Retouching is a funny old game. The subtlest of changes can make or break an image. During an edit I continually toggle between the 'before' & 'after' of the photo that I'm working on. It's often difficult to pin down exactly how small changes can bring the soul of an image alive. I know I've shaped & tidied the models hair. I also know I've 'dodged & burned' and added a interesting colour gradient to the image but why does that make it a better photo to look at? I guess to a point it's simply a subjective thing. Not everyone will like how I've edited an image but some might love it. As long as I attempt to stay true to my style of retouching I guess that's all that matters.
I recently joined an online retouching forum and uploaded one of the images from my portfolio. It was a fairly old piece but one I was still happy with. Another forum user soon tore it apart. They re-edited it and shared it with the forum feed explaining exactly how they'd 'improved' the shot. I thanked them for their kind words, toggled between my edit and theirs and was still totally content with how I'd retouched the image. It just felt right. When you know an image is ready you just know
By the nature of my job and the style of editing I'm obviously not a staunch #noretouchingrequired kind of guy. However, I love the ethos behind all-analogue fashion and photography magazine PYLOT, where they employ a strict no beauty retouching policy. It's a way of working that I often employ in my own photography work. There's certainly a bright future for non beauty retouched imagery BUT there's equally an exciting future for retouched media too, albeit one where retouchers & the industry they work within must, in my humble opinion, begin to embrace a slightly more ethical approach to their output. Sure, we must still have complete creative freedom within the style of the work we're carrying out but we must try to question our retouching decisions regularly. I have no doubt that a more ethical approach would even improve the quality of imagery out there! *Stands down from tiny soapbox*
I love to manipulate and style hair, makeup & skin in Photoshop but as time moves on and I gain more experience I hope that I'm carrying out these edits in a more tasteful & subtle way. One element of a beauty 'retouch' I try to avoid as much as possible is manipulating the models body shape. There's still an obsession in the industry to make models thinner, more toned & unrealistically younger. Body shape manipulation isn't unique to women either. Male models are often made more toned and their muscles sculpted. This manufactured view of the human form has had a direct impact on real people throughout the world. Thanks to magazines and the explosion of social media people increasingly gobble up and buy into unrealistic expectations of health and beauty and often feel they fall short of the required benchmarks, driving self esteem and self-confidence into the ground. A fear of losing magazine & product sales fuels an industry standard where humans must be seen and sold in a near perfect state. But this hasn't always been the case. Sure, there's always been photo/image retouching in one form or another but not to today's mind bending and unhealthy standards. It will take not only those who commission editorials but everyone, including retouchers working in the industry to reign in the unhealthy standards.
I'm certain you could look at my portfolio and accuse me of hypocrisy. There are some shots that have certainly been heavily retouched in one way or another. I'm sure these were an attempt to showcase the extreme end of my 'skills'. But having written everything above, there ARE times when 'perfection' or extreme digital manipulation is called for. Quite often we are creating fictional characters as well as editing photos of real-life people. Characters that require a dream-like quality to them. Take my edits from a shoot based on the Wizard of Oz, (especially the Tin Man - he's a tin man). These are clearly not realistic, regular people and in my mind that IS ok. Creativity can run riot.
At the end of the day it's all about balance. We must find a tasteful and subtle happy-medium when it comes to editing. And I'm going to continue to poke & prod my retouching decisions for the betterment of the images I work on and maybe even play a VERY small part in encouraging a more ethical side to our craft.
I hope I don't have to eat my words...
'Behind The Scenes: An 'Untitled' Retouching Process. Coming soon.
Join me on the blog next time where I'll be showing you behind the scenes of my latest portfolio piece. From initial markup to the final image.
POST UPDATE: Check out this blog piece from Retouching Academy - "Retouching controversy - How we need to move forward". It says some stuff I failed to in this post...
"It is our job as retouchers to enhance and enrich a photograph, never to destroy the integrity of its subject."