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How to Estimate a Job

Lesson 10 from: The Business of Professional Photo Retouching

Lisa Carney, Simon Peter Raible

How to Estimate a Job

Lesson 10 from: The Business of Professional Photo Retouching

Lisa Carney, Simon Peter Raible

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Lesson Info

10. How to Estimate a Job

Next Lesson: Pricing Your Jobs


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Who Should Be a Retoucher?


Genres of Retouching


Comp vs Finish


Lisa's Path to Retouching


Simon's Path to Retouching


Establishing a Look


Who is The Client?


Lesson Info

How to Estimate a Job

Let's talk about the job estimate form. Now, we have a checklist form that comes with the class that will help you to make some decisions. These are the factors you need to consider. The deadline, because look at little jobs where it's oh yeah, we have 600 images and they just need 20 minutes each. Oh, that's great, we'll take that. Yeah, it's a low-paying job but it's bread and butter, bread and butter job, means just for money, nothing else. Oh, we need it in a week. Oh, well hell no, we're not doing that. Because it's not worth the time. So the deadline, I actually put the deadline first. Yeah, and the other thing, if it's one of these not super crazy awesome jobs, you're gonna be stuck doing that because you've committed to it so now you're doing this little, yucky, whatever kinda job and here comes a sexy job and you gotta say no to the sexy job 'cause you're committed to this one. It all kinda figures in there. Yeah, so as we discuss this right now, what you're gonna notice, ...

