Eastern Masters: skin retouching with Mark Ivkovic

Mark Ivkovic, aka bang photography, talks us through his skin retouching process in Affinity Photo for iPad and gives us some top tips along the way.

Working for clients such as Hackett London, Rapha and the National Trust, you can see from Mark’s portfolio that he is the real deal. A long-time user of Affinity Photo, we remain big fans of Mark’s light touch in his editing. So who better to put the latest update of Affinity Photo for iPad through its retouching paces?

Mark Ivkovic retouching in Affinity Photo for iPad

“I can spend hours sat in the passenger seat retouching and editing whilst my assistant drives. Nothing else on iPad can provide the experience and power that Affinity Photo for iPad gives me. And I can digitally deliver proofs to clients from the road. Game changer.”

Mark Ivkovic, Bang Photography

Work from your ‘Eastern Masters’ series features in the new Affinity Photo for iPad update, talk us through your thoughts behind this shoot?

I’d been looking at a lot of Eastern Asian art & fashion, traditional dress and the art aesthetic. I was taken by seeing older photographs from the likes of early National Geographic and Time magazine, where documentary photographers ventured deep into the ‘new’ world discovering beautiful traditional dress and culture. The idea was to take inspiration from this kind of style of work and bring a contemporary edge to it.

Wardrobe ideas for the ‘Eastern Masters’ shoot.

How much does the dynamic of the team affect the final results?

Massively. You can tell when a project has been created with a great team that understands the idea. They are what enable the initial concept to develop into something greater than what might have been created individually.

Tell us about the equipment you used on the day

I managed to source a great background for the set-up, I’d been hunting around for ages looking for something in the style of a ‘Roversi’ looking backdrop. Eventually I stumbled upon a beautiful deep midnight cloth that worked a treat. Kit-wise I was shooting with my Fujifilm GFX 50S and Profoto studio packs provided the illumination through a huge white silk. This created the light I wanted, soft and large, sort of reminiscent to being inside a large barn with the doors open to a bright cloudy sky.

The team behind-the-scenes.

How much do you plan in advance and how much do you decide on the day?

This differs from job to job. I do plan a lot out in advance, for instance on this job I’d figured out my lighting (plus secondary lighting ideas) and ideal poses I wanted. However, you always have to be ready to switch things up and let experience guide you.

A lot of the time the thing that makes or breaks the image for me isn’t all the planning, make-up, styling, lighting, beauty etc. it’s simply that moment, the connection that is captured.

Behind-the-scenes of Mark’s ‘Eastern Masters’ shoot.
What’s vital to you when retouching skin on an image?

A natural appearance. If it looks retouched then it’s failed, if it looks like it might have been retouched then it’s also failed. Keeping it light is the key to me. I’m a big believer in the mantra that the beauty is in the imperfections, real life is imperfect so I let that live in my photographs.

Can you talk us through your process when retouching skin?

Normally each image is individually assessed however the general format usually follows something along these lines. First I’ll duplicate the base image layer and pop it on top of any layers to follow. This gives me a quick and easy way to see how far I’ve pushed an image from its initial state.

Then I’ll assess the texture and tone of the skin usually via frequency separation method. This allows me to work on each independently to the other, removing any blemishes or stray hairs, then to deal with any areas of unwanted colour variance. On fashion jobs I’m usually blessed by great make-up artists so I don’t have to do any work on fixing lips, eyeliner etc. Sometimes I may give the make-up colour a boost or slight hue shift if it helps the entire image come together. If I want to create a more “sculptural” feel to the piece then I may look at dodging and burning areas of the skin. A good tip for learning how to do this is to have a look at a beauty technique called “contouring”. Translating this into retouching can be used to great effect when/if required.

From here I assess overall colour and adjust it to achieve the feel that I want to express. Overall skin tone and continuity are vital, especially for a larger piece where more than one image will be printed. I often cringe when I see others work posted where a models facial skin tone is totally different from their arms. Trying to bring some harmony to the whole image takes it to a much higher level.

How does Affinity Photo for iPad feature in your workflow?

I’d tried a number of various other apps to try and develop a workflow for on the road. I’m often travelling and using a laptop isn’t always the comfiest of option (especially if you add in a Wacom tablet, power lead, card reader…). Most of the other iPad apps lacked the depth or power that I needed in one piece of software. Affinity Photo not only provides that depth of tools and the power to crank through 50 Megapixel RAW files. It goes beyond what I’d envisaged possible. I can wirelessly send the files from my camera, load them up, edit away and then deliver them as proofs before I even get home. I’d go as far as to say retouching skin on the iPad is now much more enjoyable than on the desktop. Plus it’s quicker somehow??

What tools do you use the most during the retouching stage?

Frequency separation for sure. It’s probably one of my first steps, it’s probably the filter I can find quickest in Photo. Then it’s a mix of clone & heal.

Image from Mark’s ‘Eastern Masters’ series, retouched in Affinity Photo for iPad.
How important would you say retouching and editing is in the process as a whole from conception to final image?

Very important. It’s a massive part of the workflow with digital editing, this is where I can really shape the image into what I had in mind. It allows me to emphasise the feel that I wanted in the photograph.

Being a believer in “getting it right in camera” I never rely on post-production to “make” or “save” an image. Usually, I’ll be 90% of the way there with the shot from set. However, that remaining 10% is vitally important to the final photograph. Post-production/retouching is another chance for us as photographers to express our vision. It’s where we show who we are through the choices we make. Where we can finesse our voice & vision. It’s more about helping a good image be great than trying to save a poor one.

““Pretty girl in pretty light with pretty make-up is pretty easy; turning that into something more meaningful is the challenge.””

Mark Ivkovic

See more of Mark’s work at bangphoto.com.


Artist relations
Kate heads up our artist relations team and is the co-editor of Affinity Spotlight. Having shelved her dreams of being an artist, she now spends her spare time refereeing a rebellious toddler and an aging Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Get in touch with Kate if you would like to contribute or be featured on Affinity Spotlight.
Credits & Footnotes

Image taken and retouched by Mark Ivkovic. Music used in video ‘Don’t Just Stare feat. Danica B, Flite Remix, Instrumental’ by Clark Cables, licensed by Audiosocket.