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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Let's Talk Retouching

Every so often I find I need to get up on my beauty-soapbox and have a frank and honest talk with other women about photo retouching. 

One of the first things new clients always ask me is "what is digital beauty work?" and "what is digital body sculpting?" I'm going to have a section on my new wedding site talking about these very things! For now, I explain all about it and give a photoshop demonstration during my free consultation appointment for prospective wedding clients. 

The dictionary defines retouching in the following way:
Re-touch - v.
1. To add new details or touches to for correction or improvement.
2. To improve or change (a photographic negative or print), as by adding details or removing flaws.

So beauty retouching is pretty much the art of digitally chasing perfection. It is, in some ways, presenting an idealized representation of a person. I'm doing with my wacom brush what plastic surgeons have been doing for years. (and I'm much cheaper! lol) The mere fact that most women really don't know what digital beauty work or digital body sculpting is, just shows how deluded we all are into thinking that the people we see in magazines and on tv actually look that good in real life. For most people, the only experience we ever get with retouching is having blemishes removed from our high school yearbook photos. But ask any woman in Hollywood or any model working in the beauty industry, and they not only know what those things are, but expect them. 

Industry leaders say they cannot stop re-touching photographs, because if they do, people will stop buying their magazines. They say consumers simply are not interested in seeing every flaw that a person being photographed has.

Take a look at this short video.  It is SO true!

I can't tell you how it burns my butter that so many gorgeous girls and women out there don't see their own beauty! I walk down the street or go to the super market and see so many women that I just know could be stunning if only they received the same treatment as models and actresses. Namely - professional hair, make up and photo retouching. And I'll bet most of the women I'm talking about don't even think they're that good looking or anything special. People would be shocked to know what some of the models I have worked with really look like! Sometimes a model walks in and I don't even realize it's the same girl as in the photos! But people in the industry understand that what our culture defines as 'beauty' these days is really just all smoke and mirrors. It's about time regular, everyday women realized it too!
I did a little internet digging over the past few days and found some eye opening images to share. Let's take a look at some examples:

                                               Cameron Diaz, who by all accounts suffers from bad skin

Andie Macdowell, looking fabulous and airbrushed for Loreal.But check out how she really looks in this red carpet candid shot. 

                            Britney Spears, even with all her bucks, still needs photoshop help

                                              Nicole Kidman, who will be 43 years old this June
                                                   Kate Winslet for a recent magazine shoot

                                                                             Kelly Clarkson:

Ex super model Twiggy posing for Olay. From what I've read, this ad caused a bit of a scandal.The ASA, a british watchdog agency for advertising, received multiple complaints from consumers that the ad was misleading because the image of Twiggy had been so extremely digitally retouched. They released a statement saying that the ad was not only misleading but also socially irresponsible, because it could have a "negative impact on people's perceptions of their own body image".

                                                  Pam Anderson at 40, photos taken 3 years ago.

In 1999, Madonna did an ad campaign for a make-up line for Max Factor. In the process she even got her very own red added to their color palette. Check out what the original promotional photographs looked like, and how the retouchers made it look - in order to make you and I believe in the world of illusions while flipping through our magazine. (That world being that a 41 year old woman can and should look like she's 24. What!?)

And speaking of Madonna - here's a woman who's been in the public eye and with more $ than the Rockefellers for over 25 years now. From all the celebrity buzz her looks continue to be extremely important to her. She's had plastic surgery done, she works out like a fiend, and she has access to all the best skin products that money can buy. But she's also going to be 52 this August. And in the immortal words of Dolly Parton, "Time marches on, and sooner or later you realize it's marching right across your face." 

                              Take a look at this Vanity Fair cover of her from May of 2008: 

And now look at these live performance photos taken only 1 year later.
Now that's some damn fine retouching Vanity Fair!

                                                                      Mariah Carey

Here's some blatant lying - Kourtney Kardashian for OK Magazine right after having her baby. The cover says: "My Diet Secrets! Lose 10 pds in 10 days! How I'm losing the baby weight fast - my hunger free diet and easy fitness plan will work for you too!"

Kim Kardashian, on the other hand, often asks for magazines to go light on the digital body sculpting. She's proud of being curvaceous and see's no reason to pretend to be 100 pds. Good for her!

                                  And speaking of magazine covers, here's some more eye openers . . . . . 


                                                            Super model Linda Evangelista


                                                                                Rachel Weisz

     Britney Murphy, R.I.P.

Tyra Banks, a supporter of the real beauty movement, has spoken many times about how false today's beauty industry is and the unrealistic expectations that it can cause women to have about their appearance. She often shows her unretouched photos on her show America's Next Top Model, and speaks up about how important it is to understand that what we are seeing in magazines and on tv is an idealized version of reality and not to be taken literally.

