How to Become a Retoucher!

We've spoken to photographers and we've spoken to CGI Artists about how they got into doing what they do. After reading these two amazing (if I do say so myself) blogs, our retouchers definitely seemed a little upset that they were left out of all the fun.

So - how does someone become a photo retoucher?  As a former retoucher myself, I can say there is a lot more than just knowing photoshop like the back of your hand. Every image we create at TRG goes by these folks, and whether a lot of retouching goes into an image or not - they are responsible for each and every image being up to our ridiculously high standards.  They are the gatekeepers between all of our images and the world.

Sound a little melodramatic? Well - everything that involves the retouchers is usually a little melodramatic - so there's no reason the blog about them should be any different.

Anton:

My current career is not the sum of an intricate set of carefully planned choices.  Rather, I came to my current station in life via chance and doing what I love.  After high school I went to the Cleveland Institute of Art not sure of what I was going to go into.  I knew I loved art and knew I wanted to work in the arts.  After experimenting in a wide variety of disciplines I settled on photography.  The ability to instantly capture and then augment what you captured was very interesting to me.  It seemed to satisfy both my desires for instant gratification and my need to toil.  As my college years passed I became less and less into the capturing of the images and more into the augmenting of them.  This started out with modifying the chemical processes of photography and quickly moved to the digital manipulation of imagery.  Soon I was spending all of my time augmenting images digitally.  After college I started working first as a freelance photographer and retoucher, and then working directly for photographers and photo studios retouching their images.  There it is!  I still love every second of it!

David:

I've always been a visual person with a passion for drawing and photographing creative beautiful images. Commercial arts seemed to be the best career choice for my interests. After finishing schooling and college I put my talents to work in the printing industry, working in all the different departments and gaining knowledge of each. I set my sites on the pre-press department working with all forms of imagery on camera, scanners, high end sigmagraphs, Mac computers and compiling all into page layouts for printing on press. One of my biggest responsibilities was to make sure all jobs on press were running as well as matching the client's proofs exactly. After many years of working with the top printers in northeast Ohio I got a call from the Reuben Group Studios to take a look at what they were doing with commercial photography in downtown Cleveland and if I was interested in joining their great team. The rest is history.

Emily:

So, in high school I had a vague inclination towards photography and fine art. I found myself taking a two-year career tech photography class, and liked it so much I continued my photo education through college. There, I became intrigued with the works of photographers such as Jerry Uelsmann, Maggie Taylor, and Robert and Shana Parkeharrison; all famous for their work with photo manipulation and compositing. I then began experimenting on my own with photo manipulation in the darkroom. When I transitioned to digital photography, I just continued compositing inside the computer. It seemed like a more natural fit for me than shooting, I felt I had more control and creative freedom within that medium. After schooling, I started freelance retouching for TRG. Since then, I’ve been surrounded by some remarkable folks with huge brains, and have learned very much from them.

Bruce:

I didn’t have much of a connection to photography, let alone retouching, when I was growing up. I did a lot of drawing and painting, lots of influence from comics, video games and fantasy illustration, which led me to the Cleveland Institute of Art, where I majored in illustration. There, I also got into photography, at first to learn how to take a decent copy shot but led to a whole lot more. I took a summer class for an intro to photography class using my grandpa’s Argus C44 rangefinder with three interchangeable lenses (from 1956), but soon upgraded to a Nikon FE2 (mid 80’s). After learning darkroom techniques and being introduced to the color lab, I did a lot of experimentation with stacking negatives, custom shaped film holders, physical masks and other stuff which was a lot of fun for me. However, color consistency was nearly impossible and making each print was a crapshoot. There was no realistic way I could continue this work post-college, but I discovered I could do nearly the exact same thing and an amazing amount more on the computer, so I made the jump to digital. I loved incorporating photographic elements with my drawings and watercolors, using my PowerMac G3/450 and a Nikon LS-2000 film scanner. Working with all of this gave me a great start in the fundamentals of retouching, color management, computer troubleshooting and a lot of Photoshop, which I brought to TRG in 2004 thanks to a bike messenger friend of mine who knew they needed more hands. Without calling first, I put on my suit, zipped up my portfolio and an hour after I knocked on the door I was sitting down to work on my first job!

Also, anybody want a film scanner?

Craig:

Ok, ok I'm technically in marketing now - but I started out as a retoucher and I refuse to be left out of a chance to talk about myself!

I've always been a pretty creative person and I've always loved computers - so when I got to college I found myself choosing classes that allowed me to be creative on a computer.  Amongst all these classes I quickly realized that working in Photoshop was by far my favorite.  At first it was simply to switch people's heads and add extra eyeballs to people's faces - but over time it grew to become improving images. Through college, I was able to secure a few internships and one of those internships led to a full time job at a school photography company.  During my time there I realized we were paying well over six figures annually to have an outside company retouch our photos so I proposed a procedure and system that would allow us to retouch all our photos internally at a significant savings to the company. This really amped up my need to know how to retouch photos both quickly and efficiently while knowing how a "finished" photo should look. I spent an incredible amount of time doing my own research and teaching myself more and more about photoshop as well as what the professionals were doing in the field. I wanted to make sure I was teaching myself stuff that was relevant to what the best in the business were doing. Eventually the amount of photos I was retouching annually had grown exponentially and really gave me an incredible understanding of retouching as a business. The intense amount of work taught me the importance of balancing speed and achieving perfection and how efficiencies in the process was the only way to be able to achieve both.

Throughout my college and post-college career I was really interested in advertising and always wanted to get more experience in that side of the creative field, so once I saw that TRG was hiring a retoucher I jumped at the chance and was fortunate enough to perform well and get the job. I can honestly say that my experience at TRG has taken my retouching to a level I could have never imagined. The retouching and color knowledge that we have at TRG rival any business in the world, and I would gladly put our work up against any studio - we take pride in what we do, we make everything as perfect as we are able, we truly enjoy working with each other, and we honestly love what we do.  What could be better than that?

Are you a retoucher?  How did you end up in the field?  Is it your dream to be a retoucher?  In the comments below talk to us about it!