Over-retouching

March 11, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I abhor over-retouched images. In fact, if I look at a model's portfolio and all I see is plastic skin, I am very suspect of that model. Plasticizing skin tells me the model has bad skin or that the retoucher got a little trigger happy in photoshop. Either way, it's a turn-off. 

I'm talking about the kind that takes all the texture out of skin and/or alters body form.

I wonder if the Beauty Industry is largely responsible for the over-retouching of skin and pushing forward an impossible standard for more people.

I wonder if fashion magazines are the impetus behind the self-consciousness ingrained into girls starting in their young teenage years. It's been said that 100% of all images in fashion magazines are retouched. I don't spend a lot of time looking at those magazines but I can say with certainty that if it isn't 100% then it is close. Certainly, over 85% and I am talking about major retouching, not like this photo below: 

Model: Diann

The left image is "photoshopped" ... I don't consider this unethical or dishonest retouching. I slightly changed the exposure and removed a temporary defect in the model, which was some red-eye, maybe from the make-up, maybe from the air in the studio. 

And as much as I love the tools of digital manipulation, Photoshop, Lightroom and the other stand-alone programs geared toward specifics tasks such as Portrait Professional, I wonder if somehow people need to get a reality check about the consequences over-retouching might have on some viewers (never mind that they are representing their art in a way that may not be their real intention).

Now consider this photo. It's an advertising image for Coco Chanel perfume. This is Keira Knightley (if you didn't know that). The image is manipulated. Sex sells, so what is that in this image? It's her tit being covered by a strap. One thing though, her tits aren't that big but they are the focal point. That's right, we're staring (some of us) at a digitally enhanced breast. 

This is Keira at the same shoot:

My guess is that she's really about a 32/34A however with Photoshop she is probably enhanced to be about a 34B ... just a guess. True, this example doesn't quite produce any harm to other women's self-image of themselves. No woman is going to complain that Keira's breast size just increased a tad to help sell some perfume. And I doubt any guys will be complaining either.

Where it becomes harmful is when the manipulation of an image presents a completely false representation of the female form AND it is believed by it's viewers who in turn self-reflect and then self-doubt and realize they don't measure up to the fake images. It doesn't make the viewer, often young women, any less intelligent for being duped (consider that most blue pill people are duped 95-100% of the time by the politicians they vote for and the mainstream media they watch).

There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes before images ever hit print. Having lived in LA for a while I came across MANY celebrities here and there, on the streets, at parties, random places. You almost don't recognize them because of the images put forth in the magazines. 

It gets worse. But actually this is kind of cool in a dumb sort of way.

People, the world over, are being lied to. From politics, to food, to health, media, fashion magazines, all of these sources of public dissemination of ideas and sales campaigns are simply there to push an agenda and/or products to consume. The fashion and beauty industry wants to move it's products. So it (many and certainly every mainstream magazine and company) lies to do just that, putting forward false or impossible imagery that you are supposed to hold yourself up to.

So back to how I treat this.

I didn't retouch images until about 5 years ago. My first foray into photography was with film and I loved the raw look of it. Granted I didn't shoot a lot of portraits back then. But even now I have rules about digital manipulation and they are:

  • Appreciate the natural raw beauty of the body.
  • If you want to make your model thinner or heavier, then use your camera, not photoshop. It's all about knowing how to pose them as well as how lighting can emphasize a person's features.
  • It is okay to remove temporary blemishes such as acne, hair fly aways and other non-living elements of the photo such as burning down the scenery, etc.
  • For me, it is NOT okay to alter a person's physical form, lift their neck, thin them, fatten them, make them taller, etc. That should be done in camera if at all possible.
  • Bags and wrinkles; I never fully remove these things but may lessen them by a small percentage so that it doesn't detract. Sometimes people show up and hadn't slept well. That's not them, so I don't think it's a true representation if I were to leave them un-retouched either.
  • It's okay to retouch skin, but please leave texture there. I always try to keep SOME texture.

I really really do understand that in fashion and advertising of products, the idea is to sell as much of the product as possible; clothing, jewelry, perfume, make-up, body products, shoes, etc. and that it's a business. It is my opinion though that the retouching has attempted to redefine "perfect" into something that looks like an alien.

My retouching of this image simply consisted of clearing a few temporary blemishes, handling some hair. That's it. She doesn't look like an alien, she looks like a real person.

I find the image below to be an example of what not to do though to the retouchers credit at least they came back and added some sharpness to the eyes even if her skin resembles a 3 year olds.

Where is that human aspect under her eyes of a woman at this age? The bags, the natural way her eyes are have been completely changed. One could lower the opacity of the bags just a tad but to completely remove them? One could even run a subtle treatment on the skin, bring up the exposure, but keep it real. Also bear in mind that the white balance in these two photos are different, the retouched one being more warm which does make a difference (to me).

 

So will the pendulum ever swing to the other side again? We're living in a digital world now and it's too easy to "lie" with our images. You could make laws, in fact the UK and France have already tried. Even in the USA, HR 4925 was put forth, and though it addressed probably too many things instead of just the photoshop issue, it was eventually defeated. I don't think making laws is the right step to take anyway. I think a change has to come about organically, from me and you. It's up to us to apply ethics to ourselves with how we handle our own images and then to help put a little bit of honesty back into the industry.

Maybe though the Beauty and Fashion industry will splinter kind of like Main stream media and alternative and independent news sources have. Many of us are fed up with the falsehoods and edited versions of the "news" that we are turning more and more to alternative sources. That'd be okay with me if such a thing happened in Fashion and Beauty.


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