(Re)touching portraits

There are some people who say that advertisements where the model images have been retouched must carry a warning label. They want these labels because people (mostly young girls and women) who see these ads think they are real and do bad things to themselves to try to emulate what they think they see in these photographs. You’ve got to be kidding.  The reality is that, almost without exception, EVERY professionally produced photograph is retouched–not just the ones in magazine ads. I have a better solution, if you think every photo you see in a magazine is real and you must look like that in order to be a fulfilled person, go have yourself photographed by a professional fashion photographer. Trust me, it’s much less expensive than therapy and a trip to the emergency room. The reality is that everyone is beautiful. It is the job of the professional photographer to capture that beauty for all to enjoy. Your photographs don’t make you feel beautiful? Get a new photographer.


Nearly every professional photograph is retouched.  So what?


Even the iconic portrait of Winston Churchill is retouched!


Here is the original negative as shot by Yousef Karsh.


I agree, this may be going too far–the skin looks far too plasticy!


Another icon, Twiggy, in real life.


Creating a photographic portrait is a four step process: prepare to capture the image, capture the image, edit the captured image, and display the image.  The image must be edited to remove the artifacts and distortions caused by capturing a living three-dimensional person into a still, two dimensional photograph.  Each person is three personas – who they really are, who they want people to think they are, and who people think they are.  The magnitude of difference between these three personas keep the psychiatric, makeup, fitness, and fashion industries in business.  While the photographer is fixing the mess caused by translating the person onto paper, it only makes sense to also fix the real and perceived flaws and bridge the gaps between who the person really is and who the person wants everyone to think they are.  The purist (read, amateur) will have none of this retouching.  However, the professional knows that is it necessary, and embraces retouching for the ability it has to make people feel beautiful.  People have so many poor snapshots and mall portraits of themselves that only destroy their self esteem.  If your photographs from your photographer don’t make you have an “OMG” moment, find a photographer who will.  For me, there is nothing more satisfying than the reactions people have when they see one of my signature portraits of themselves for the first time.