Thursday, September 26, 2013

Are we photographers or are we plastic surgeons?

Uh oh, I am about to do something totally different on the blog today. I am writing about something that really bothers me. Last night, I picked up one of my many photography magazines and was flipping through the pages when I came across this ad for Portrait Professional software. And what I saw really disturbed me. Enough so that I pre-empted another blog entry to write this one.

Let me start by saying that I am not against skin clean up, or slight modifications to make someone look better. If a kid has acne, I will clean that up. If someone is wearing a small bandage on their big day, I will remove it. If someone is concerned about their weight and asks me to make them look skinnier, I even wrote an action which compresses the image by 5%. (I should also state that I rarely ever have to use this action for a client.) But when I make these modifications, for the most part, they are minor modifications that do not change the overall look of the person. We are who we are, and we should be OK with that.

Here is the ad that I saw:


If you look closely at this advertisement, you will see that they have done a lot of work to this girl. Amongst other things, they have completely redesigned her nose, slimmed her face, made her lips more full, and lightened her hair. I have a real problem with the ad campaign because it is saying to photographers that it is OK to completely change the way someone looks. I disagree. Photo retouching should be used like seasoning in a recipe. It should enhance the dish, not overpower it. Good photo retouching should barely be noticeable.

Here is a close up of the girl's "real" nose.



And here is her new "Michael Jackson" nose.


I have to be honest with you, I think this girl is very attractive in the original photo, and did not need to be altered in this way. And this is the type of message that my daughter and her friends will see and think "I need to look like this to be acceptable." Are we OK with this?

Here is another horrible Portrait Professional ad which I posted on my Facebook page last year:


I will admit that, in my opinion (influenced by the media), the girl on the right is more attractive. But the girl on the right is not the girl on the left. That is a different person, not literally, but with the assistance of software.  I went to their web site to get more information, and landed on this page (at the risk of sending them a bunch of web traffic). Example after example of changing people's features.


Here is an example of one of my images (of my neighbor's daughter) which has been retouched. Did I clean up Bridget's skin? Yes, I did. Did I remove some fly-away hairs? You betcha. But did I make her skinnier or change any of her features? Not a chance.


Here is a before and after example of what I am talking about. This is a photo that I took of my daughter a couple of years ago. The top image is the retouched and finished photo. The one below shows the original photo taken. If you compare the two photos, you will notice the slight exposure adjustments, minor clean-up to her eyebrows, and a touch of skin smoothing. Not much more.


I have nothing against the Portrait Professional software package, and I know people who use it and really like it. But, I do have a problem with their advertising, and promoting such drastic change to a person's natural look.

Sorry everyone, but I thought we were being hired as photographers, not plastic surgeons!

I would love to know what you all think...

48 comments:

Ken Hopkins said...

I agree with you Jeff.

Ken Hopkins said...

I agree with you Jeff. It is wrong on so many different levels. I would never think of using such software

Lelia Garcia said...

I've seen this advertised as well. If you are photographing models for a portfolio, fine, but for portrait photographers, this is too extreme.
I have a friend who used the trial version and she said you have control of how extreme the changes are, so easy to do and she doesn't have an editing program.

David Neely said...

I agree with you 100%. The problem is that this is what some people (read advertisers) want. They want the models in their advertisements to be "Perfect" I think it is wrong, and I also think that models who have been altered like this appear to be plastic, but if that is the client wants, who ever shoots for them better be able to give that to them, or they will be quickly out of a job.

It's the same when I take pictures of some of my friends. I'm always being told by the women I photograph "Can you take away my extra chins?" "Can you take off the extra weight?" "Can you make my breasts bigger?" As I'm only an amateur, I can get away with telling them "Nope, I don't do Photoshop, and anyway, you are beautiful just as you are", but if they were paying me for my photography, it would not be as easy to do.

steve said...

I totally agree with you. If you are a photographer you should have an portrait that looks like the person in real life. I know sometimes people need a little help. but just a little. These ads give young girls a bad self image an there is no reason for that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Jeff.

Anonymous said...

No offense, Jeff, but you're in marketing. You know the rules of the game. They don't change to suit your preferences.

Ann S said...

I just saw the same ad today in a photography magazine I receive. I saw the examples presented and my first reaction was "no way"!

Anonymous said...

