture, and delicious and pleasant colour of the picture.
Who was your client you are most proud to work with?
I have worked in a Pratik Naik retouching agency, NY. He is world-famous retoucher. I have retouched fashion and beauty pictures for magazines there.
Earlier you mentioned that you taught your mother to do retouching. Was it your idea? What was the purpose of this, and was it difficult?
My mum always liked to draw, however, she has been working in the office for the whole life instead. I love retouching, so I desired to share my knowledge with everyone. This idea came up spontaneously, and my mum did not believe that was real, that she can work from home and manage her time as she wish. That was a challenge for me. If I can teach my mother, who is ordinary computer user and does not know anything about graphics editors, to do retouching, this will be my personal victory. Strong desire to draw lead my mother to her dream profession — she became a retoucher. It was difficult, but the most important, when you learn something new, is to overcome your fear of making mistakes. I see this fear in my students, however, I try to break it. It is important to remember that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
What were the coolest orders that she retouched?
She has got customers from Russia and Europe. Also, she has been retouching European actress for 3 years, such a regular client.
What would you recommend to photographers and retouchers to have well-watch skills? Who does inspire you? (e.g., any websites, photographers, channels)
As all creative people have to accumulate their visual experience, I would recommend to create a new separate folder in their smartphones, and save there the photos they like. I browse several websites for trends and resources, some of them are models.com and www.buro247.ru. You can also surf the Instagram and save interesting stuff.
Tell us about your retouching courses? Does everyone go all the way through? Where do they work afterwards?
My course is a flagship one. I teach retouching both beginners and students, who already have some experience, and help to make money out of this. This is the 2 months online course, where video classes open once a week, and Q& A sessions and analysis of homework are live. Homework analysis is one of the important parts of education. To show something once is one case, but when you regularly retouch and get detailed feedback is a completely different matter.
To retouch is the same as to manicure, to do a haircut or eyelash extension. Only the most interested and motivated students reach the goal. Many of them choose this course to develop their skills and get knowledge at their own pace. Students can work with photographers, magazines, bloggers, makeup artists and many others after the course. They learn how to retouch various types of photoshoot, i.e., studio, beauty, fashion, lookbook and packshots, children and family photography. For example, one of my students got an order for retouching a series of beauty shots from Europe.
What do you think is going to be in trend in photo retouching in the next 5 years?
Natural trend will not lose its relevance, it’s rapidly rising instead. It is absolutely normal if you do not remove individual features of a person, such as moles, diastema and others. I will make a research about trends in retouching and will share it on my Instagram soon.
What advice can you give to ones who just starting retouching?
If I could go back to the past and give advices to myself, as a starting retoucher, I would say the following: to spare no expense and to buy a graphic tablet for photo retouching, to get a good computer monitor, which accurately displays colours; to have more computer RAM and powerful processor. These are essential things that make the retouching process faster and easier and also protect your eyes and save nerves.
Moreover, it is important to explore the industry, to do qualitative retouch, to meet the deadlines and to not under-value the cost of your work. Doing what you love should not only realize your creative potential, but also bring you a good income. I teach my students these all.