The Curse of Knowledge
My name is Anthony Georgis. I’m a lifestyle photographer with over 25 years of experience in the creative industry. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that clear communication is essential to the success of any project. It is especially important during post-production when teams are working remotely and under tight deadlines. Miscommunication can be a disastrous blow to the delivery of final files and project budget.
In this post, I’ll talk about the “Curse of knowledge” and pitfalls around communicating about post-production. I’ll also explore how to avoid these pitfalls and how a platform like VeryBusy can help.
The Curse of Knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual assumes that everyone in the conversation shares the same knowledge and background. It frequently comes into play during the retouching process and can take many forms, from a misunderstood word to a lack of actionable information.
Use a Standardized Vocabulary
Photography and retouching come with their own unique vocabulary. My favorite example of hilarious on-set jargon comes from the TV show "30 Rock," where Jack Donaghy exclaims, "The gobos are really Moire-ing!”.
In real life, I've faced all sorts of perplexing communication challenges on-set. Once, a client asked me to "make the image dark, but also really bright." After some trial and error, we decoded the request: less shadow detail and a brighter exposure on the subject. Without the words to describe their request, we lost time. But we recovered once we established a standardized vocabulary for talking about the project.
By standardized vocabulary, I’m essentially referring to a collection of words with clear, agreed-upon meanings that everyone uses consistently. Retouchers in particular rely on the terminology defined by Photoshop / Lightroom and Capture One to discuss image properties.
Standardized Vocabulary Words for Retouching
Exposure - how light/dark an image is
Hue - color (e.g., the hue of the skin tone is very magenta)
Curve - typically understood in reference to how light or dark an image is or in some cases refers to an “s” curve, which adds contrast to an image
Saturation - the intensity of color
Contrast - refers to the difference in brightness between light and dark areas of an image
Sharpness - refers to how the acutance, or perceived detail, in and image
White/Black point - the lightest/darkest point in any image
Color Balance - refers to correcting an image's color to achieve realistic and accurate color.
I’ll add there are some subjective words that retouchers always need a little bit of explanation around, such as reduce (e.g., size or luminosity?) and smooth or blend (e.g., texture or shape?).
I once had a client request "richer" images, but that term isn't specific enough to act upon. Photoshop doesn't have a "richness" slider!
Even if Photoshop had a “richness” slider, your retoucher would still be lacking important information. Retouchers work best when their client quantifies how much. The best way to quantify is by using percentages or points. For example, let’s say the client made a retouching note asking for “10% more saturation”; your retoucher would immediately know what to do.
Using a quantifiable amount also adds a benchmark for any additional revisions that are requested in subsequent rounds of review. That is, if a retoucher adds 10% of something in the first round of retouching and the client wants 20% more in the second round, they both know the baseline for 10% and can adjust accordingly.
And using VeryBusy to make markups of your images can help pinpoint specific areas of an image that need adjustment in an easy-to-understand visual interface. You can simply draw on the area of the image that needs adjustment and make a note that says “saturation +10”.
Provide Visual References
Visual references help with context and give a retoucher a better understanding of what is being asked for. Attaching a composite mockup or color treatment example to a comment/markup will help further communicate retouching direction, leaving less room for guessing and minimize review rounds.
By agreeing on a standardized vocabulary, using percentages to quantify changes, and implementing the easy-to-use image markup tools in VeryBusy, your retoucher will have a lot more clarity on how to proceed and everyone can avoid the headaches that come from the dreaded Curse of Knowledge!
Have a conversation with your retoucher prior to the start of work to establish a standardized vocabulary
Always quantify “how much” using percentage or points
Provide visual examples and references!
Be patient, establishing clear communication may take time, but it will pay off in the long run
For a fascinating look into the Curse of Knowledge check out Tim Harford’s podcast “Cautionary Tales”
Anthony Georgis is a commercial photographer with over two decades of experience working with clients including Coca-Cola, Levi’s, and Nike. He is known for capturing authentic moments in highly produced settings. Clients seek him out for his ability to craft unique and creative solutions. His work has been featured in Communication Arts and American Photography.