it's kinda like when you're putting together furniture and it's all wobbly, all the legs are wobbly and then you start tightening it up, that's kinda what's happening here. So, volume work. Volume work is not pretty work, it's boring but it makes your mortgage payment, it makes your healthcare payment. So we take volume work and we don't tell people we do this, we don't advertise it on our website, and we get it and it's a decent portion of our income. And you gotta be really careful if you're gonna choose to take it. And maybe it's good that folks know that we do this kinda stuff 'cause I think people look at our website and go, "Wow, look you work at all this great stuff!" I retouch underwear for catalogs, I just don't put that on my website. It's not, I don't know, it's not something you tell your mama. It's not advertising for an advertiser but it's also swishy so you can do it along your schedule. So the sexy jobs, you gotta get into the car and go during rush hour into a spot in Los Angeles, be there from nine to five. This bread and butter work, I can do see my kid on the east coast, do it in the airports, do it at the house, in between all the fun stuff. So that's the trade off. Yeah, and if you're at home and you are doing retouching on underwear, you're not doing anything wrong. I think some folks think if that's what they're doing work wise, they think they're somehow a failure or I haven't quite arrived. I feel like we've arrived. And I retouch those things so it's part of life, it's part of business and I think it's worthy. Alright, on the estimate form, things you wanna consider, deadline, super, duper, duper important. How many faces do you have to retouch? Faces, you wanna do a count. How many faces because faces take more work than bodies as a general rule. And you might have to do head strips, so there might be multiple faces and you might have to do the original face. So you wanna do a face count or a head count if you will. And it's really important for the estimate. How many bodies? Are they full bodies, are they three quarter bodies? And notice I didn't say how many people are in the ad, I'm like how many bodies? Because also what happens is you have stripping you do, you'll switch out parts of bodies. I consider that, if I have to do shot one, and then I'm putting it with shot two and I'm melding together, that's two bodies to me. That's not one body, that's two bodies to me. Because it's more complicated. And in that estimation, if you're masking out a body, sometimes the crop of the image will be to here and they'll ask you or you should be asking if they want the rest of the image stripped out all the way down to the feet plus a shadow, all the hair stuff. Is there anything outside that crop that they want for later? We do that a lot. So it's a second shot and half the time the body shot's blurry and the top part is in focus. Happens all the time. Feet cut off, we gotta find feet. We've had to find feet from stock, you'd be amazed. Maybe you wouldn't, it happens all the time. Body shaping, huge questions, you've gotta ask it, body shaping. And we're gonna do a, we have an awesome session later where we're actually on stage and we're working with a photographer and we're gonna talk about wardrobe choices and why you have to ask about the body shaping is what if they're wearing this plaid thing and you can't warp it? Ah, you need to know in advance. You can warp it, anything can be done, but it's time and money and you don't want to forget to put that in the estimate 'cause you won't get paid for it, okay? Masking, this is hugely important. Masking can take on all kinds of shapes and sizes. So, masking, I look at, what grabs my attention first is how much hair masking is there in the piece? Because that's probably the toughest and the most time sensitive. So if it's close crop folks then it's not that involved but if it's five or seven ladies with long, flowing hair in the wind and it's gotta be fashiony, that's gonna take you a while. Make sure you estimate it, make sure you get paid. If it's a lot of different things but if it's machined objects, like if they say, "We have a thousand part strip," and you're like, "A thousand pieces, what is it?" and they're like, "Coins," I'm like, "Oh, yeah, that's a piece of cake." So you set up a circle path and then just tilt it into an oval and you can start masking out. So knowing what that masking is, what it entails-- But what if it's bicycle spokes? Bicycle spokes can be tricky. So, it's a circle, oh it's a quarter versus a bike wheel, a gazillion different hours in between those things, right? Where I've gotten bit masking is foliage. I got a job, it was cattails and frawns against a pond, shot up against the sky. Which you're like, ah, I can pull a channel on that, I'll be in and out, easy. What I didn't see and what I wanna share with you guys so you don't make the same mistake as I is each one of those frawns bends and turns and picks up reflections of the sky so what I thought would be about a 15 minute masking job turned into hours. And those hours, 'cause I thought it'd only be 15, I started at 10 o'clock at night thinking I'll just do this and then go to bed. 10 o'clock turned into three in the morning and I'm sitting there pathing out going I will never make this mistake ever, ever, ever again. Foliage gets my attention, it jumps right out at me these days, let me tell you. And sometimes what you'll just wanna recommend is switching out the tree instead. Now, the other thing that's really important about this is also is it on a light background, medium background, dark background, and saturated? It is 100% a different job to mask someone out on a white seamless if they're going on a light background. If you have to put them on a dark background, that is a different job and that's a different expense. And I'm very clear about that when I'm bidding my jobs. And you need to communicate that to your clients 'cause they won't understand. If they're on a white background and then you're gonna put them on a bright orange background, that's a different masking job. You're gonna see that halo. Completely different and often, you don't wanna deliver the same files. So let's say I am shot against a lovely blue background and you're gonna put me on a yellow background and a white background and a black background and I would like to have all shots please. I would like all of them. It's not a single file delivery because if you darken all the hair edges when I'm on the blue background and the white background, I'm gonna look like I have clumped up hair. So that means that's a three or four file delivery. Here's your light background masking, here's your medium background, here's your blue background, and here's you saturated background. I know most people won't think of this but it changes and it changes your bid. There was something I wanted to say, on the worksheet that Simon has created for you guys, that I think you're gonna absolutely love, he has it delineated out, female or male. And when I first read it I was like, what's that about? What does it matter? And he's like well, you know full well it takes much longer, chances are, to retouch out a female than, not just mask but retouch, than a male. And it didn't occur to me to change, I had people, just head counts, he has it delineated out female or male. Yeah, males are jeans, t-shirts, and boots. And then females are they have little accoutrement-- Sometimes lace. Yeah, flowing hair, jewelry. Yep, it's true. And indeed, quantity, of course. How many shots do you need to do? And then of course destination. So I know this is a little dry but it's a lot to take in and forewarned is fore-armed I think and as long as you know to ask the questions, you can help figure out what you're doing. Now, here's a sample of some of the, we don't have samples of all the pages of the worksheets, but these are some of the things. So how many faces in the frame, bodies, how many images, overall color correction? Like, are you doing a generic color correction or are you having to color balance between two different photo shoots? Or two different lightings? Lighting manipulation, how many times are you asked to switch the lighting direction? You got two different photographs, someone's lit from the left, someone's lit from