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“Secrets of a top retoucher” by Popphoto

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This Popphoto magazine article recently ran, a rather candid interview that I did a few months back and I thought it would be fun to post it here for those of you who don’t know me personally.  It says a little about how I got evolved in retouching / digital capture and wee bit about how i work.  The whole article is long-ish so I included a few of the more major excerpts.

-written by Aimee Baldridge

Sagmiller remains a great believer in being guided by core artistic concepts in his digital work.  “I know the inside walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as I know the controls on a camera,” he notes.  Sagmiller describes this balance between technical ability and artistic understanding as a requirement for high-quality post production work.  ”Photographers come to you not just for your technical know-how,” he explains.  ”they’re really after you because of the specific decisions that you make. “You’re only as good as what you decide to retouch and decide to not retouch.”

Like his general arts eduction, the technical training Sagmiller received acquainted him with basic principles and tools, instead of focusing on particular software brands or products.  Although the training process could be tough at times, he insists that it gave him an ability to pick up new software easily, which has always paid off in his professional life.  ”We were expected to know a piece of software within a few days. They just threw it at us, ” Sagmiller recounts.  ”You had a project you had to finish, so it was kind of trail by fire.”

While Sagmiller began his studies with a strong interest in 3D graphics and computer animation, and feels that he has benefitted from his experience with the complex software used in those media, he found that spending all of his creative hours in front of a computer monitor didn’t suit his outdoorsy nature.  ” There was this moment when I just sort of cracked,” he recalls.  ”I took a film and video class that had digital photography components, and I was so excited to touch a piece of steel.  I took one of those C stands and tweaked a knob.  I got to move it and see the light actually change, as opposed to moving a light in my three-dimensionally rendered computer image.  That was just it for me.”  Combining on-set digital capture work with postproduction work allows him to balance his interest in digital tools with his need to interact with the physical world.

But working on location doesn’t just suit Sagmiller’s personality.  He feels that being on location not only enhances his value to the photographers he is working with, but also improves the quality of his retouching..  ”There are all kinds of problems that I can solve being on set that were very difficult to solve with post effects alone,” he explains.  Understanding postproduction techniques and printing allows him to make stronger recommendations about lighting, processing, and exposure during the shoot.  He also notes that just being on set and hearing the comments of art directors and stylists gives him information that helps him meet client’s retouching needs.  ”All those little comments don’t always make it into the notes for the retoucher,” he remarks.  And by being on the spot, Sagmiller can answer questions that the photographer or other techs can’t necessarily address about what can and can’t be fixed in post how much it will cost, and how making changes to the set can reduce the postproduction costs.  That not only makes him more valuable ot the photographer bust also makes the photographer more valuable to the client.