Come on Touch me!

Posted on 4th December 2020 in General

Toby Gray Body Wash after retouching
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Touch me if you can!

I love what I do. One day I might be a landscaper, another I’m a hair stylist. The next few days could be spent picking up litter and mopping floors, but within hours I’ll be fixing the makeup of the rich and famous or literally altering time and space to create a sunset. I’m a retoucher.

Retouching has become a vital part of any commercial photography project in this modern day and age.  After the excitement of the shoot itself has long since faded and the cameras and lights have been packed away, my job is only just beginning.

It seems obvious, but fundamentally the goal of any photo is for the viewer to look at the intended subject. The intended subject, not all the other stuff that is cluttering up the shot. A lot of what I do is just removing distractions to help enhance the message behind an image and more clearly communicate to the viewer ‘what this shot is about’. Anything in a shot that draws the viewers’ eye away from what they’re supposed to be looking at is a problem. Distractions are always a bad thing to have in your images.

Some people think of what I do as cheating. I’ve had people become genuinely angry at me when I mention the word ‘photoshop’ in passing conversation. I think ‘retouching’ has a stigma associated with it that conjures up images of skinny models who have been irresponsibly photoshopped beyond reality; however, this is a far cry from what I do when I sit down to work on commercial images.

Very often on a shoot, time is working against you. You’ve got 15 minutes to get the perfect shot of a quayside in Venice, but the local fisherman has ruined the bank with black ink that has spilled from his catch of squid earlier that day. There’s no way to clean it in time before the sun goes down. You just have to take the shot.

Or perhaps you’re photographing a group of models staging a private party when the hapless waiter walks into the background of the shot and starts playing with his phone and you didn’t catch it till you’re back at the office and it’s now too late.

Or maybe the bedding in the hotel room you’re shooting has been creased because your new assistant thought it would be a good place to sit. It’ll take too long to get housekeeping to come and remake the bed before you have to move to your next location. You’re just going to have to photograph it the way it is.

This is where retouching comes in.

On a commercial shoot, I am the last line of defence. The nuclear option. What you use when all other avenues have failed. I fix things you can’t avoid or didn’t predict. I’m a distraction-assassin. And if I’m doing my job right, you’d never even know I was there. My best work is invisible. I’m a retoucher.

Toby Gray


See more of Toby's work here