the right and they want them put together and you're like, it doesn't work and that's a pretty difficult job. That takes some going and it's not gonna be quick. Not to make it look believable but to make it look really keen, yeah, there's very few quick fixes of that so look at that and go, that's not a half an hour job right there. In addition to the estimate, this may sound crackers but it's bitten us a gazillion times and it's about managing expectations. Spotting, how much spotting? When's a spot not a spot? Like some people want a lot of spotting done, some people want a little bit and they don't tell you. We've run into some like pretty long-term clients of ours who we have been having this, he thought we weren't cleaning it up, we thought the product looked the way, we didn't know they wanted it spic and span and 100% clean and they certainly didn't wanna pay for it to be spic and span, 100% clean. Which was interesting. So what we ended up working out is we did the estimate and then we had this conversation about spotting and he determined that he would do the spotting because it's a brainless job, he could do it pretty easily and he could afford the rate and then he would give it to us and we would do the heavy lifting. So that's an option sometimes for people. That's a learn as you go. These experiences, you'll know that the next time you have that client or that kind of job, these are the questions you gotta be asking. And you're learning as you go. Because we're expensive and some jobs won't require that skill level. Some jobs don't need the amount of education and skill we have. It's just a basic cleanup. Well don't hire us, hire someone at a different level and know when you're not right for the job also. Don't take a lower job if you don't want it. If you really don't want it, don't. Let that go to a different food chain and you keep going at the level you want to. Is there anything else I wanted-- Retouching level. Yeah, that was it. Real good, important to ask right there. So we get hired to do fashion stuff and it's awesome photography and you're getting 32 bit 400 meg files. They're probably gonna want elite level retouching. If it's for a different output and it's just a bunch of kids playing in the mud, they're not gonna want a bunch of retouching. Somewhere between kids in the mud and supermodel, you gotta find out what is expected so you don't look poorly and then you wanna get paid for your time. To do muddy kids, half an hour piece but to do supermodel, they might want six or eight hours put into each piece. And this is such a good point, what that means, what is high level retouching? Heavy retouching for me, what's it for you? And that is such a subjective question so when I bid, especially brand new clients, brand new clients, I ask for a before and after of what they're looking for. Please ask, ask them, don't be ashamed, ask. You should absolutely ask. If they don't have a before and after, they may have a sample of work that someone else has done, scrap, we call it scrap. They find it out in the universe. Like let's say for example it's a hair ad and they have that hair that's every single hair, there's not a cross hair in the piece. You wanna know that and then you can look at the original and go okay if I'm gonna make it look like this, and I can see how far they want it, you can do a more accurate estimate. And give them samples as you work, work in progress. 100%. And you will, I'll go too far and ask them to pull me back. So I'll push it a little bit to where I'm like phew, that's all the farther I go and a little bit beyond and they will say alright, not that far, pull it back to 75, 80%. You kinda sneak up on it from the opposite. Okay, this is a philosophical thing. I am trying, this is so odd, I'm trying to kill my own industry. No, I'm trying to do less retouching. I don't like over-retouch, that's not a style I like. I like people to look more natural. So people come to me not because of how much I take out, people tend to come to me because of what I leave in. So whenever I deliver a job, I tend to deliver light, tasteful, but light. I don't like heavy retouching. He will deliver a job heavy because, I'm gonna speak for you for a second because I think it's how you address it and I think it's accurate. Because he wants them to have something to tweak. He wants them to say, "Hey, pull back a little." because in his industry, in entertainment industry, people want to mark the piece. Anybody who's on the job wants to have input, they want to say something. He likes to leave them something in the piece to pull out. Isn't that interesting? It's totally fascinating. But then also that if you're gonna do, if there's more than one image to the job, give them the first one and get a little conversation happening there, do you like this? What don't you like? What do you wish would happen here? Before you start the other 15 in the job. So get kind of a set of ground rules set out of bounds happening as quickly as you can. Yeah, excellent. And we're gonna talk more about retouching level and ideas but at least this will give you an idea for estimating and these questions you wanna be asking. And look, you know the rule, everybody knows the rule. It's fast, good, or cheap. And you know you only get two, period, paragraph, and that holds true 100%. Wouldn't you say that's accurate? Oh yeah. And anywhere y'all wanna fit in that equation is fantastic and you'd be amazed how many times I have to say this to clients. And I would like to express a desire that in the retouching community and in our business as artists, because we are artists, that we keep the rates at a good level. I don't want to see the rates to continue to drop. Look, y'all are spending time and money investing in your education, your craft, your skill, your equipment, you deserve to be paid for it and I think you need to, in these days, really resist the cheapening down of our services. So I'm gonna share a little story about that job we just quoted that we laughed at. Please do. So we get called for a, we didn't laugh at it, it just wasn't the right-- Not a good fit. Not a good fit. So we got called for a furniture company and they wanted 4,800 pieces of art done for their catalog and whatnot and they estimated it would take one minute a piece to retouch. Now imagine for one second, you need to get the job, you need to organize the job, put it in folders, label, you know, there's a process. You've gotta organize your work. You need to open set job, do the retouching and/or run of action, save the job as a different name in a different folder. You then need to cross off that you did 4,800 images and make sure you don't miss a single one. You need to deliver that job. Internet, hard drive, messenger, I'm not sure how you're sending the job, and then you need to confirm that you've done all that, you have revisions possibly, and then you have the time it takes to build that job. And they wanna pay you one minute. No. (laughing) No, so anyway, I just wanted you know-- And then also with this one, you get speed, you get quality, or you get price. This happens so simply with a design firm I went down and the guy I was working for, he was a great artist, I really liked him a lot, we got along fine. He was really, he fell in love with this piece and he wanted this thing to be as best as can be. His money person was coming in saying we only have a budget so we worked on one of six pieces and we really put our efforts into it and it took four days. Now, it probably was only a one day job but I'm talking to him and he just wants it just to glisten. Money girl comes over and goes, "How come it took four days "but we only budgeted for one day?" And I'm like okay, so I'm hearing from you it's too expensive, I'm hearing from you the quality needs to get better, y'all need to talk amongst yourselves 'cause here are the three components to it. 'cause there was the time logged in there too. Yeah, so you figure out how fast you want it, how much you money you wanna spend, and how elite level you want it. And I can do any of those but you can't have all three. If you want to spend plenty of time and you want it just kisses, it's gonna cost a lot of money. But it can be boiled down that simply. Yeah.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

