Branches of Photographic Work Especially Suited to Women - How to Learn and Gain Experience - Methods of Work - Finishing in Black-and-white and Colours - Opportunities for an Artist Mechanical Devices - The Aerograph and Stipplette

Two branches of photographic work in which women are particularly successful are retouching negatives and finishing prints.

Both involve delicacy, lightness, and precision of touch, and appeal to the artistic sense.

Though the two are distinct arts, they are dealt with together, because, except in large firms employing a number of workers, it is not unusual for a woman to finish or work up in monochrome or colour the print taken from the negative she previously retouched.


Therefore, it is well to master both arts. Besides, the worker engaged in the more artistic colour work or black-and-white touching up does well to know the preparatory work expended on it in the stage of the negative.

Amateur photography is so universal now that a girl can easily find out the difference between a print from an un-retouched negative and one from it after it has been retouched.


The former has spots, specks, and blemishes that mar its perfection, and though people now object to the removal of all shadows and lines in their portraits, which give individuality to the face, it must, indeed, be a rare negative that goes into the printing-frame without some work upon it. Perhaps a speck of grit or dust may have lodged on the sensitive coating on the plate, or there may be a slight scratch on the surface, and these defects are bound to reappear on the print, and spoil the whole work.

Naturally it is in portrait photography that the retoucher finds most opportunity for work. She may even come across a lady photographer employing some thirty retouchers. A worker, therefore, may safely x

count on finding employment, provided she has capacity and is abreast of progress in the mechanical devices used to save work.

According to the L.c.c. Red Book, retouchers earn from I to 4, the average being 2 10s. per week. That is for high-class work ; a lower scale is 15s. to 25s. a week, while a beginner might earn 10s. a week.

Some retouchers work at home, obtain a trade connection, and do well. But such a worker would have to hold her own against the cutting prices which are the ruin of so many photographic workers.


As to training, the intending retoucher will be careful to learn of a good teacher. Though photographic firms take apprentices to instruct in retouching and finishing, as well as in other photographic work, it is doubtful whether it is advisable so to learn. The employer may be conscientious and see that the apprentice is properly taught, or, during rushes of work, when no one can spare time to attend to her, she may lose time if her one aim is to learn retouching.

Class tuition is another means of learning. In London this is obtainable at the Polytechnic, Regent Street, where there is a School of Photography, and where also private lessons may be had. A girl of, say. seventeen or eighteen, who likes drawing, and has good eyesight, can obtain a six months' training (five days a week) in retouching and spotting, printing and colouring, including the use of the camera, for ten guineas ; but the scale of fees is not rigid.

A course in retouching alone is obtainable for three to five guineas. The difficulty with young learners is they so often " play " with retouching, or are content just to earn a low salary for pocket-money ; but the earnest student will spend two or three years in learning and perfecting her work, and then open a studio herself. A girl living in the country should take lessons by correspondence from some teacher of repute such as Mr. T. S. Bruce, of The Vale, Hampstead, London, N.w.

The work of the retoucher is done at a retouching desk placed on a table or shelf facing the light, and consists of a slanting board, with an aperture for the negative, so supported and arranged that the retoucher can work on the negative with ease while sitting.

The Work Itself

The first thing the retoucher has to notice is that the lights in the face on the negative before her, when touched with the pencil, will come out dark on the print to be taken from the negative, and the darks light; to learn, in fact, that white becomes black, and black becomes white, exactly contrary to ordinary drawing. The effects produced by pencil are only discovered on comparing the negative with the print from it; so that correct judgment in the matter depends largely on experience gained by practice alone.

At first, the eyes get strained in the effort to concentrate attention on a small surface, and to determine the value of each touch with the pencil.

Another concern is to avoid breaking the point of the pencil. Hardtmuth No. 2, 3, or 4 pencils are favourites, sharpened to a fine long point on a glass-paper block, and held loosely but steadily while retouching. White spots are filled up in a particular way by a series of cross strokes or hatching.

