Old School Retouching

Just How Did We Retouch Photos in a World BEFORE Photoshop Entered the Public Conscious?

If you thought the concise and learned art of digital image retouching might seem pretty laborious today, in terms of how long it perceivably takes to transform photographs (and yes, by many accounts; image manipulators do like to milk it on occasion), then just wait until you learn how time-consuming the process of enhancing visuals were some seventy years ago. Which was some 43 years before the advent of Adobe Photoshop, just to remind ourselves of the key timelines here.

Retro Photograph Retouching Poster

While the likes of Photoshop (a synonym for virtual photo editing tools in the same way as Hoover is for vacuum cleaners and Google has systematically entered the Oxford English as a bona fide verb) exists to provide the perfect foil to ensure that a professional retoucher can create the precise visual representation of what a client has briefed them on, back in the 1940s those who operated in this sector had to be a bit more, creative, let’s say in their approach to the job in hand. Thinking outside the box way before ‘the box’ (in the shape and form of an Apple Mac) had seen the light of day.

Old style retouching

Elaborate image-editing software had yet to be invented, chiefly because the hardware to accommodate their needs was still a long way off Charles Babbage’s drawing board. So hat’s off (stove and otherwise) to the unsung heroes/pioneers of their day who ploughed the photo retouching furrow, equipped with little more than a keen eye, an extremely steady hand and a bag of tools which would be more identifiable with a surgeon, rather than someone who made their living in the more artistic industries.

The World of Photo-editing was revolutionised by the Ushering in Photoshop

Old School Image Editing

Essentially, the post-production manipulation of photos amounted to considerably more than effort being applied than simply jumping on a laptop and getting to grips with software. Not that we’re downplaying what we do of course. Merely drawing fascinating comparisons.

To afford both professional image enhancers and enthusiastic amateurs a clearer understanding of the sheer scale of the undertaking back when we weren’t that far removed from a land of sepia (although MGM Studios had experimented with Technicolour in the seminal movie, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ a few years earlier), the existence of a particularly insightful book resurfaced recently which lifted the lid on photo retouching techniques and practices in 1946. And as we intonated earlier, a good four decades before Photoshop was born.

Discovery of Old Book Reminds Today’s Digital Image Manipulators How Simplistic (and Labour Intensive) Sector Used to Be

Traditional Materials Required for Photographic Retouching in 1940s

Jauntily entitled ‘Shortcuts to Photo Retouching for Commercial Use’, 1940s retouching expert and author, Raymond Wardell describes – his carefully chosen words partnered by appropriate tech drawings, monochrome photos and public information poster-esque graphics – how to frequent the rudimentary craftsmanship necessitated to enhance images over half a century ago. Plundering such basic implements as pastes, rulers, brushes, cotton, palettes and rubber rollers so as to deliver client briefs on time, budget and maintaining an absolute sense of illustrative professionalism. For the time, at least.

Eventually – and mercifully – the photo editing sector moved on, and technical advancements paved the way for Photoshop and its ilk to take centre stage. And no, we’re not talking about inferior ‘lick n stick’ image editing software such MS Paint, but conversely do respectfully acknowledge the likes of Corel Draw; the latter of which figured prominently in the metamorphosis witnessed by those of us who plied our trade in the professional field of image enhancing. All of which seems a lifetime removed from the way our forefathers went about their photo enhancing business.

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