I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Photoshop Retoucher Extraordinaire Calvin Hollywood recently covering all manner of things from how he first got started using Photoshop to talking about the way he approaches a retouch and I’m really excited to be able to share that information with you now.
Thanks to Skype I was able to record everything we said so what follows is near enough a transcript of our conversation but without having to subject you to my Midland ‘twang’.
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Glyn: First of all Calvin before we get started I just want to say a big thank you for agreeing to be a Monthly Guest here on the blog; I really do appreciate it.
Calvin: You’re welcome. I have to say thank you too; I know your blog and I know what you do. I’ve seen the previous Guest’s you’ve had and I think it’s a really good idea.
Glyn: Brilliant. Ok then to kick off, the first question I’d like to ask you is ‘What came first…the Photoshop or the Photography?’
Calvin: I actually started using Photoshop first. A friend showed me the program and I just started playing around and I soon fell in love with it. A short while later I brought myself a camera so that I could have some pictures to practice retouching on but to be honest my main interest is in retouching pictures as opposed to taking them. Taking pictures is like work to me whereas retouching is much more like fun. However that being said, there’s no question that the photography is the most important part; I just find the retouching side of work a lot more like fun.
Glyn: Ok so when it comes to your retouching obviously I’ve seen a lot of your work that you have on your blog and your main website but when you first started where was all your retouching work coming from?
Calvin: Well when I got started I was taking pictures of trees, flowers and even myself to practice retouching techniques on. I guess after about a month or so I started taking pictures of my friends, and then I started sharing the pictures in online communities. I guess after about 8 weeks or so I brought my first DSLR and then started shooting, not professionally but taking photos that were a lot more planned and with an idea and concept already in my head.
Glyn: So would I be right in saying then that nowadays you’re always thinking about what you’re going to do in Photoshop later?
Calvin: I would say that would be about 60-70% of it but sometimes I’ll take a picture and then later I’ll decide what I’m going to do when it comes to retouching…if anything. With my pictures the scene or the story isn’t the most important thing; what is important though is the look of the pictures with regards to the contrast and details so typically I’ll take the picture and some of the retouching I’ll already know but then what I’ll do later is come back to the picture and start playing around with different kinds of looks and then eventually I’ll know which direction I want to go with it.
I suppose thinking about it, before I shoot I know roughly 50% of what I’m going to do and then once I’ve taken the picture the remaining 50% comes from inspiration as I’m retouching.
Glyn: So how long are we talking about then since you were first introduced to Photoshop?
Calvin: I first used Photoshop back at the beginning of 2005 and then by the end of the year I started sharing pictures within the online communities and it was then that I really started learning. The first 5 or 6 months I was just playing around but then the learning started. I was taking pictures and practicing techniques in Photoshop all day, every day. Sometimes I would only take about 2 hours of sleep and then would get up again and start retouching; I was totally addicted to it and at the beginning of 2006, I think maybe around March, I started doing some tutorials explaining what I do.
Glyn: Only 5 years? … that’s a really short space of time to go from literally nothing to the level you’re at now.
Calvin: Sure it’s only 5 years but people have to know that I was working with Photoshop all day, so maybe some people are working 10 years with Photoshop doing only around 6 hours each day but you see I’ve worked the last 5 years but for 14 or 15 hours each day.
Glyn: Ok so when it comes to learning Photoshop how did you learn so much? What resources did you use?
Calvin: Well when I started I was very interested in the basics and it was using all the online communities that helped me a lot and so it took me only 4 or 5 months to get to grips with the basics of Photoshop; I learned it very fast. Now with regards to the teaching skills I was a soldier for 10 years and I was an instructor for the basic training side of things so I had a lot of experience in teaching so that wasn’t a problem; the only problem was getting to know the basics and it’s from within the communities where I learned so much. The communities for me were the biggest help when it came to learning the basics; I’d never bought a DVD until that moment…I learned it all from the communities…Retouch Pro, and some German Communities.
