Photos don’t just happen on their own. Often times they require the artistic specialities of a retoucher, like those provided by AVVAY Pro Emily McGonigle. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, her retouching style is inspired by fashion and commercial photography. Keep reading to find out more about her work as a retoucher, photographer, and passionate creative.
“At the end of the day, I just want people to feel special and amazing.”
What/who are your creative influences?
My creative influences come from all over and are widely varied and based on my growth as a photographer and retoucher. Early on I was doing a lot of my learning on platforms like CreativeLive and I immediately gravitated towards Sue Bryce because of her philosophy on the importance of portraiture and making someone feel as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside. That really resonated with me, in addition to her painteresque photographs of these women, and the way she was able to accomplish such beautiful images with simple equipment and techniques.
That being said, I am most heavily influenced and inspired by fashion and commercial photographers. The way an image comes together with the set, wardrobe, lighting, and post prodcution has always been something I constantly strive for in both my photography and retouching. I’m always flipping through Vogue and Vanity Fair looking for images that I find striking and analyzing why I love them.
But as far as retouching is concerned, there is one person that immediately comes to mind that is a huge source of inspiration to me: Pratik Naik. HIs retouching is so clean and gorgeous, and the way he color grades is something I’m still striving to understand. He also does a ton to give back to the retouching community.
How/when did you start in your professional career?
My career has been in constant evolution. I started out about 8 years ago as an obsessed hobbyist photographer, who spent (according to my peers) “way too much time in photoshop”. A year later I decided to try and make a career out of portrait photography, blending my love for commercial and fashion photography with my love of making every day people feel great and look beautiful. All the while I was learning and growing, I still got comments that I was “spending too much time in photoshop”, until sometime 2 years ago when a friend said to me, “You know… you should be marketing your retouching to other photographers looking to outsource their post production”, so I did. I’m one of the “weird ones” that loves retouching and finds it fun and therapeutic. I’m currently working to expand my retouching client base, but it’s been great so far.
If you weren’t working as a creative, what would you be doing?
I’d be a pro e-sports player in the Overwatch League. Haha… okay… maybe not. I’m not honestly sure. I don’t know if this is a bad thing or not, but I never really put too much thought into what I’d be doing otherwise. I have a kind of tunnel vision when it comes to my career, that I never really developed a “Plan B”. Before I went full-time freelancing, I used to work at an Apple store and that was a great job. I suppose I’d still be doing that.
How do you avoid creative burn out?
I don’t know that I ever really *avoid* it, to be honest. I eventually always hit a creative burn out, but when that happens, I take a break. I play a lot of video games, go do something active if it’s warm outside, read a book, and after a few days of doing non-photography/retouching things, I might start casually perusing Instagram and Pinterest for anything that strikes me. Or, if I was in the middle of a project when the burn out happens, usually after a break, I can go back to it and am able to get right back into the swing of things.
What stigma about your profession would you like to change?
There’s currently the stigma that retouching an image is “bad”. It’s a trend right now for brands to advertise with images and a huge note that they were *not* retouched (which I honestly still don’t believe. They weren’t worked on AT ALL? Maybe they were worked on to a lesser extent, but not AT ALL? C’mon Aerie… there’s not a single zit, splotchy skin, or scratch on those models, and you wanna tell me you did NOTHING to those images? Not buying it…).
I’d like to change the idea that running anything through photoshop is a bad thing. I don’t agree with *over* retouching. I hate the idea of changing someone’s skin color, or “slimming” someone who is a size 6 down to a size 2, but there’s nothing wrong with removing temporary blemishes and things of that nature. When you’re looking at a static 2D image, your brain has time to notice a lot more than it normally would when speaking to a living, breathing, moving 3D person standing in front of you. Good retouching basically makes the model look as though they were standing in front of you, and what your brain would see in that case.
When/where do you come up with your best ideas?
Usually late at night, in bed, when I’m about to fall asleep. And then of course once that happens, I can’t fall asleep anymore, because my brain is too busy running through that brilliant new idea and how to make it happen.
At the moment, what is the biggest goal you are trying to achieve in your creative career?
I’m at a point where I have the opportunity to really make myself known as a retoucher in town and establish a spot for myself within that world. I’m actively working and networking to build out a steady list of retouching clients.
What do you hope that your work does for other people?
As far as my photography is concerned, I hope that it makes my clients feel like rockstars and models. I love it when a client comes in and insists they’re not photogenic and then they see their final images and can’t believe that it’s them. At the end of the day, I just want people to feel special and amazing.
With my retouching, I just hope to help make my clients feel as though their work has been elevated to the next level with a finished polish that still allows it to feel like their work.