Some photographers find editing simply dull, but what if you could turn it into entertainment? Mike Larremore is a portrait photographer from Colorado who broadcasts his photo-editing on Twitch’s Creative Channel with the subjects of his photos sometimes sitting in the audience.
Mostly shooting models and actors, Mike uses photo streaming not only as a teaching tool, but also as a way to kick off ethical discussions surrounding photo re-touching and its limits.
In our conversation, Mike explains how photo streaming has helped his business, the challenges he encountered along the way, and why he believes streaming can and should be a common practice among photographers.
Are you currently the only person streaming photo editing and re-touching on Twitch?
Mike Larremore: I have seen several people attempt it, but they have small audiences and I think they get discouraged by the lack of viewership. Also the viewers who do come in tend to “back-seat” them pretty hard. Just like in “back-seat” driving, they try to tell a broadcaster what to do. Similarly, people will often “back-seat” edit where they tell me or another photo editor how to edit their photos.
How did you get into photo streaming and Twitch?
I started streaming photo editing on Livestream, way back in the day. The problem was, Livestream at the time was a barren wasteland, and unless someone had a direct link to your video there was absolutely no new viewership. So I decided to migrate to Twitch, but at the time Twitch was unfriendly towards non-gaming content. It simply didn’t exist! So I had to sneak in under the guise of “Pokemon Snap”. We did that for the first year and a half before the Creative Channel existed.
Did anyone ever report you, or did you run into any other kind of trouble before ‘Twitch Creative’ was setup?
No, and what would happen is I would be editing photos of a pretty lady, and someone would come in and say “Hey! This isn’t Pokemon Snap…I like this more!” and they would stick around. I did at one point receive a message from a Moderator on Twitch saying “hey, we know that this isn’t gaming content…” but it was about the time that Twitch Creative came out, so they just mentioned that I should hold tight. I also did stream some games, just so I could appear to be a legitimate broadcast.
It’s interesting that you would get a bunch of people coming in to view your channel for the games, but when they figure out the ‘true purpose’ of the channel, if they have any interest in photography and editing, they’ll want to stick around.
It’s my hope that was the case. The other group that I really like targeting is the group that comes in to see “what’s this all about? I’ve never seen photo editing, I’ve never seen anything like this on Twitch before”, and they end up staying. I would also hope that the content is interesting to people outside the industry as well because it’s something so prevalent in our daily lives; seeing visual media everywhere. A lot of people are completely ignorant of how something goes from a professional’s camera to a bus stop, to a magazine or to a website. I think a lot of people don’t know, and when they learn about it they end up sticking around because it’s fascinating.
Post-processing can sometimes be a dull and repetitive task. Does having an audience (especially one you can interact with) make the task a little more enjoyable?
As I grew professionally as a photographer, I realized very quickly that editing and retouching is extremely tedious, time-consuming and truthfully quite boring. If I could avoid it, I would. The problem is I don’t trust anyone enough to outsource my editing to. Editing is boring, but having a room full of people to chat with, to share ideas with and to teach is extremely rewarding for me personally. I think a lot of guys in the industry also hate to edit, and as a result these guys edit less and their work suffers.
Instead what I would say is start streaming it. Edit for a group of people, share your unique style, and you might find that editing is much less boring, and your community outreach, the net that you cast, can be cast further.
Aside from cutting down the monotony of editing, does streaming benefit you professionally in any way?
I’ve had people who have come into my channel to see what it’s all about and ended up booking me. It also, in a very real way, lends credibility to a business. This is another thing I don’t think a lot of people understand. If I am able to show transparency in what I do, I think a lot of people are more inclined to work with me.
Also, one of the biggest hurdles that people face in my specific corner of the industry is unrealistic standards of beauty. A lot of people prior to shooting are nervous that they don’t look picture perfect, and I now have the ability to show them no one is picture perfect. This is truly manufactured, and here is how it’s made. You can see from start to finish, someone going from a normal human being to a Photoshopped beauty. But at the same time, they should always look normal at the end too, just “picture perfect” normal.
When you’re touching up a photo for a client, are you free to stream it or are there any special stipulations in the contract that give you that right?
I work on a modeling release that gives me the legal ability to do something like edit photos on Twitch, but a lot of people will just sign paperwork without scrutinizing it, and as a result I feel compelled to ask them directly “may I broadcast the edit of these photos?” Invariably, people are excited about it, they always say yes. There are some instances where I will ask and a company will say “no, we need to keep these under wraps until the project goes live,” and that makes perfect sense.
