Photo manipulation is never just photo manipulation. The point is always to tell a story or convey a message, and to do that well it’s crucial that you choose the right style. Before even opening a photo in any retouching software, the first step is always to analyze the context of this particular photo. Is the subject a model posing for a makeup ad, or are we looking at a politician? Just like a maternity photo should have completely different vibes than a rock band’s group photo, the makeup ad would require much more detailed retouching than the politician’s photo. To illustrate, here is the same photo of a beautiful woman with different levels of retouching.
Here is the original photo of a perfectly beautiful and charming woman holding a camera. I found this image on Unsplash and have no idea who this is, so let’s give her an identity.
Let’s pretend she’s a travel blogger and wants to use this photo on her website. There are probably lots of other photos of her on that site, so for the sake of continuity, we don’t want to change anything about her that is a permanent part of her body, like smile lines, crooked teeth or beauty spots. We can still make a lot of improvements though, and just make it look like the wind wasn’t blowing that one hair across her face, brighten up some of the harsher shadows on her face, etc. She still looks exactly like herself, only a little more rested and put together.
Now let’s pretend she’s a model and this is a camera ad. We can now go all in and alter anything we want, meaning all the stray hairs, under eye circles, hooded lids, wide nose, crooked teeth, rough skin, moles, beauty spots, lines, and even the shape of her head if we wanted to. In the end, she doesn’t look a thing like herself, but more like someone in her early twenties who fits into the narrow box that is current beauty standards.
In conclusion, it would be silly to retouch everyone to look like a cookie cutter fashion model, so I don’t. Retouching has become a powerful tool and a lot can be done in very little time, but as we’ve all seen in online “Photoshop fail” compilations, retouching sometimes becomes a parody of itself. Make sure you talk to your retoucher and let them know what your intentions are with the photo, and avoid ending up with that dreaded airbrushed look!