File Naming Convention Sample
Estimate Worksheet Form
Finishing Delivery Example
File Naming Convention Explanation
Worksheet & Billing Checklist
Solar Curves Action

Bonus Materials

Adobe Stock Contributor
Alien Skin Software Discount Code

Ratings and Reviews

Bill Buckley

I'm a photographer who wants to be as good at Photoshop as possible. In my field few retouchers get hired, so it's all on me. Plus my creative vision cannot be accomplished by photography alone. Not to mention that in the field, as a photographer I can't always be perfect. Photoshop to the rescue. This is possibly THE best class I've purchased on Creative Live, and they've all been good. Great insight, entertaining, well taught Lisa and Simon were awesome. Bought more LC tutorials based on this course.

Kari A. Youkey

This course just opened my world. I started ( back in the Jurassic era) as an illustrator/drafter ( pen and ink), then CAD programmer, then GIS analyst with photoshop just coming onto the scene pregnant and unplugged focusing on parenting and my inner artist. I was gifted an IPad 6 years ago in the mist of my Taxi Mom years. My favorite ‘hobby’ became manipulating images and an addiction to Adobe apps. Now, In my new empty nest status, I have been trying to figure out my next direction in life....and CreativeLive has been a wonderful resource to explore different creative opportunities, feeling somewhere between photography and graphic design, I wanted to ‘paint’ photos with my tool of choice the tablet, not the camera. ...but it wasn’t until this course that I clicked with an Aha! I don’t have to become an photographer? I could get paid to retouch? Other people’s photos?.....and, I have a work history skill set that backs it up! Thank you so much for this course! Loved the instructors and how they shared their experiences and knowledge. You two have just provided a wonderful map and whole new path to explore and inspired a much needed creative spark to get back to work❤️. Thank You!

a Creativelive Student

Lisa knocked it out of the ball park again! Amazing work Lisa and Simon! I just can't find the many words that express how much I gain with each and every course she teaches. Once again, a wealth of information that was given in a down to earth manner. I absolutely love her teaching style! Amazing course Lisa and Simon, awesome job!

Student Work