Tue 3 Jan 2012
If this photograph makes you want to taste this delicious dessert, I thank my retoucher, Kristen Monthei, one of the most important members of my team. I asked her to write this guest post about how we work together, and to show you how her behind-the-scenes artistry and expertise helps me do my own best work. Often while I’m problem-solving on set with my team in the studio, she is the most talked-about person on a shoot! In her post she includes step-by-step images to show how we arrived at the final image seen above…
Hello everyone! My name is Kristen Monthei, and I am thrilled to have this opportunity to tell you a little bit about Renéeʼs post-production. I have been retouching her images for the last several years, and it has been both an amazing collaboration as well as a lot of fun!
You probably already know that most images these days have at least a small amount of retouching done on them (and some have LOTS), but in order to create a truly dynamic image, the original must have a strong concept & composition and have been expertly technically executed.
Renée has always had a very clear vision of what she wants and shoots incredibly clean to begin with. Because she and I share a similar aesthetic and an appreciation for fine detail, my goal is to keep the integrity of her images, while subtly enhancing them in ways that will make them both memorable and enticing. For the final image to be successful, it has to be more than just a pretty picture of food—it has to be an image that triggers the viewer’s senses, emotions and memories.
Although every image is different and each has its own set of challenges, I have developed a basic “recipe” which generally seems to lend itself to Renéeʼs clean and sophisticated style.
1. I composite or re-shape anything if needed. Itʼs not necessarily that often, but I love getting that phone call during the photo shoot from Renée asking the “is that actually possible?” question. It is always possible, and itʼs always fun to for me to figure out the solution. For example, in the grilled pineapple and basil ice cream shot, you can see that in “Original A,” the ice cream is a perfect scoop, but itʼs missing the basil syrup and cream sauce from “Original B.” Often, Renée sends me images with a layer containing written notes, as seen below in “Original A,” where Renée also asked me to clean up the basil leaf (it had a teeny smear of ice cream on it and a brown bruise line—also gone in the final image). She also circled a drip, which we later agreed was superfluous, and I… made it go away…
Below, in “Combining A & B,” the image area not masked in red reveals the basil syrup and cream element that we wanted to composite with the “perfect” ice cream scoop from “Original A,” as seen in the “Final” image.
Renée always tries to make the shot as perfect as possible in camera, but, very often photographing food is time-sensitive because there is a limit to how long the food will look fresh. For this shot, with ice cream, time was even more of a challenge, and the food stylist, Debbie Wahl had to try and recreate it perfectly twice. So, in this case it made more sense to digitally combine two shots, each of which already contained perfect elements.
2. I get rid of any dust or distracting elements that detract from the food. For example, letʼs say there are scratches or blemishes in a table top, as seen in the shot below. Sometimes scratches or other flaws in a wood surface help set the mood of the image, so they can be important. If, however, there are particular scratches that distract from the focal point, as in this shot, I choose to tone them down and make some of them disappear. I would do the same thing for crumbs, glares on glass, reflections in coffee, drips, etc. Perfection in this case almost never means completely clean, as many of those crumbs have been strategically placed by Renée or the food stylist to make the image look natural.
3. After major retouching, l do a selective color balance (if needed) and selectively desaturate the whites & metals. Sometimes there is just too much color in a reflection on a plate which again distracts from the focal point, so by desaturating, you allow the more colorful parts of the food to stand out. In the written notes for the shot above, Renée asked me to “tone down” the light and fill in specified areas. As you can see in the final image, the changes are subtle, but do result in reducing distractions. So, retouching helps the food to be the star.
4. I almost always brighten/intensify the most important part of the foreground food, drawing the viewers attention.
5. My general rule of thumb: DO I WANT TO EAT IT? If yes, well, then itʼs done.
Iʼve worked in commercial photography for over a decade, but mostly in post-production, photo-editing, design and art direction. My educational background is actually in fine art with an emphasis in drawing and painting, skills that turned out to be quite useful. My roots in photography were traditional with film and chemical development, but there is no denying that I have become a complete nerd for Photoshop. Itʼs an incredible tool that not only lets you do the same things you would have done in the darkroom years ago (only without the chemicals), but it also allows you complete control as well as the ability to push the image as far as you want to take it. I love exploring the possibilities.
To see more fun examples of Reneeʼs work before and after, visit my website www.kristenmonthei.com.