The whispers of photoshop backlash are real. Much of the public is demanding for magazines to cut it out already. It’s going overboard. People are missing LIMBS! When will the madness stop? Some people and publications are responding with ‘un-photoshopped’ images gracing ad’s in magazines and blogs.
And I GET it. Missing limbs are sort of uncool. As is plastic looking skin. And making people look unrecognizable.
But I am hearing some version of this question everywhere lately on social media, in support of the anti-photoshop movement. “I mean, what did people LOOK like in pictures before photoshop??!!?”
I’m here to answer that question.
First of all, in snapshots that the general public took, they looked the same as they did in real life. Usually with just enough blur to make us all look a little better. So, there’s that.
But in Professional Photography… photoshop in some form has been around a long time. Like, a REALLY long time. Images have been digitally manipulated for decades. There were some now archaic software programs that allowed photo editing departments to take notes from the image (whiter teeth, remove pimple, under eye circles softened, hair darker, eyes bluer, right thigh cellulite, etc. etc. etc.
Before that? We Professional Photographers marked a little box on the glassine of the negative that we sent to our lab that said ‘Retouch’. Yep, labs retouched NEGATIVES with inks & dyes. We would write down what we needed retouched and it all happened on the negative before printing. And it wasn’t even expensive. It’s what was done and there were many people who were employed to do just that and they did it well. I’d also sometimes retouch a print using a special spray (like a dry epoxy sort of) and colored pencils, if I wanted a little extra something. We could also do a little paining with dyes and tiny brushes on some prints, I remember doing it on canvases. Again, amateur snapshots… not retouched. Professional photography, retouched.
Before THAT? Well, there was people like legendary photographer George Hurrell, who would spend about SIX HOURS retouching a single Black & White negative with graphite, to give the Hollywood Starlets glowing skin, eyes & hair. It was a glamorous ideal that was a given with having a professional portrait done. It was part of the experience. Like having a portrait painted. Surely, a great painter who made his living off portraits will not include blemishes, squished limbs or dim eyes.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is two-fold. One, photoshopping has been abused to an alarming degree. When someone looks 30 pounds lighter, that’s an issue. Two, it is now accessible to the public meaning that no one knows when and if ‘snapshots’ are retouched. So we’re now seeing unprofessional photography that HAS been retouched. (and ‘professional’ photography that hasn’t, but that’s another story for another time). And when our snapshots are retouched, we now raise our level of expectations of professional photography retouching. Which can force the outcome to be one that is unnatural and potentially dangerous.
The fact remains, photoshop is here and it is being used.
I am a Professional Photographer. So as I have defined it for my own business, it is my duty to provide professional-level products to my clients. Just like all the professionals who came decades before me did. It’s part of my job description. It is part of creating and producing a finished product of high quality. Because that is what professional portrait photography has always been (sans a couple renegades I’m sure). Do I make my clients look unrecognizable? Never. Do I take extreme measures? Never. I simply look at the image and either say ‘yes, that’s what she looks like’ or ‘hmm… I don’t remember her looking like this in person so i’m going to soften this line or brighten this up or whatever. It’s a subtle art and it’s something I take very seriously.
My work is never about forcing my clients into barbie-doll poses to get a perfect hourglass effect and it never will be. While I know the tricks, I use them with my own twist and my own conscience about creating art. Perfection and ‘Pretty’ should NEVER be above ‘moving’ and ‘beautiful’ (yes, beautiful is different than pretty) in my work. So with that in mind, I often do a tiny bit of extra work on my images (not all but maybe 75%) to compensate for not sacrificing my vision. But that work is done so sparingly (admittedly more liberally when i first got my hands on the program) and with so much intention to keeping the integrity of the image that I feel absolutely proud of saying I photoshop my client work.