The Magic (Re)Touch

Digital photo retouching is a pivotal part of the photography and advertisement business. Though the photographer may take a stunningly beautiful shot, depending on the needs of the client, certain assets of the picture may need to be emphasized or deemphasized. Take for example our blog on One Hour of Retouching.  In the two and a half minute video, you can see the how TRG Senior Digital Retoucher Bruce Jamieson focuses his attention on the tiniest of details. As minute as those minutiae may seem, straightening light bulbs and eliminating shadows can make or break the effectiveness of a shot. 

I had a chance to sit down with Jamieson to talk about the retouching process and why it’s so imperative. “It’s all about what needs to be communicated from the image I’m working on. A lot of times we’re working on product shots, so we need to make the littlest elements clearly readable.” In short, it’s imperative to emphasize the best assets of the product or subject. Jamieson points out that software programs such as Photoshop allow retouchers to play with not only the colors and focus of the shot, but also less tangible elements like emotion, which can be accomplished by brining certain aspects forward, pushing things into the background, and making sure none of the image is fighting with the text should there be any.

Photo retouching also allows for a mood to be created. Take for example the series of pictures below. With each version, a completely different emotion is being conveyed from warmth in the first, to whimsy in the second, to stoicism in the third. Additionally, every single item present in the shot must be taken into consideration to be consciously emphasized or the deemphasized.

“As an illustrator, what I notice are things that catch my eye that shouldn’t do so.” The entire process feels overwhelming to my non-photo retouching brain. “How do you notice everything that needs to be fixed?” I ask. “Well, I just have to spend some time with the photo,” Jamieson says, gazing at the picture on his screen. “I roll my eyes over it and see what sticks out. Where do my eyes stop? Why did they stop there?” We focus our attention on the girl holding the chicken and Jamieson moves his mouse around her head. “Her hair wants to look like a bow,” and so he twists the hair to achieve more of what the look is supposed to be. “Sometimes, for whatever reason, the photographer can’t quite eke out perfection in-camera, and so I just carry it over the finish line,” says Jamieson as the picture morphs before my very eyes. Protruding wrist bones are smoothed down, the contrast of the chicken’s feathers pops off of the screen, the red silk gown of the girl sitting at the table gleams with a light all its own.

Of course, every job will require a different amount of digital retouching. Jamieson points out, “If it’s more of a photojournalistic shoot, we don’t take away what makes [the subject] real or human.” However, with this particular series, he is trying to achieve the ideal and so he makes it everything that it can possibly be. Jamieson then shows me another picture of three women, all standing or sitting in different areas of a room.“This is a composite shot,” he points out. He liked certain parts of three separate photos when he first saw them, so with the magic of Photoshop, he was able to take the best elements of each of the shots and combine them. Had he not pointed that out to me, I never would’ve guessed it.

“Do you talk to the photographers ahead of time to plan out what the end result will be?” I ask. “On a day-to-day basis, definitely,” Jamieson replies. “But for my own edification, I have the opportunity to take the source material and run with it. I will say to the photographer ‘We need to awesomeize this!’ If you can’t have fun with Photoshop, then you should pack it up and go home.”

As I complimented him on his remarkable work and made my way out of the photo retouchers’ office, he stopped me and gestured to the people around him. “Something that is extremely helpful is that I’m in a room full of people that have also worked in Photoshop for years. Getting another professional’s eyes on [my work], retoucher or photographer alike, is very helpful. As with most jobs, it’s a team effort,” he points out. “This room right here, is like none other in town and probably none other in the country. The energy, the positivity, the professionalism; it’s a high degree here. It’s great!” A touching comment from the “Retoucher Extraordinaire.”