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Can't 'Touch This

The clutch of skills required to build and maintain websites isn't something I normally make a big thing about but the Photoshop retouching I undertook this morning suggested that perhaps I should. It also revealed to me a little more about the genetic legacy I've inherited.


For as long as I could remember, there was always a mysterious area in Dad's photographic studios given over to something he called spotting-out. An activity that had little to do with developing or printing and everything to do with print finishing. Spotting-out was/is a process applied to an exposed and developed photographic print, to obliterate any dust and hairs which may have been present during the exposure of either neg or print.

The process of spotting-out was painstakingly undertaken to correct minor flaws in the finished print using an ultra-fine brush to apply specially made paints and dyes. Dad's insistence on this print-finishing process (that very few people knew took place) is one example of how he earned his reputation for paying close attention to detail. Today, what dawned upon me was that I've unconsciously inherited Dad's fastidiousness for spotting-out and, maybe, am just as anal when it comes to the detail.

Photoshop retouching

The website for Phil Holt and Son has received a little attention this morning. Prices for the 2017/18 log season have been updated and new firewood products have been added to the website for online ordering. Some old photos were refreshed and some new photos were introduced - one of these photos was an updated packshot of Burlyburn, an eco-fuel sold by Holts as an alternative to solid fuel and firewood logs.

Phil had taken delivery of the new design bag and phoned to see if I could stop by their Harpenden log yard to take a photo and add it to the website. As luck would have it, I was in the car when I took Phil's call and was only about 5 minutes away. So I nipped in for a quick cuppa and, along with a few other opportune snaps, shot the bag of eco-fuel on my iPhone.

The bag of fuel, it's fair to say, had seen better days. The print on the bag had been scuffed and scraped and there were a number of tears in the bag. This wasn't a display bag you'd proudly put in your shop window and, if it went untouched, it wouldn't have looked pristine on the website. It wasn't until this morning that I realised just how badly the bag was damaged - so I set about retouching the photo in Photoshop and began to realise that I was treating this digital photo in exactly the same way Dad would have treated a black and white print.

The iPhone shoots a photo with a resolution of 4032 pixels x 3024 pixels and the website in question will only need an image of 234 pixels x 176 pixels. Taking the care to crop and resize photos in Photoshop means that website images download as fast as possible and in this instance the Photoshop work reduced the file to 0.76% of its original size - from 4.7MB down to 36KB. Photoshopping photos is one of the essential skills of a web designer that no-one really tells you about.

The photo to the right offers you a Photoshop retouching before and after shot and then zooms right-in to show just how bad the scratching was and just how much modern-day spotting-out was required. Given the scale of the reduction, it's fair to say that the vast majority of these pack scuffs and scratches would have disappeared - there is a subtle difference between the before and after of the reduced size file and, I guess, some people would have let this go. I couldn't.

Deep within my genetic make-up I felt the need to retouch the high-res version of the photo and make it the best I possibly could - even though much of the retouching and pixel-cloning wouldn't be seen in the final file. Nevertheless, the photo needed retouching and I know that the image on Phil Holt's website is the best it can possibly be.


But this story's not over; because it's not just Dad's drive for spotting-out that I felt this morning. There's was something else wrong with the eco-fuel packaging and that was that it was printed out of register - something I pointed out to Phil when taking the shot. In addition to spotting-out the scratches, I just couldn't let go of the knowledge that the orange ink on the bag didn't precisely align with the black. In printing, the alignment of printed images is known as registration. As a former litho printer I couldn't let this image be seen with a package that's printed out of register. So I spent more time retouching the photo in Photoshop.

Look again at the words friendly logs in the photo to the right and you will see the difference this additional Photoshop retouching made. Yet this improvement to the reduced size file is so minimal it's barely noticeable. But I knew it was there so too would Dad. This afternoon, as I retouched a photo, I felt Dad's approval over my shoulder, telling me You're coming on.

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