Becoming a High End Retoucher — An Exclusive Interview With Pratik Naik

If you’re familiar with Fstoppers, you’ve certainly have heard of Pratik Naik before. As a contributor to Fstoppers for years now, Pratik has been able to share his own retouching secrets that help make him one of the biggest names in the retouching community. Following his recent trip to Seattle to host a Creative Live series — one of the most watched to date, I was able to meet up with him and talk about his upcoming projects and his path as a world class retoucher.

For those unfamiliar with Pratik’s work, you may have seen it without even knowing. Often, Pratik will work with Joey L, Lara Jade and others to help them create amazing commercial images for print and publication. He’s also had his retouching work featured in Marie Claire, Elle, Zink, and GQ as well as working with Discovery Channel to help create iconic images for their TV series films.

Like many others, Pratik sort of fell into retouching, and didn’t initially have a plan to become a high end retoucher for some of the biggest names in the industry. Pratik writes —

Back in high school, I picked up Photoshop in a computer class and instead of using it to retouch, I’d be fascinated with manipulating cars and learning random effects that you could create from scratch. It’s what got me into the world. I picked up a camera in college and I learned that in order to come up with a great final product, a lot of photographers would use Photoshop to make it something more. So I looked at a few magazines and realized I was curious about the retouching world. It became a fun hobby retouching photos and so it stuck. I was eventually getting paid to have fun, and initially that was better than what I was making at my job. I could make money in my pajamas and I didn’t have to sit in an hour worth of traffic and dress up each day. Even though that was just a small perk, I realized how much fun I had working on images and creating something amazing.

Copyright Joey L

Copyright Joey L

While Pratik’s work and attention to detail is impressive, equally impressive is his long list of clients that he’s worked for. Perhaps among the most impressive is the work that he’s done with Joey L for the iconic TV film “Killing Lincoln” for the Discover Channel. When asked about how he has been able to achieve such an incredible client list, Pratik writes —

Working on important jobs didn’t come overnight. I started with photographers who were just starting out. Slowly, I started working with photographers who were full time. Then I started getting editorial work from bigger photographers and finally, it kept on growing from there. The most important aspect was word of mouth. Doing each job well and making sure your clients are happy will be the best form of advertising ever. Photographers talk to each other and they will recommend you. Often, we grow together in this industry and when you begin to get a better portfolio, it will be a stepping stone into working with other photographers who are already established too.

However, despite his large and impressive client base, Pratik Naik has also made a transition to teaching over the last couple years. Teaching workshops all over the world, Pratik teaches the art and techniques used by some of the biggest names in the retouching world.

I never thought what I knew was worth sharing. I was a part of the iPhone photoshoot here on Fstoppers a few years ago. A day after it went public, I got contacted by a photographer who was involved as a lead developer in one of the biggest PC games ever created. He was also a photography lover and a Leica enthusiast. He asked if I was willing to come down to California to teach him what I knew. I told him I had never taught before but would be glad to part with whatever I knew to help him. After that experience, I felt a great deal of satisfaction helping others improve their own craft and bridge the gap between the taken shot and the final piece. It felt better than retouching alone. So I expanded to small groups of people to see if they also found value in what I knew about retouching. It all went well and I slowly scaled up to larger seminars and then to workshops around the world. I realized that through teaching, I learned a great deal from what they knew as well. It ended up feeling like a group discussion and lots of fun! Also, meeting other creatives across the globe is an experience that fuels your creative soul.

However, one of the biggest fears when teaching can come from the general idea of it. When you have a craft, it’s always a bit intimidating sharing your techniques and “secrets” to the world, and from a retouching aspect, that fear could be even realer. Pratik and I were able to talk about this fear, and Pratik shares some interesting insight to the idea of it —

Coincidentally the viewpoint that changed my thinking about this topic came from a student! In reality, if we strengthen this industry, it creates more job opportunities all around. When we build up others, they come up with better solutions that you wouldn’t find out by yourself. And in return, you benefit from their strength through education and opportunities. I think retouching isn’t a secret, and opening up about what you know only leads to more opportunities. That’s from my experience. I hope we all work towards sharing that same viewpoint. The secret sauce is not what makes you amazing, it’s you. And clients will only come to you if they like working with you. You are a part of that package, not just your skills.

And certainly Pratik has developed a skill set that has extended well beyond his retouching techniques. With over 10,000 followers on his personal Facebook page alone, Pratik has developed his name as one of the very best within the industry. However, getting to that caliber is no easy task, and Pratik was happy to share on how he found his success within the retouching and photography world —

Make sure you have a game plan before coming into the field. Understand that it will take a few years just to gain some good traction and it will build up very slowly. Don’t expect quick results and stay focused. Let your own passion guide you and don’t be deterred by the success of others. We each grow at our own pace and we don’t see how hard someone else works. Time will test your passion so make sure you really love what you do before pursing it. If it’s for the wrong reasons or you’re not 100% committed, it won’t work out.