What did you find particularly interesting while working with clients?
What you learn very quickly is that even people who are veteran workers in the industry have no idea what retouching is. Most of the models I’ve worked with have no clue what happens between the time we finish the shoot and the time they get the photos back. Half of them think it’s magic, and the other half think we don’t do anything. So it helps to sit down and show them “this is what it takes to make you publishable.” I know that sounds very sinister, so heavy to say it that way, but again, no one is picture perfect.
Even the most beautiful people can still wake up with bags under their eyes, or a zit on their chin. That doesn’t discredit their beauty, but that’s also something that’s my job to fix so that they look better than real life, so that people will potentially buy a product that they are selling.
What are some of the major lessons you’ve learned while creating a successful photo-editing stream?
Photo-editing is slow-paced. You have to talk non-stop, and there’s always an opportunity to sit back and talk to your chat. A lot of people that I see doing it, the one-off streamers, they don’t talk, they just edit.
The advice that every broadcaster constantly gives – the biggest of the big – is don’t look at viewer counts. Just stream as if you’re streaming to a thousand people or ten people, it should be the same broadcast. I believe that completely. Talk about what you’re doing, share your ideas behind why you’re doing it. Share what you’re worried about, share your concerns about what you’re working on. I think often people come to Twitch either to interact with personalities they like, they come to be entertained, or they come to see experts in the field.
The list of gear you’ve put on your Twitch channel includes not just lenses and editing software, but also computer hardware – from your motherboard to your headset. How much does equipment matter when photostreaming?
You don’t have to go out and spend $2,000 on a streaming setup. You do, however, have to spend 5 minutes to get a stream together so that people can see your mouse, for example, if you’re streaming editing. I was watching a photostream and you could not see the streamers cursor, so changes were happening but you had no idea what tool this person was using.
Are there any aspects of Twitch’s rules that you have problems with?
Twitch has a lot of limitations in terms of what you can and can’t show, and unfortunately there are things that an artist could draw that I wouldn’t dream of streaming, because I’m working with photos of real people. As an artist on Twitch Creative, you can draw a sexy girl in a corset, licking her fingers and no one’s going to complain. I would not ever dare to stream someone in lingerie on Twitch – that’ll get you busted.
Live on Twitch, people can ask you questions that have a heavy moral weight to them, and you have to think on your feet. Does that ever give you pause for thought?
One of the common issues for streamers is being comfortable answering the same questions over and over again. But for the hard-hitting editing questions, for example, “Do you think that you are perpetuating negative stereotypes about the industry by enhancing beauty to an unrealistic standard?” That’s a real question, and it’s also a common question I get asked. There are some curveballs where either you are quick on your feet with a good answer, or you have to come back to it. I don’t believe, for a serious question, you should ever leave it unanswered, because I find that tremendously dissatisfying to viewers. But, I can say without any hesitation, I’ve been wrong on stream, and I have no qualms admitting that I’ve said things on stream that I’ve had to clarify later.
Can you describe an example of when this happened?
I was on assignment in Vietnam, covering a medical mission. One of the photos I showed my stream was of a very sick patient. I should say that the person was not dead; I think it’s disrespectful to photograph the dead if you are not in a warzone or documenting a scene. But the person was very sick, and on death’s door. And a viewer asked me if I thought it was OK to show that photo, and off the cuff I answered “yes, I think it’s fine, because this is what I do and you guys are here to see photos and I’m excited to show these photos.”
My follow-up answer to that was very sincere, that I wasn’t actually prepared to say on stream, which is: in the context of the scene, this photo meant a lot to me because we were in fact able to provide this person with a comfortable way to die, and it was incredibly powerful. Part of why I’m showing you guys, my community, is because this photo moved me in a way that I am rarely moved, and to be able to show it to you is my way of exposing myself as a human being to you guys, and to say: this is powerful to me, and I hope it’s powerful to you as well.
Is this willingness to speak about the ethical and more personal side of photography something that you hope becomes commonplace as photostreaming grows as a practice?
I hope more Creative Streamers feel comfortable discussing this stuff. I don’t think painting a landscape necessarily presses that issue, but I think it’s OK to show vulnerability on serious issues on Twitch, without being overly sentimental, sappy or begging for attention.I think that humanizes the broadcaster in a way that maybe not a lot of audiences get to see. And what I would want people to take away is that you can come to Twitch and learn, to have fun, unwind and crack jokes and post memes, and you can also get a very genuine experience from a live streaming broadcast that not a lot of people have ever experienced before.
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