Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is all retouching "dishonest"?

In photography blogs and magazines there seems to be an almost constant stream of articles decrying the over-use of retouching in Photoshop. Examples are shown of models who have had pounds digitally shaved off their bodies, and in some cases, their physique essentially re-shaped. There are also the humorous articles showing examples of horrible Photoshop re-touching that any viewer could easily spot as a fraud. But is all retouching evil and dishonest?

When I do portraits for friends and family, I follow the philosophy of one of my photographic heroes, Yousuf Karsh. Karsh always strove to make his subjects look their best, in contrast to other photographers of his era (think Avedon and Arbus) that wanted show their subjects "warts and all". I have always tried to do likewise. I can't make everyone look like a movie star, but I do try to show everyone in their best light. Choosing the right camera angle and lighting can make a huge difference in how someone looks in a photo. It sometimes involves getting rid of a temporary zit, de-emphasizing (but not totally removing) facial wrinkles, or smoothing clothing after the fact on the computer. I've never done wholesale body re-shaping, except on a few gag photos.

Original Version

An interesting situation developed this past weekend while photographing my two daughters in our back yard. On seeing the resulting photo (which I was quite proud of), my oldest daughter, Heather, remarked, "That dress makes my arm look fat." I didn't notice it until she mentioned it, but the combination of camera angle, the sleeveless dress, and how her arm was positioned, made what appeared to be a bulge in her upper arm. Obviously, Heather does not have fat arms, and I thought the original version was fine. However, young women in their early twenties notice these kinds of things. So back to the digital darkroom I went to try to please my client.

The Offending Bulge

My objective was not to make her arm look thinner than it actually is, but more like it is. To me, the former would be dishonest, the latter, more realistic. Using the clone tool in Photoshop I was able to slightly trim back the offending bulge, making her arm look more like I knew it to be in reality. Deceptive? Dishonest? I don't think so. I didn't try to make a 150 lb. woman look like 105 lbs., I simply made her arm look more like it really looks. Heather was more happy with the second version, and therefore, so was I. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Re-touched Version

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