Hiring retouchers is something often talked about but I’ve never considered until recently as it has always seemed out of reach. Canadian company, The Image Salon, recently allowed me to try their portrait retouching services and I was excited to give them a whirl!
Many, if not most, retouching companies are based in countries like India or Russia, which is fine, but if you’re based in North America or Europe (like many of our readers) you have to deal with things like language barriers, time differences, and a whole host of issues caused by sending work overseas. The Image Salon is based in Montreal, Canada which means a few things. First of all, you know that the people working there are getting paid a livable wage. Secondly, as they are based in Montreal you don't have to worry about 18 hour time differences in North America/The UK. Before we begin, The Image Salon is giving our readers a 30% off discount code! Just use the code TISFSTOPPERS at checkout!
The Image Salon offers many services, from image culling and color correction, to full on retouching. For this post I will only be discussing their portrait retouching service. It all starts with the home page where, if you are logged in, you are greeted with a fun quote, or a notification that your images are ready, a mention of what time it is in their Montreal office, as well as four main buttons: Place an Order, View Orders, Pre-Purchase Credit, and My Account.
When placing a culling or editing order, you can schedule a kickoff call with their onboarding team, during which you will share screens and iron out any color toning preferences. A call is not required for their express or retouching service.
Once the retouching option has been selected, you can then to provide a Job Reference (for easy organization), the number of images, and the type of file you plan on sending. You can upload PSD files, TIFFS, JPEG, or even raw images with the Lightroom Catalog file which will have the color correction data. You can ask to receive high quality JPEGs or a flattened PSD file in return,depending on what is best for your workflow.
You then choose Standard or RUSH+ processing turnaround, which is is 3-5 business days or 1-2 business days respectively. RUSH+ processing does have an extra surcharge so be sure when you choose it you need the images ASAP.
After this, a large text box appears where you can give specific retouching instructions and, finally, you can choose whether your images can be used in marketing or kept private. You are then re-directed to a file upload page which will link to the order you just placed.
After uploading everything, the team at The Image Salon then reviews the images and sends back a price quote within a few hours (More details on the pricing and quoting process below). You are then assigned one of over 120 retouchers in The Image Salon and then away you go!
When receiving the files back you get a zip file full of retouched images so you can download them easily. I'm especially happy with the amount of options for downloading they have, including torrents in case you have an unstable internet connection or want to share them with multiple people.
When it came to giving The Image Salon a test run, I decided to give them a few really difficult images, as well as some more traditional images they would be likely to receive from other photographers (our readers included)
I shoot a wide range of portrait styles, including drag queens, model tests, and been inching into beauty so I wanted to send the crew a wide range of photos. Drag queens I find especially hard to retouch as, well, they’re often men – and a lot of queens I photograph have beards etc. Which doesn’t make things easier. But the retoucher I was assigned totally nailed it!
When I sent them a more traditional beauty photo set, they really knocked it out of the park and found that balance of well retouched without being too overdone. They seem to be really good at retouching to your personal style and specification which I really appreciate and I feel is incredibly important in today's crowded market. There doesn't really seem to be an "Image Salon" look, each image is tailored to the particular photographer's intentions.
As expected for a job this complex, I had some notes for a few images, which they acknowledged right away, and completed the adjustments within a few hours. One time I even got back the redone images faster than the pizza I had ordered!
When you’re finished with a set of photos, you can then rate the experience from one to five stars and you’re done! Overall I found this to be an incredibly satisfying process to go through and it saved me a lot of time during an extremely busy week.
The pricing of The Image Salon varies depending on what exactly you need done. A good rule of thumb is about $1 minute and each job is quote individually since there are a lot of variables like the number of subjects, location, lighting, how large the subject is in frame, and what exactly needs to be done. For something like a couple photographed outside, with good light and fairly good skin, pricing could hover around $2-3 per image, senior portraits around $4-6, while something in-studio, where more details are visible, is when you will start to hit a bit of a higher price point. These quotes are easily accepted or rejected and don't commit you to anything. My cheapest images were about $8/photo removing skin blemishes, skin softening, eye brightening, lowering redness, cleaning up stray hairs, cleaning up a jacket and removing a log, and darkening the background.
The most expensive photos I was quoted were about 20$/photo ($40 for RUSH+) which included everything from skin smoothing, dodge and burn to contour, cleaning up some eyebrow texture, cleaning up a wig-line, cleaning the background and removing some tassels on the dress. As stated before, each quote is custom-tailored for your own personal needs.
In conclusion, hiring a retouching company can be a huge time saver and remove headaches and stress allowing us to concentrate on finding more clients, planning, and shooting. No more staying up to 3AM editing photos and then up at 6 to shoot again. Thankfully, as mentioned before, The Image Salon has given Fstoppers readers a 30% discount on your first retouching order so you can try it out yourself! Just use the code TISFSTOPPERS at checkout!