It will be readily understood that in retouching portrait negatives it is well to know something of the anatomy of the face and head, the position and working of the muscles, especially the direction of the lines which preserve or alter the expression, and particular observation should be given to the form of the iris and the pupil of the eye, and the placing of the light in it. Here the keen, critical perception of the artist tells.

A retoucher can as easily spoil a face as improve it; but a careful worker will secure half-tones which were absent when the negative came to hand. A medium is applied to make the surface workable.

But how about making blacks whites ? This is done by the use of a retouching knife or scalpel, and by negative-erasing pencils (" Negafake," 3s. 6d. the box). The retouching knife has quite a tiny blade, but it has to be used with care and discrimination. Every cut must be made with a definite purpose and secure a distinct result. An ill-judged cut can work havoc, but skilful ones bring out the high lights on the negative in a very effective way.

Branches Of The Work

It may be of advantage to a learner to study the methods of the cartoonist, and see how a few meaning lines can produce certain expressions with the minimum of labour. It is quite easy for a retoucher to get into the habit of muddling while retouching, allowing the pencil to stray where it is not wanted; and then, in order to equalise the tone again, to deepen the whole, with the result of weakening the shadows.

There is another aspect of retouching negatives other than portraiture. In certain photographs it is easy to paint out backgrounds. In technical work it may be necessary to make an object stand out well and to bring forward its outlines ; then the rest of the photograph is " blocked ' out with black paint applied with a brush, or partly painted out and then paper put over the rest of the surface.

Sometimes, also, it is advisable to insert or strengthen objects on the reverse side of the negative. This is faking, but comes within the retoucher's province.

Good photographers always welcome expert women retouchers; indeed, it is said that nineteen out of every twenty retouchers are women; so that when the retoucher is proficient her best plan is to take specimens of her work to firms and solicit orders.

The other department of photographic work here dealt with appeals to the trained artist, though it is said, by one in a position to know, that really clever artists will not lower themselves to do photographic black-and-white and colour work. But if pictures will not sell, and she neither cares for black-and-white fashion work, nor poster work, an artist might think twice before rejecting this kind of art work.

An Opening for the Artist

Photography takes such an important place in illustrations, not only in books and magazines, but in the daily papers, that there is plenty of work for black-and-white artists in preparing prints for reproduction. The print may be a unique one sent from a distance, made in haste from a negative (glass or film) taken under difficulties, quite unfit for reproduction until the lights and shadows are strengthened, defects covered, and objects painted out or inserted when they are known to be there, though invisible. The artist has, perhaps, to draw in a cartwheel; or paint out half the face of a person at the edge of the picture, " pick out " the high lights on a building, and strengthen the figures of a distant group.

The black-and-white artist who is a skilled draughtsman and a quick, reliable worker, can usually find employment either in a publishing office or working in her own home.

It is pleasant and interesting work, provided it is done without eye-strain, as the writer can testify from her own experience. Many a photograph too small for reproduction has an enlargement made from it, and this has to be worked up in black-and-white, or in sepia or Vandyke brown, to accord with the colour of the print.

The Aerograph

Several mechanical devices are of assistance, and save time in finishing prints. One of the most valuable to artistic photographers is the aerograph. The name would indicate " air writer," and this is really the function of the aerograph. The apparatus directs a jet of air on to the surface of the print, upon which, it deposits any colour in powder or solution, so that, instead of colour being brushed or lead-pencilled on, it falls in a spray.

By this means an even surface of tone is secured, the finishing is done in a fifth or a sixth of the time without leaving hard edges ; and, without changing the pigment in the aerograph, the shade can be varied from slight grey to deep black. Moreover, prints on various papers, from matt to glossy P.o.p., can be worked upon ; while masking and vignetting can be done on either the film or glass side of the negative.

Another time and labour saving apparatus, " the stipplette," has been introduced for stippling and hatching in black-and-white and in colours in imitation of brush work.

The ambitious photograph finisher who succeeds well with portraits will probably wish to proceed further to colouring and finishing miniatures. If so, this may be her road to fortune, for miniaturists of repute can earn large incomes.