Do We Expect Too Much Because of PhotoShop?

H_manningI am always asked how I feel about advances in technology. I came up through the ranks of graphic design and photography from the days of film. I started out in the days when Adobe was still on release 1.0 (or “88” as I believe it was labeled). My answer: Technology in this industry, like many industries, has been a double edged sword.

On the one hand, it has made my life…..easier….in a way. I despise the word easy, because it implies you no longer require skill to do the job you used to. I find, no matter the technology, in many fields, you still need a great deal of skill to do a job properly. And this is the first downside of technology. Suddenly everyone thinks it should cost less because it is somehow “easier”. They forget that technology is also expensive to maintain. And it gets more so the greater the advances. The cost of even playing the game has risen significantly.

The second pitfall: People’s expectations. Thanks to digital photography and software, we now live in a world where everyone sees the culturally idealized idea of perfection on the news stand or in the checkout line at the local supermarket. A year ago, Glamour magazine ran an article that I feel is very relevant to this highlighting the capabilities (and yes, I have them too) which I found highly interesting. I so often go to a photo shoot with a portrait client who asks me “Can we get rid of this little bulge here, and this fold in my back…..with PhotoShop?”

This usually sends me into an internal conflict. Because, for one, no matter how thin you are, skin folds when you bend. So unless you stand perfectly straight and don’t smile at all, you will always have some level of wrinkle. Period. To remove them all makes you look fake. And yet, I get it. Because I also hate photos of myself that others take because, lets face it, we can’t all walk around looking like the idealized version of perfection we see every day from celebrities that have a full staff of makeup artists and a crew of lighting technicians that their studios pay for.

And, modern cameras are hyper sharp with high resolution. Almost ridiculously sharp for what most people need. I sometimes liken it to taking a photo of the moon with the Hubble which is meant for deep space photography. The pores I can’t even see standing in front of you now look like the Aitken Basin. So, yes, we need some retouching in place of the softer focus lenses and films we used to use.

The question then is, how much is too much?

My answer is, I try my best to make you look your best, and still have you look like you. And human. Softening skin so it looks natural. Fixing blemishes that aren’t normally there (some moles are part of a person’s look), smoothing out some deeper wrinkles caused by large smiles, fixing glare due to light reflection, are all part of my standard procedure. But, I come in to personal turmoil when people start asking for “perfection” that is not real. Making someone look plastic, or giving them a look that just isn’t them so that everyone who sees the photo knows it was over-processed is just not what I’m in to. My idea is to have people look at your photo and say “Wow, you look amazing” with emphatic meaning and not be thinking “Who is that person?”

And that, I feel, is where the photography industry should strive to be.


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