Speaking of ANTM, this is a good opportunity for me to once again attempt to drive home my point about the importance of having a good hair and make up artist before a photoshoot or for your wedding day look. SO IMPORTANT!!! If you're thinking about doing your own make up for your wedding - think again! Unless you're job is that you're a pro make up artist, you're not going to understand how to apply it so that you look your best in your photos. Make up for everyday is quite different than make up that's best for photography. Not to mention that so many of us women fall into that trap of doing our make up the same way everytime. We get to know what we like and what we think looks best, and we do the same look over and over. Professional hair and make up makes all the difference to ensure you look and feel your best.

Take a look at some of the ANTM model make overs. None of these girls were models when they walked in the door. They come from different backgrounds and parts of the country, but none are professional models. that's the whole point of the show - to take 'regular, everyday girls' and give them the 'model treatment'. Imagine how you or I would look if we had access to those stylists, and hair and make up professionals! (and, of course, pro retouching!) ;)

If you saw any one of these girls walking down the street as she is in the 'before make over and retouching' photos, would you ever think she could look that good? Is it no wonder that most women don't think they could ever look that good? 
There have been times when I question what it is that I do. Am I just helping to perpetuate the lie? I work in the modeling industry. I retouch and body sculpt all of my brides, giving them the 'model treatment'. Retouching is a huge part of my job and what people come to me for - it's my specialty - making women look good.
But I think the difference is that I am all about educating Jane-Public. (like in this blog!) I want women to understand what they are seeing is idealized and how the process works, and to be able to have it themselves! 
There's an article I read in Professional Photographer Magazine that deals with this very subject. It's called  Digital Portrait Retouching: A Question of Truth or Fiction by Gary Lott. I'd like to refer to his words of wisdom that totally sums up how I feel:
"Recently a woman I know jokingly accused me of being dishonest. She wondered why I didn’t see making people look better than they really do as less than truthful. In response, I spoke about the joy I see in people’s eyes when they see a retouched image of themselves.When someone looks at a loved one, their mind doesn’t really register the fine lines, the blemishes, or the dark circles under the eyes. The camera does, and thus without further manipulation by us, if we simply allow the camera to capture our subject, we allow it to present an altered view of reality. We would allow our subjects to be represented in a way people don’t see them in their mind’s eye. Through retouching, we restore the balance; in actuality, we present a truer truth."   

Before the advent of digital imaging and photoshop, photographers spent hours in the darkroom retouching, dodging and burning, and tweaking. Ansel Adams was notorious for this. He often said, "You don't take a great photograph, you make it." 
Well, I feel that way too. It can be a fine line to walk sometimes. My goal is for a woman to look at an image of her I've created and say, "wow, I look great!" not "wow, I look photo shopped." I am always checking my edited copies side by side against the originals to make sure I didn't go too far - making sure the retouch work still looks natural. 

I'm trying to give my clients a gift - the gift of being able to see their own beauty. This is why I limit myself to how many clients I take on in a year. This is why I have chosen to be a specialty service. I would rather spend my time concentrating on my art and giving my clients my individual attention, than batch processing my imagery so that I can shoot more weddings per year and make more $. Yes, I sacrifice income doing things this way.  Yes, I devote more hours of my time than you could imagine. (a 12 hour work day is typical for me) Yes, I make myself nuts obsessing over details. lol But speaking as someone who faced illness and death at a young age, I have learned that there are much more important things in life than money. I want to spend however many years I have left to be here making this world a better place in some small way. I stand by what I believe in, and I love what I do. It's really that simple.


  1. A lot of those women looked perfectly gorgeous before the retouching - but especially Faith Hill. She's already a thin woman and they made her arm look freaky! Otherwise, I understand the smoothing of the skin and lumps for the sake of making the images more appealing. Hell, I wish I had someone to retouch all my pictures and smooth out all my lumps!

  2. I love the dove ad, but am also disapointed with it. this is becasue on every other dove ad i have seen the women are clearly airbrushed to perfection and most women think oh ok, ill just use dove and look like that too. Im glad they have made this ad but what would really make me happy is if dove never retouched any of there models ever again. I mean its all well and good to show real women and make a mini movie of how bad retouching is, but whats the point when in their next ad the models are just the same as always... fake and retouched to the max??? confused and anoyed!!

  3. Tiffany

    Agreed! Some countries are now pushing for legislation that would make companies put labels on every retouched photo warning the viewer that the image has been digitally altered/retouched.

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  5. WOW I never knew that. That would be a huge step forward i think. If only all women knew of these retouching and airbrushing photos, I think most women I know would feel alot better about themselves. Thanks for a great site :) very interesting

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