Master Retouching: An Interview with Beauty Photographer Julia Kuzmenko McKim
This post has been updated and re-released to reflect recent gear recommendations.
Julia Kuzmenko McKim is an internationally published beauty, fashion, and portrait photographer, digital artist, retoucher, and educator. She is an International College of Professional Photography (Melbourne) graduate represented by Aston Models Agency in Beverly Hills, CA. She was a Founder/CEO of Retouching Academy and currently runs Avenue Retouching Agency.
BL: What is your photographic specialty and how did you become interested in it?
Kuzmenko McKim: I specialize in Beauty, Fashion, and Portrait Photography. I think it was a natural progression from my childhood hobby: painting and drawing pretty girls. As I picked up my first camera in 2006 I started shooting all sorts of portraits and, after meeting a super talented makeup artist and hairstylist, Mikala Jean Vandenbroucke, a couple of years ago, I fell in love with Beauty and Fashion photography and we spent a lot of time refining our crafts together.
BL: How long have you been teaching and/or writing about photography and how would you describe your teaching/writing style?
Kuzmenko McKim: I started working on my teaching programs (both photography and retouching) in mid 2011 and my first students attended my online and local classes in the beginning of 2012. It took a lot of researching, planning and dissecting my own learning process of the previous 5 years. I knew that I had wasted a lot of time trying to learn non-relevant stuff because I did not know any better. So the goal of my teaching programs was to exclude everything I had learned but didn’t use in my retouching work and include only the tools and techniques mastering of which has made me the professional I am today.
BL: What is your single most depended on photographic item aside from your camera?
Kuzmenko McKim: My 40″ collapsible silver reflector. I think it is the most underestimated tool by today’s photographers.
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BL: What type of gear, new or old, are you most interested in experimenting with?
Kuzmenko McKim: I would love to try working with a medium format camera. We had medium and large format modules in my 2-year photography course in Australia and I have been dreaming of shooting beauty and fashion with medium format ever since.
BL: Tell us more about your workflow and retouching tutorials.
Kuzmenko McKim: As I was structuring my own retouching workflow and trying to figure out how I should present it in a way that is clear and easy to digest for someone who’s new to retouching and Photoshop, I realized that there’s only a handful of concepts, tools and Adjustment Layers that I use on a daily basis. A lot of them come from the early Photoshop versions. It was a great realization because now I could pack all the fundamentals for beauty and portrait retouching into a smaller digestible course and the advanced retouching, which is all about using those tools in particular ways, could be the next step.
That’s how the Creative Retouching Essentials and Advanced Retouching for Beauty, Fashion & Portrait Photographers courses were born. Six months later I was so busy with my one-on-one online retouching courses that I had to do something about it. Repeating the same stuff for 3-4 hours a day was fun in the beginning because I love photography and retouching but it got very tiring towards the end of my retouching courses era. I realized that if I recorded my courses they would be more affordable for aspiring photographers than hiring me in-person and I would also free up my time for other projects. I receive heartfelt emails from photographers who started their journey into beauty retouching with my courses.
BL: Speaking of those starting their journey now, what are some additional resources that you recommend?
Kuzmenko McKim: I would recommend spending some time observing other photographers’ work to develop your own vision – your mind will register what you like, what you don’t like, what color treatment and framing you prefer, and, more importantly, reading one solid book on basics of photography and their camera user manual. And shoot, shoot, shoot. There are so many online resources on photography these days but the truth is that jumping ahead of their own learning progress can actually do a great disservice to those who are just starting out. Start with the basics and master them in the first 6 months to a year. Everything else in photography is just creative ways of using the basics.
In retouching, it is exactly the same as in photography or any type of art for that matter – master the basics and only after that get into advanced techniques. They should start digging deeper only after they understand image file formats, color spaces, know how to use the software and its essential tools for these types of photography. Sometimes the problems photographers are facing in their retouching have really simple solutions and they would know about them if they started from the beginning and didn’t jump ahead of themselves. There are tutorials that show my entire retouching process. I think structuring my own knowledge and putting everything I knew, felt, or guessed about on pages and illustrations, and researching the things that I realized I did not know as well as I thought I did, made me a ten times better retoucher and photographer.
BL: There are a lot of little rules in photography, such as the Rule of Thirds and the Inverse Square Law. Describe a photography “rule” that you use the most or find most valuable.
Kuzmenko McKim: From my teaching experience and from just observing today’s photographers’ work I would say the rules that a lot of young photographers disregard or simply don’t know about are the basic principles of visual arts – contrast, geometry, shape and proportion, negative space, visual balance, composition, which also includes the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Mean (the Fibonacci Spiral). In my photography college we had a year-long class called Visual Appreciation where we learned so much beyond the technical side of photography. So again, as you can see, it all comes down to the basics. It is easy to buy a digital camera and learn how it operates but if you are serious about the art that you produce you should definitely educate yourself on the basics of visual arts as well.