Post-production is a frequent topic of discussion in photo studios and on The Creative Operations Podcast. So we're devoting an episode to looking at some pain points in the post-production process and how studios, providers, and clients can make it better.
For this, there's no one better to help us than Rob DiCaterino, whose work in retouching leadership has covered both print and e-commerce and has included stays with Scholastic Publishing, Martha Stewart, and now Square.
Want to enjoy the full-length chat? Find it on Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music, Spotify, or our website. But for a few pointers that put you in a position to make post-production less frustrating and more successful, read on.
Everything That Happens After the Shoot is 'Post'
Let's start by establishing what we mean when we talk about post-production.
In the most literal sense, it's anything that happens after (wait for it…wait for it…) production.
"When people hear post-production, they might think of retouching, Photoshop, and that's true," Rob says. But there's so much more to it, he points out. "There's pixel dimensions, aspect ratios, cropping, baselines, height caps, outputting in the right color space, metadata tagging, and keywording-all of those things that happen after the shoot wraps."
No, Really, It's More Than Just Photoshop
In case the previous point didn't fully resonate, let's say it again: when we evaluate our studios' post-production process, we have to inspect more than just those creative tasks performed in Photoshop.
"Yes, Photoshop and retouching is 50% artistic, and it's having that artistic eye and being creative, but it's 50% technical," he says. Retouchers are tasked with catching details in a high-volume, high-speed environment.
It's a job of quality control, Daniel suggests, "because one of the first things that our post-production partners are doing is making sure assets are correct for what they're needed for." Someone is checking file-naming requirements, making sure assets meet technical specifications for pixels, cropping, and so on. "Are all of the assets I expect to be here present and accounted for?" he asks. "All of these things are incredibly important QC steps, and we haven't even necessarily opened Photoshop yet."
But post-production doesn't end there. There's also an element of quality control on the border of objectivity and subjectivity, Daniel says. We're deciding if a subject is properly in focus, if the color appears correct, and making other semi-objective determinations.
Finally, there's a more subjective, creative, brand-mindful side of post-production, one that often happens at the art director level, Daniel says. "We're talking about model expression, posing, styling-things like that. Ideally, before it goes into the QC step, somebody has made that decision on which is the right expression, which is the right pose."
Pre is the New Post
When should you start concerning yourself with post-production for your shoot?
From the outset of your pre-production process, Rob says.
"Post-production needs to be involved in conversations all the way starting with pre-production because decisions are getting made, plans are happening, processes are being created," he says. "Without retouchers being part of the decision-making process and having a voice, wrong decisions can be made. By the time the shoot happens, it's finished. Images get handed off to retouching-it's too late, the wrong decision was already made, the wrong approach was already taken, and it's already baked into the images. Now the retouchers have to figure out how to undo it or how to solve that problem."
Neglecting post-production will add stress and also costs. That's why Daniel, echoing Rob's point, suggests that studio teams make sure that, at the very least, service providers have technical requirements specified to them before the shoot.
Manage Expectations on Your Post Work
As you get opportunities to do post-production work, you find it's a difficult stage for providing scopes to clients, because it's so dependent on art directors and the creative, Rob says. But still, you work with clients to find a price based on the projected timeline, hourly rates, and requested rounds of revisions.
"So many times it'll go, for whatever reason, that you get a certain art director or maybe something wasn't captured correctly on set, so we have to fix it in post," Rob explains. "And it goes round after round, hours and hours-the retouchers are there all night..."
It's too much work to merely be thanked and handed $50.
"Well hold on a minute, we didn't talk about going into 10 rounds," Rob recounts. "'No, no, no, you said $50,' they might say. It's like, no, everybody has to understand upfront that we try to manage the expectations as best as possible, but there are guardrails in place. We're talking about spending X amount of time and going into X amount of rounds."
Daniel recalls studio experiences when his studio team would have to remind clients, again and again, that they need to specify at the outset all of the work requested for an image so that the team is mindful of the entire assignment in the first round. "There are structural things you do to retouch an image," he says, like "drawing paths around elements in the image, whether it's around the model or a piece of apparel. We'd get really specific with the paths we'd draw."
And that gets to the heart of any potential conflict-some clients don't realize how many steps the retouchers have to revise if edit requests are made too late in the process. "It's like, well, if you're asking me to go back and rework an image from scratch, even if you don't know that's what you're asking me to do, but ultimately it's what you're asking me to do, there's time and therefore cost associated with that," Rob says.
Maintain a Process for Delivering Post on Time and on Budget
The post-production process includes a lot of transitions-sending files, providing updates, and moving from one stage to the next. That's why, Rob explains, "you have to have a process in place-ideally a tool or a platform that handles all of the aspects of the handoff." You need servers, of course, but also a communication channel-whether an email thread, a chat app, or a studio management platform-for teams to discuss where to find the correct selects, ensure that retouchers know when a photographer has assets prepared, and more.
"Ideally you have a platform in place that handles those things, so the photographer puts an upload into a DAM or a platform that checks if files are named correctly," Rob says. "Then the art director goes in and makes selects, so you're getting the correct selects, then moves them onto the next stage. The retoucher gets alerted. 'Here's my selects, here are the notes that are in there.' It automates that part of the process. And also you know all metadata is traveling with photos and markups-it's all self-contained in one system and leaves so much less room for error."
By automating transitions, you minimize the possibilities for projects to exceed the scope and reduce the likelihood of conflicts with clients.
You're now a master of post-production, but for the wide-ranging conversation that touches on everything from pickup basketball to expensive engagement rings, stream Rob's full appearance on the pod. It's on our website, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music.
As always, your listening is appreciated and your thoughts on the podcast are welcome.