Glyn: Calvin, the first time I actually became aware of you and your work was when you were a Guest over on Scott Kelby’s blog; can you tell me what kind of impact that had on you because understandably Scott has a massive viewing audience and for those people now to be exposed to you must have been quite noticeable I’m guessing
Calvin: Yes, yes it certainly was. Before I wrote for Scott Kelby’s blog I’d already recorded five DVD’s for the German Market and I was writing for every magazine so I had a very good name in Germany but my goal has always been to reach an International audience so I actually wrote to Scott about doing a Guest Post and got an answer. I remember seeing a post on his site about getting details so I wrote a really direct message to him, jokingly saying that I know a better way to not just do that but to get a lot more details. Anyway that got Scott’s attention (laughing) he was really interested and the next thing you know that was the beginning. After the guest post I got a lot of attention. I’d started an English blog maybe 6 months before because I knew that being on Scott Kelby’s blog would give me a lot of attention. It was a total blast. I got so much positive feedback and that really was the beginning for me for going International. I don’t think it’s fair that the German market keep hearing ‘Calvin Hollywood, Calvin Hollywood”…that’s just boring for them so I always wanted to go International and that’s the goal I’m working really hard on achieving.
Glyn: Well I can honestly say that you’re making an impact over here in the UK and certainly the people I know in the UK and the US who are involved with Photoshop, you’re name is definitely one I hear mentioned more and more…
Calvin: Really? Wow? It’s so hard to rate my own name. I’m so confused, you see I was in New York at the PDN and then a party afterwards and some people knew me and they said ‘Hey you’re Calvin Hollywood right?’ I mean, for me that was amazing. It’s crazy, it’s crazy to rate yourself and I just didn’t know that people would know me in England
Glyn: Oh they do, believe me they do. I mentioned just to a few friends that we were going to be speaking and that you were going to be a Guest on the blog and I guess almost every week I was being asked ‘When’s Calvin coming? Is it soon?” …
Calvin: Wow that’s so funny
Glyn: When you were on Scott Kelby’s blog people saw something different; special effects and techniques they hadn’t seen before. Your teaching made it so incredibly easy to follow too.
Calvin: That is so good to hear, thank you. In fact in January I’m going to be doing five classes for Kelby Training and I’m really excited about that too.
Glyn: Talking of Kelby Training , you’ve also been over to Vegas and been an Instructor at Photoshop World. That must have been quite an experience…
Calvin: It was a blast! Right before it my brain was exploding. It was awesome! I was new there; some people knew my name, and some didn’t and I never had a class where there were no people. My first class was with Russell Brown and there were 800 people; now that’s freaky! 800 hundred people…it was crazy, I loved it! Photoshop World is a real experience. It’s perfectly organised and there’s all the people there that you recognise from the training and the DVD’s…Joe McNally, Russell Brown…all of them there…it was fantastic; I hope it’s not my last.
Glyn: I totally understand what you mean about Photoshop World, I mean I was there a couple of years or so back now in Vegas and it just blows your mind doesn’t it…
Calvin: Oh yeah!
Glyn: Ok, so just getting back to talking a bit more about retouching I remember a few minutes ago you said that when you take a picture sometimes it’s maybe 50/50 when it comes to you looking at the retouching and the photography but if you were going to approach let’s say, a beauty portrait how would you go about working your way through the retouch and by that I mean…how do you decide what to do and the order in which you do it? If we take say, Scott Kelby for example he has a 7 Point System approach but what’s the Calvin Hollywood method?
Calvin: Ok for something like that I would maybe change my workflow a little because some clients don’t necessarily like the Calvin Hollywood style with the high contrast but maybe like to have it more natural looking. Anyway regardless, I always start with the RAW conversion and after that if it’s an Advertising job then I’ll move onto some body reshaping using the liquify tool or Free Transform or something like that. If it’s a shot of a character I never do any liquifying or altering the body or something like that. The next thing for me would be removing some blemishes and maybe some colour changes but really not all that much. Actually for me that kind of retouching is very boring because I can’t do anything really creative so because of that I don’t do many of those kinds of retouching jobs. I would say maybe out of 100 pictures, then 5 of those would be simple portrait retouches.
When I’m doing my typical kind of shots with other artists, musicians or something like that then I’ll start with a RAW conversion, but most of the time I do 2 RAW conversions and sometimes 3 to get more details and I guess that’s what I do on every picture; the double RAW conversion. Then I do another details technique and start manipulating the image. I change the light in the image, not totally but I mainly focus the light with a vignette. I change the colour and contrast in the picture and I think that’s the most important part because what I like to do is to create a picture that doesn’t look like a photograph. I like to change every single thing; the contrast, the light and the colour and if I change these 3 things the picture looks different and not like it would coming ‘out of camera’. Now this different look is my ‘style’; most people would say that it looks like an illustration or like a painting but in reality it doesn’t look like a painting, it just looks different and that kind of difference gets people saying ‘hey what is that? that must be a painting or CGI because there’s no other way to make a picture look like that…only photography, CGI or a painting’. Does that make sense?
