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How to Shoot & Retouch Like Mario Testino | The Story Behind The Towel Series (NSFW)

By Kishore Sawh on March 11th 2017

It’s difficult today to create an image that becomes iconic, but Testino has a flair for it. From the groundbreaking photos of a relaxed and languid Princess Diana that changed how royalty was photographed, to the iconic D&G Light Blue campaigns with David Gandy that provoked a change in male model looks from the more androgynous to the more classically masculine, Testino is behind so many.

TOWEL SERIES 114, CAMI MORRONE. #MarioTestino #TowelSeries @camimorrone

A post shared by MARIO TESTINO (@mariotestino) on

Perhaps, however, it’s his personal project, his ‘Towel Series’ that he may be most easily associated with, which is a bit ironic considering it was a series essentially made for sharing on social, like Instagram. The story goes that Testino had just signed up for Instagram and was torn on what he should post on it; that it could be old work, iconic work, or current projects, or what he appreciated aesthetically. Then one day, only weeks after creating his account, he was shooting Kate Moss (naturally…) and she walked out of the shower in a robe with a towel on her head and, well, here it is from the Peruvian legend  himself:

One day, just a few weeks after I launched my Instagram account, I was with Kate Moss on a shoot. She was going to an event straight afterwards and had to remove all of her makeup. After showering, she came out of the dressing room in a robe, with a towel on her head. I thought, God, women always look amazing with towels around their heads…and how many people actually get to see Kate Moss coming out of the shower, in just a robe? It was that very moment that I captured for my first image in the “Towel Series” for Instagram. The interesting thing about the towel is that, even though in it you are not completely covered, it serves as both a tool for drying and as a protective barrier. In a towel, you are clothed, but naked.

Of course, sometimes they’re made up and sometimes they’re not, but the towel variable is a way of getting to their essence. So, I got really excited by this idea and started doing it non-stop. In a funny way, it’s like a record of my life, of who I meet, who I work with, who I come across, and of my point of view and personal taste. For many years, I’ve worked through magazines and clients. This time, I decide who’s in, who’s not, how they’re in, how I photograph them, and when I post the picture. It’s an opportunity for me to be my own editor. – Mario Testino, V Magazine

The series is probably my favorite series in fashion right now, because it’s disarmingly simple, raw, and beautiful. He’s shot the likes of new faces like Emily Ratajkowski, Selena Gomez, Taylor Hill, Georgia May Jagger, Alexis Ren, and more established names like David Gandy, Penelope Cruz, and Anna Wintour, and any number of other actors and models you can think of.

DOUBLE DUTCH: TOWEL SERIES 132, DAPHNE GROENEVELD. #MarioTestino #TowelSeries @DaphneGroeneveld

A post shared by MARIO TESTINO (@mariotestino) on

TOWEL SERIES 126, DAVID GANDY. #MarioTestino #TowelSeries @DavidGandy_Official

A post shared by MARIO TESTINO (@mariotestino) on

The thing about this #towelseries though, is that it’s also deceiving in its simplicity. In order to capture a shot like he does, requires a keen eye for detail, and if you don’t have the perfect set up, with the perfect model, the video below will give you some idea of how to retouch a towel-style shot. It’s brought to you by BREED and a great breakdown of points to pay attention to. Check it out, and I suggest paying attention to the use of layers, and the approach to contrast and level of retouch more than specifics.

TOWEL SERIES 104, BRITNEY SPEARS. #MarioTestino #TowelSeries @BritneySpears @Vmagazine

A post shared by MARIO TESTINO (@mariotestino) on

TOWEL SERIES 102, CINDY CRAWFORD. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! FELIZ DIA!! #MarioTestino #TowelSeries @CindyCrawford

A post shared by MARIO TESTINO (@mariotestino) on

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

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