Retouching and I
Before I get into my own personal account or retouching, I'd like to give you the definition...
“improve or repair (a painting, photograph, or other image) by making slight additions or alterations.
full-colour images can be retouched, enhanced, or colour-corrected"
Now, we've got that out the way, we can be clear that most photographers will do some form of retouching or more accurately most images will involve some form of retouching.
In the below post however, I focus on what some may refer to as “airbrushing”
My personal history of retouching...
Retouching has always been a huge thing for me. Truth be told, I was interested in retouching way before I even got into photography (circa 13 years ago). I always use to like to tinker around with photos (any photo), changing the colour of things, adding in different backgrounds (which I later learnt meant it was a composite) none of which were spectacular, but even so, I enjoyed doing it. The whole “Photography” thing, wasn’t something that actually interested me. This could be perhaps more to do with my character rather than anything else. I was far happier sitting in and “tinkering” than I was getting out and about. I can’t even recall ever really wanting a camera.
Of course things progressed and changed when I eventually bought my first camera. A Panasonic FZ28, suddenly I was spending less time at the computer and more time shooting. But it was never something I was immensely passionate for. I’ve always been a bit of a techno “geek/freak” and a bit of a computer wizz. So that was kind of where I stuck.
Fast forward a few more years and I’d gotten my first DSLR and I was fascinated by Studio work. I started to look at magazines and how flawless a lot of the celebs were and I turned my hand towards portrait retouching (or airbrushing if you like). I would create these flawless people and effectively turn them into mannequins. Editing way to much with poor technique believing it was the right thing to do,
Things moved on and I started shooting a couple of professional models, my retouching (airbrushing) technique became more and more improved. I was researching and improving my techniques. I used to love producing those 1 or 2 images that really stood out to me, viewing my before and afters and the difference was pretty remarkable. It is at this point I thought this was what I wanted to be doing.
It didn’t feel wrong retouching (and airbrushing) these images, because magazines have been doing it for years, so it felt right. It’s almost like we (as humans) know they do it, so it’s acceptable?!
Time went on and I started to shoot more and more everyday people and this is where the difference lies, this was a game changer for me.
And this brings me nicely onto my first part, the "why"
Shooting professional models carries its own "stigma". But these men and women expect to be retouched (airbrushed), it's kind of part of the deal. I'm not stating this is right and I fully understand the damages it can cause on younger people who look at these people in admiration. But sadly, society seems to tell us you have to look and act a certain way... Rightly or wrong so.
Science tells us what we are attracted to visually and as a photographer, that is what you work with. No matter what the image is, or who the audience is. Even if it’s just for the photographer themselves. Creating a visually pleasing image is what it is ALL about. I fully believe that you should never judge a book by its cover and looks aren't everything but in the professional model game, sadly they are..... At least for now! When you use an image to sell something, nothing less than perfect will work.
But the “real world” isn’t like that, the real world doesn’t need to be retouched, rather, it needs to be embraced.
So, why, why retouch at all? Because if I can create a visually attractive image then I have succeeded as a photographer. For this case only, you have to apply the logic "sex sells". I love retouching, (airbrushing) rightly or wrongly so. I fully respect that it might be wrong but to be able to retouch someone successfully and to the point where they were both recognisable and looking their best, is satisfying. The thing is, camera tech has come a long way. We are now shooting with border line Medium Format cameras. Meaning that the detail these things pick up is out of this world. Let me show you an example…
If I zoom into this image you can clearly see every single hair, skin fold, blemish, spot and whilst it makes retouching harder (A challenge I very much enjoy) in some respects, it actually calls for a greater need.
- I feel i need to point out here that the Model's skin in this case is darn near perfect. This was merely an example as to what you can see.
For me, retouching images of professional models didn’t feel wrong. I didn’t feel like I was cheating anybody. The fact is, if you show the untouched and the retouched image to people, it’s fairly obvious which most would prefer. There is an art to retouching, a craft in which I am constantly looking to improve.
So this leads me perfectly on to the "when"
When do I think it's acceptable to retouch an image
As I’ve said above, when you are photographing professional models, it is expected that there would be retouching involved. But what about Joe Public?
Whilst most people often joke about “removing x in photoshop” or “make me look slimmer”, there are rules (Covered in the “what” section). My idea of a portrait photograph is to create the best possible image of someone but at the same time, that person needs to be recognisable. You want to be able to show that image to all your friends and for the retouching to go un-noticed. You may also “clean up” a toddlers mouth for example, remove fly away hairs (but I get into more of that below).
To summarise, the “when” part is simply down to when I feel it necessary, all images are retouched in one way or another (remember the distinction between retouching and airbrushing), colour grading, contrast tweaks, colour adjustment, etc, are all part of a photographers workflow and vision.
Perhaps this might make things easier and for the purpose of this blog post, I’m going to focus on portrait retouching.
Firstly, when it comes to retouching people I live by one golden rule. If it’s part of who you are, it stays. Moles, freckles, warts, birthmarks, all of that stays. It’s what defines you as a character and is absolutely part of who you are!
All that being said and done, my retouching work is mostly done when I’m shooting models. Why? Because as I said, it’s kind of part of the deal. Don’t get me wrong, some of these models have pretty much flawless skin, to look at you wouldn’t notice any flaws and I guess this is where my previous comment comes in, in regards to modern cameras. With the ability to zoom in on a digital image you are seeing more and more detail. The better tech that comes out, is actually (in some respects) making retouching harder
Retouching is a great thing, it’s a tool that I like to have access to and improve, just like everything else. It’s not the be all and end all, it’s not required all the time but it helps the photographer get the artistic view across, it helps the subject look their best and potentially sell a certain product.
But before we end, I would love to hear your thoughts on retouching as a whole? Whether you are a photographer or not, do you think it’s acceptable? To what extent? Or if you have any questions…. Please just write them in the comments below.
Thanks For Reading,