Glyn: Yeah absolutely and it’s actually really good to hear you say that because as a photographer, and I’m sure I can speak for the majority when you get people saying things like ‘You must be really good at Photoshop” and you feel like ‘hold on a second that’s out of camera, that’s what I’ve done using the camera and light, it’s not Photoshop’ so it’s great to hear that you say you’re going for a look that is clearly not ‘out of camera’, there’s a distinct difference.
Calvin: Yes but like I said earlier the most important part of this whole process is the Photography. I rely 100% on my photography and lighting to get as near a perfect picture that I can then go on and retouch. Many people will try to copy my style on some of their own photographs and then they ask me “What should I do? What Photoshop technique should I use next?’ and I have problems explaining because the goal or the key is not to go about searching for the right technique on the internet but to understand that you have to go through steps that aren’t typical in normal photography; reducing the contrast, changing the colour, or changing the light a little and every single one of those steps brings the picture to that final look; it’s not just the one technique I guess is what I’m saying.
I think with my pictures they work because I do so much more to them than most people would. I hear some people say ‘Oh no I couldn’t possibly do that to a photograph’ whereas I say ‘Yes I can do that!’ I’ll do things that most people will think you can’t do, they say ‘that’s too much’ but my motto is ‘No risk, No fun’ and that’s why I get the work I do, because my clients like my particular style; an absolutely over done style.
Glyn: Well like I said, I’d never seen anything like what you produce before you appeared on Scott kelby’s blog and since then I’ve also purchased your training series …
Calvin: I also like other kinds of pictures, no question. I do a lot of pictures of my kids, I love architecture, I love nature, I love everything but what I share on the world wide web is my particular style and the style I want clients to book me for.
Glyn: Calvin, when you look around at other images on the internet for example would you say that there are common mistakes people make in their editing?
Calvin: Yes and I know what you mean but I wouldn’t really call it mistakes because when I started I made so many mistakes that it was good. It’s a mistake to over sharpen an image but I do it, so I don’t like to call it a mistake but I think the main problem I see is that some photographers invest too little time in the photography and they think they can do it all later in Photoshop. I really do think the most important part of the whole process is the photography and what you can’t do in photography, well then that’s the point in which Photoshop comes into it.
The other problem I think is that some people will start retouching without having a concept; they just start. They do this and that without really knowing what way they are heading. I think it’s best to start with getting to know the basics of Photoshop and then developing a concept. I know so many people who don’t know the basics and they start without having a concept and they start applying filters and this and that.
The last problem I would say is that some photographers are too fast in retouching and when they retouch photos for their own portfolio they think they are finished and then they publish the picture, but what I notice for myself is that I take a sleep and then I come back to the picture and start retouching the next day or maybe a couple of days later and it’s then that I see ‘no it’s not finished yet, I could do some changes here and here’. I know so many photographers that do the shoot and then start retouching that very same evening, and that same evening they then publish that photo to the world wide web and I just think ‘come on, take a break for a night or two nights then come back to it and start playing around a little bit and you will see the picture is not finished’. So that’s what I think is the third mistake…this rush to get the pictures finished too quickly.
Glyn: It’s very interesting what you say about the photography side of things being so very important. It reminds me of a section on Zack Arias‘ OneLight DVD when he’s talking to the camera walking through the streets of Atlanta and says something on the lines of’ If you find yourself saying “I’ll fix that later in Photoshop”, stop what you’re doing, put down your kit and slap yourself real hard because you’re being lazy’
Calvin: Absolutely, I totally agree. Of course there are times on location when I may say something like I need a moon and of course there is no moon so I’ll add that later in Photoshop but what I can do in Photography, well you just have to do that. So many young retouchers, they go through the online communities and they see all these different pictures that have a certain look and they then try to do the same in Photoshop, but the first thing is Photography. If you get the right photograph at the start it’s much, much easier.
Glyn: Earlier you mentioned the use of filters and plug ins, and of course we have companies like OnOne and Nik that have their own suites of Filters; I just wondered what is your opinion of using such packages?
