Photoshop gets a lot of a bad press these days.
If you want to make a billion bucks, or sell a million iTunes-downloads, simply make a video denouncing the use of digital retouching (aka Photoshopping) and watch the 'likes' roll in.
I was reminded of this again recently as an emo-tise-ment masquerading as a viral video was making the rounds on the social media circuit. In this blatant piece of link-bait, a certain singer is lauded for a "brave" video (if by "brave" we mean guaran-damn-teed to garner five-billion 'likes' in five minutes on Facebook...) because she was "tired of being photoshopped and decided to DO something about it!"
Taking her cue from the wild success of the billion-dollar Dove real women campaign, she removes garishly over-done make-up from her symmetrical, genetically-blessed, twentysumpin' visage while looking soul-fully into a camera held in the loving grip of a professional videography team until she is shown wearing more subtle (less "red-carpet", more "paparazzi-aware-Starbucks-run"...) styled makeup.
*Cue tissues and 'like' button clicker-finger....
Look, I like a good Colbie Calliat song as much as the next girl. But I resent the way emotionally manipulative, sad-vertisements like this make me feel as if someone is trying to cash in on my emotional engagement. I feel used and manipulated. It's as if someone was attempting to use 'Liquify Brush' to 'Warp Tool' my soul...
So, I decided to DO something about it...
I'm going to come out and say, the truth is: digital retouching (aka 'photoshop') is not inherently evil or good. It is instead a professional tool that can be used responsibly ( or irresponsibly.) But I'll go even further than that: I believe that under the hand of a skilled practitioner, with the right approach, Photoshop can help restore the perspective that we actually experience in real life when we are in the presence of another person. I'll even go as far as to say that an unretouched photo distorts reality more than a retouched one does.
Here's an example: When someone is sitting and talking with you they will usually not notice the third freckle from your left earlobe (that one you're so self-conscious about). First, they notice the life in your eyes, the sparkle of your personality, the beauty of your expressions as they illuminate and animate your features and form the roadmap of your unique personality.
Truthfully, most people don't go into the world looking for the flaws in others. In general we are trying to connect with others and as a result, when we are in another's presence we look for and, more often than not, find the best. In real life, you're much more drawn to the sparkle of the eye than to the blemishes or dark circles underneath the eye. In a two-dimensional photograph however, the dark circles under the eyes have the same prominence as the shining iris of the eye. My point of view is this is a distortion of what you'd experience in the presence of an actual person.
I believe that final images should be finished with professional tools to be distraction-free. This does not mean I think that they should be 'over-retouched' with plastic skin and the absence of laugh-lines, a la Vogue Magazine. However I also believe that a finished headshot image tells a more-complete story than an unfinished image. That's all part of visual storytelling: it's making post-production choices that are appropriate and truthful, even in the context of retouching. Because in a headshot every part of the image: from the lighting, to the set up, to the post-production, yes, even the 'photoshopping' should serve the goal of connecting my client with their audience and ensure that their personality and character shines through.
So, when I'm photoshopping, I think about the experience of being with my client in person.
As my eye would naturally do in person, I look for their best features and make those more prominent in the image. And then I take any visual distractions and I make those less obvious, either by taking them out completely, or by fading them slightly. Not because I'm trying to hide the 'truth', but because I believe that it's more 'true' to have an image in which the beauty of her personality comes forward first and more prominently than the marks of a sleepless night or two. She should look as she does today, not as she did 20 years ago--I want her to look recognizable by those who love her now--but I also know that there is distortion in an unretouched image that has to be corrected. In the same way a loving eye of another 'filters' and focuses on the best and connects with her personality, a subtle Photoshopping job will ensure that the sparkle that people see when they talk with her comes forward first in the image, just as it does in person.