I get multiple emails every day from retouchers looking to work with me; most of them are based in Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and they serve a need in the market for inexpensive high-volume retouching. The problem is the emails. Oh god, the emails. Stop it with the emails!
It’s kind of a trope in my professional photographer friend group as we all get multiple emails per week offering fast turnaround, cheap prices, great clipping paths, object extraction, sky replacement, and everything else you could possibly do to a photo for $1. We all recognize that these services are useful, and we’ve probably all used them at one point. I also know that competition is fierce in this market, so I’m going to offer some help because I know that I and many others instantly disregard emails that we receive from these companies due to the poor grammar, verbosity, lack of cohesion, and general strangeness that comes along with them. How did you get my email? How did 50 of these companies get my email? Who is writing the text they’re sending?
Again, to be perfectly clear, I want to help here – I recognize that it’s a tough business landscape but I also recognize that this is a service that is needed, and, let’s face it, isn’t going away any time soon. I’m also happy that new markets and job opportunities are available for people in emerging markets as architecture, interior, hotel, and real estate photography grow. So when I get an email like this:
It’s hard to not roll my eyes a little bit and immediately move to delete the clutter from my inbox after reading a single line. What does it even mean? What is kerning? We will never know.
As someone who has used and will probably use these services again in the future (not for everything, but for some routine extraction, clipping path work, work for cutting out windows, etc) I want to mention that many of them are very good at rote tasks and straightforward things. Pen paths of windows, clipping paths of product photography, etc. Where they fall short time and time again (and I think it will be many, many years until this changes, if ever, especially at these price points) is the artistry of putting together a high-end architectural or advertising image (and that probably goes for any genre).
The amount of time and attention to detail required are, at this point, very far beyond the capabilities of these services. That isn’t to say that these employees cannot develop and eye for creating or producing this type of high-end work, just that it is something that needs to be taught carefully by someone experienced in knowing what top clients are looking for in terms of subtlety, color, and vision. It can also be very difficult to articulate specific and delicate instructions with the language barrier, but it’s not quite as tricky to say “pen tool these chairs and create a mask on a new layer.” Quite straightforward. Communicating “an airy, desaturated and warm late afternoon feel with a soft split tone for warmth in the shadows (this client has a preference towards a muted palette and desaturated blues)” is something that’s a little trickier to get across, especially when many of these operations provide a rather heavy-handed approach to color, contrast, and vibrance.
When I use a retoucher for my every day architecture work, I’m using someone based in the states and paying them anywhere between $65-$120 per hour depending on the complexity and speed of turnaround. I expect that they’ll take a few hours on each image if necessary, tweaking colors and blends to perfection. They do an incredible job and I’m happy to pay for it to be done right, but it would be crazy to pay $100 an hour for pen paths and extraction – something that is more or less mindless when compared to blending, color matching, and grading. The overseas retouchers are never going to be competing on price with a domestic retoucher, but more on their ability to clearly and coherently market their more cost-effective services to me.
I will never make a criticism if I don’t have a resolution. My suggestions, to not only low-cost retouchers, but to anyone interested in mass-emailing photographers, artists, hell – anyone – will be thus:
- Write straightforward, short, emails. Courtesy is a function of time, and nobody has the time to read a War-and-Peace-length email.
- Don’t blast emails to multiple people at once. I will never read a “Dear Sir” email. I will read every “Dear Mike” email that is sent only to me. It’s so easy to tell, and so simple to take the extra time addressing each person individually, especially if you want to enter into a business relationship with them.
- Don’t use any fonts other than the default. Arial, Helvetica Neue, Minion, etc. Don’t get cute!
- Pay someone to check grammar, spelling, tense. I appreciate that there is a language barrier and anyone who speaks a second language, even if a bit imperfect, is more worldly than I, but it won’t cost more than $50 US at the absolute most to find someone to proof-read your email before you blast it out into the world.
- Send me to a clean, straightforward website that shows me what you can do.
- Name some of the photographers that you’ve worked with so I can look at their websites. I probably won’t use a retoucher if they aren’t either recommended to me personally or have a client list with someone I recognize on it. It’s not blowing anyone’s cover or giving up a trade secret – this is no different than an architecture photographer having a client list on their website
- Put your prices in the email. Again, courtesy is a function of time.
- I wouldn’t waste time offering test retouches – often the jobs are so cheap that to me, it looks kind of desperate. It’s either done right or not – accurately clipped, that is – so it should be relatively straightforward.
Here is an example of an email that I would like to receive if I was in the market of hiring a low-cost retoucher to do something such as a clipping path, etc.
My name is Abc Xyz, and I’d like to introduce myself to you. I’m a retoucher based in wherever and have worked with photographers such as Chump Change, Joe Blow, Kooky Kelley, and many more. While searching for new clients, I came across your work which was impressive. Your images are already great but if I can be of service I’d be happy to work with you. I can offer the following services:
-Full image editing
Our rates start at $5.00USD per picture for full edits, and $3 per image for simple clipping paths. If you have any questions let me know – I look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks for your time,
Mr or Mrs Retoucher
That’s it. Straight to the point, no nonsense, kind enough, humble, and classy. I guarantee that no matter where you are from or what you are offering, people will take a second to read your email. They may even reply, even if they don’t need you immediately. Or they may turn around and decide to work with you right there, just because your first impression was that of a true professional – no matter what you’re charging or where you’re based.