Calvin: Well I remember when I did my first DVD that I actually said to people that they should avoid using plug ins but now maybe around 4 years later I changed my mind a little bit. You see when I work for a client who doesn’t want to have my kind of style, then I say use plug ins because they make it so much faster and the client is going to pay the same amount if you take 5 minutes or if you take 1 hour so for commercial work it’s perfect. If the client wants to have your personal style then maybe the plug ins are not such a good idea. So what I do is, I love plug ins but 80% of my retouching is my personal work using what I know in Photoshop and the last 20% is me just playing around with the plug ins, but most of the time only to find a way of getting a look. For instance I use Nik Colour Efex Pro and I can use some filters for giving certain effects and then I can see what the picture looks like so from then I can either apply it or go another route using Photoshop. I do love to play around with the filters to see what is possible in a really fast time and then I can either apply the filter or like I said, do it my own way using Photoshop.
I love the Nik series of software and Topaz Details which is just so cheap this plug in, it’s only $39 and it’s so great for getting details in such a fast way.
Glyn: Ok so here’s a really open question for you then…what does the future hold for Calvin Hollywood?
Calvin: My goal is not to be known just as an instructor. In Germany my name is well known as being the Photoshop Trainer, but I’m also a little bit of an artist and a photographer; you see I don’t just want to be known as a Photoshop Trainer. Now of course that’s what I do the most but it’s not what I always want to be known as. For the next 1 or 2 years I’d like to do more training in English and then I’d like to be more of the artist, not only the Photoshop Trainer; I’d like to start painting famous people..people well known in sport and so on.
Glyn: So are you ever going to come to the UK to teach then?
Calvin: If there are people there then I will come; all I need is a room and then I can teach.
Glyn: Oh I have no doubt there will be plenty of people that would love to see you over here; like I said the techniques you go through and the way you explain them makes them so easy to follow and understand.
Calvin: Glyn, I love to teach but I wasn’t too good at school so when I’m learning something I just need to know how to do it; just 2 minutes…do that, do that and do that…. I don’t want to hear an instructor talking for 10 minutes or more for just one technique; that to me is boring.
Glyn: Ok Calvin, if you were going to give one golden nugget of advice what would that be?
Calvin: Alright I think it would be to…learn the basics and be yourself; don’t copy someone else…have your own style. Don’t be afraid of having your own style…if you like pictures a certain way then go with it, that’s you, that’s your style…be yourself. Many people will change their style to suit the industry but to get more attention, my advice is not to do that. Be yourself and develop your own style. Just do it!
Glyn: That sounds very much like what every other Guest has said on the blog; it’s a common theme that is mentioned and that is having your own style and sticking to it because that style is a reflection of you almost; is that kind of what you’re saying?
Calvin: Yes and if you like it, then do it. When I started photography I did a lot of boring pictures like a man sat on a chair looking very emotional and people liked it but then I started changing and doing the high contrast look and people reacted by saying ‘Calvin what are you doing? Don’t do that, we liked your old pictures’ but you know I kept doing it and doing it and after a bit of time the first person came along and said that they loved it and then more and more people came along saying the same so it works.
Glyn: Before we finish, I mentioned that I purchased your training series a few months back and I gotta say, I love it but for the blog could you give us an overview of what the training series is all about?
Calvin: Yes sure. Over time I’ve done 7 DVD’s on Photoshop Training that was available on the German Market and then I thought that what I’d like to do for the International Market is a ‘Best of’ so I put all my best techniques together on Retouching, Manipulation, Contrast, Details, Compositing,…I put all the best techniques together from off 7 German DVD’s and put them into 1 and that’s the Calvinize Training Package [Link]
Glyn: And from personal experience I have to say it is absolutely brilliant
Calvin: That’s very kind of you, thank you
G: Well Calvin I think it’s only fair I let you go now, you’ve been absolutely fantastic and covered more than I could have asked for so I just want to say a very big thank you for giving your time for this
C: Not at all, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been really nice talking to you, so thank you.
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To see more of Calvin’s work be sure to check out his blog [Link] plus I’d highly recommend you check out the Calvinize Photoshop Training Package [Link]
Also, if you’re into Social Networking then be sure to check out Calvin on Facebook & Twitter and see more of his videos on YouTube.
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