Working With A Creative Retoucher On A Concept From Start To Finish

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to work with a retoucher on a concept you've had in mind, this may be just what you're looking for. Photographer Justin Bettman wanted to create a concept but didn't have the ability to do so on his own, so he teamed up with creative retoucher and manipulator Krzysztof Rejek to bring his idea to life. 

Here is the final piece they came up with. You can also click on it to see a larger version for better detail.

Final Blog Size


I wanted to highlight this process to give people an inside look at how working with a creative retoucher can be from the point of a photographer. After all, it's very interesting and in the age of the Internet, reaching out and collaborating with people is easier than ever.

Fstoppers: Tell us a little about the image and the goal you had in mind for it. Was the idea planned from the beginning?

The concept of having a car crashed into the roof was the idea from the beginning. Earlier this summer, I went on a trip to upstate NY and on this small road to the place we were staying, we saw a car crashed in the roof. The imagery of that accident was vivid in my mind and I knew that I wanted to do a shoot recreating the scenario.

Fstoppers: Did you find a retoucher prior to working on the concept on your own to get him engaged from the beginning?

Yeah, the process with Chris was very collaborative. I actually found his work on Behance and I let him know how much I loved his work. He liked my work and happened to be in the states taking English for the month so on his way back to Poland, we met up. From there I discussed some ideas I had and we settled on the car crash and tried to break down the best way to shoot it.

Fstoppers: What were you looking for in a retoucher before setting out to find him?

I wanted someone who had a unique style that would mesh well with my style. Additionally, I really liked how far he was able to push the concept with his retouching and it allowed me to do something I couldn't do in camera without a monster budget.

Fstoppers: Had this been your first time working with a retoucher on a project?

Yes, but I plan to work with him again! I'm really happy with the end result.

Fstoppers: Would you be able to share the original images that went into creating the final piece? 

Sure, here are some of the material we used and shot for it.


Fstoppers: Could you elaborate on the process of actually working with a retoucher for someone who has never worked with one?

Working with Chris was interesting because he's based in Poland and I'm based out of NYC. Since this project was a personal project and there wasn't a client deadline (or budget), everything was shot separately whenever I had free time. As I sent Chris the assets, he would photoshop them into the scene. Since he was adding the assets to the scene as I shot them, I could see the progress along the way which made me feel much more comfortable than seeing it all at once. The vast majority of our communication was through Skype calls and we would discuss the progress and next steps. We transferred all the files back and forth through my FTP so he could make changes right away. In total, I think the project spanned about a month long.

Fstoppers: How did you communicate exactly what you wanted to be done along the way? 

We did initial sketches on paper of how everything would work. After the initial sketches, most of the communication was verbal with a few instances of me marking up suggestions I had. Chris has a really good eye and I wanted this to be a collaboration so for the most part I trusted him with his instincts.

Fstoppers: Looking back on the project, was it more or less work than you had initially imagined? 

I think it seemed like more work than most of my projects because I shot everything individually since I didn't have the means of shooting it all at once. I think Chris would also agree it was more work than he imagined. I think he said he spent 40 hours in total working on the project.

Fstoppers: In retrospect, would you have shot or done anything differently in the planning stages? 

If I had the budget, I would have loved to shoot everything in camera. However, since this was a personal project with no funding, it wasn't feasible to actually put a car on a crane and smash it into the roof of a house set. Other than that, I don't think there is anything else I would've changed.

Fstoppers: In your opinion, for photographers who haven't worked with a retoucher before, what advantages does a retoucher bring even though a photographer may already posses the ability to retouch their own photos?

Having a retoucher lets me focus on the photography and concept. Typically I'm a bit restrained with composites since I don't come from a retouching background but having an experienced photo-manipulator like Chris let me execute exactly what I had envisioned in my mind. Also, since I brought Chris in from the beginning, we were able to talk about the logistics of how to shoot everything in order to make the image look event more believable.

Fstoppers: Justin, thank you for your time and we wish you luck in all your future endeavors!


You can also find Justin through his various online networks:

Website | Blog | Facebook | Flickr  | Twitter | Tumblr

Log in or register to post comments


Kian Lavi's picture

Keep it up dude, you're fantastic.

TheShervinator's picture

Rad work, boys.

Joe Gunawan's picture

Love it! Awesome job guys! Inspirational!

Rick Fernandez's picture

How many hours of retouching work is involved? I have creative retouchers in my team and would love to hear from others how long something like this "should" take.

Felipe Manga's picture

"I think he said he spent 60 hours in total working on the project."

Pratik Naik's picture

Hey Rick! It's answered in the interview. Originally estimated at 60, I got an official count today and edited the article to 40 hours on the project. Thanks!

Samuel Joubert's picture

Legendary work!

Brian Bray's picture

Very impressive concept and execution guys. Congrats!

What would have really impressed me though would be if it were actually commissioned and paid for. In my work (photographer and retoucher), I get approached with big ideas and low budgets. The attitude is "why spend money on photography when it can be created easily in Photoshop?"

Yes, anything can be done, but it's way more complicated and time consuming than most people imagine. I read here that this project took 60 hours. Work that out at a decent hourly wage, and this is your new budget reality. Ask most clients how long something like this would take and they'd probably say, "Um, I dunno, couple hours?" Yeah, sure. Let me just run it through the Car-In-Roof filter.

Anyway, I'm venting. It certainly doesn't take anything away from my appreciation for this spectacular labour of love.

Saskia Jayne Ousman's picture

So awesome!!!! Totally Inspirational !

Austin Trigg's picture

Nice final image! Is there a way we could see how Chris got the final look of the image? He's got a really 'plastic' look for the final result, anyone know how he is creating this effect?