I'm not a photographer, but I do have a young daughter. Thank you for calling this out. We can't tell our girls enough that the stuff they see in magazines is not real. I wish there was some percentage marker on images to show how much has been adjusted. Where is the line between photographer and plastic surgeon? Right now it's a total relative and ethical scale.

wilsonc said...

I agree with you about not taking retouching to far. I was just telling a friend the other day that every senior photo I received this year was retouched to the point where there was no character left to the face everyone looked like Barbie dolls. Even the boys!!! Sometimes less really is more.

Flavio Sousa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Do0oM3d Slay3r said...

I completely agree , especially the part where you say that the two images are not for the same person ,
btw loved the retouching you've done to Ali's photo
Great blog as always .
have a good day

MTC said...

You could look at the flip side -- with the ability to create impossible two dimensional versions of a person, you offer an alternative to that person attempting impossible three dimensional edits of themselves. In that sense, you serve the good by keeping folks away from the plastic surgeons -- and all the other non-essential body shapers and skin changers.

Jeff said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Years ago, I photographed a wedding with an extremely obese groom. His first words to me on the day of the event were: "Make me look thinner." This was way before digital and easy retouching and a nearly impossible task in the field.

What I did do, however, was I had a good number of poses that were not full frontal and others where he was partially obstructed by props or members of the bridal party.

I agree with your philosophy 100% If you want to photograph fiction, try a drawing program!

James said...

Could not agree more!!! I'm always saying the exact same thing.

Richard W. Boone said...

Portrait Professional is like virtually everything else in life: It's okay to use it in moderation.

Lenny said...

I lurk on one of the photography forums and have been surprised at the comments and recommendation concerning the use (overuse) of post processing. While it has it's place, what good is an image that is so over-processed that it isn't a realistic representation of the subject? I totally agree with you Jeff!

Beverley Pohlner said...

Total agreement Jeff, and so glad that you have brought this to the fore. We need to accept each other as we are, and real beauty comes from within, and a good photographer can see this and bring it out.

Anonymous said...

ENTIRELY AGREE. This is the problem I have when I do Portrait Photography. The clients are ALWAYS asking me to be a plastic surgeon & I'm NOT. I've turned down working with a lot of folks because of this.
Kueen

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you, Jeff. I'm sure at some point you have seen this video from Dove: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XF66Ku4a9U

Anonymous said...

I think that the point of the ad is to show what the software CAN do, not necessarily what it SHOULD do. I occasionally use this software and I just turn off the face sculpting features and use the skin softening features as well as eye and teeth brightening, etc. just as I would when retouching manually. Any software can overdo effects and it is up to the photographer to use it properly.

K.J.Nitthilan said...

I too agree but in that case the photo taken by yourself has hidden certain natural features of the person like the skin smoothing part. So its just that where do we draw a line and say this is fine and this is not.

Mike Kutz said...

I completely agree...but I'll take the topic further and apply it to other subjects...particulary landscapes. I don't have a problem with artistic expression but post-processing has overshadowed knowlege and composition; if you can't get the light the way you envision the image, just add it using software.

Lori Locke said...

It's like anything else, but I would have to say that most young (and old) women want to look their best! Sure it can go too far, but used correctly, it only enhances facial features, and my clients love it!!!

Colleen Logan said...

I own the software and I absolutely agree with you. I turn off the facial sculpture and select the "prominent spots only" in skin smoothing. Usually I use it to brighten the eyes a bit and remove blemishes.

Colleen Logan said...

I have this software and I totally agree with you. I always turn off the facial sculpture control and select "only prominent spots" in skin smoothing. I brighten the eyes a bit and slightly whiten teeth (sometimes). I read once an article by a photographer who said he only removes something that will be gone in a week or two (blemishes, scratches, cuts). I follow that rule of thumb... if it's temporary, I remove it otherwise leave it alone.

Dont wanna embarass customers said...

All, I have this software and use it a lot. It DOES have the ability to completely transform a "mediocre" look into one that is more "regal". Only a very poor editor would ever transform anyone like the ad in the magazine shows. You have to remember that this is an ADVERTISEMENT. If they only showed meager changes, no one would buy the software! Bravo, Portrait Professional!
Jeff, i love you man, but you gotta come down off your high horse a bit.

Richard Samuel said...

Sir, I do agree with you. I am following you and you inspired me in photography. First thing I learnt from you is shoot what your eyes see and I believe using such software for this purpose will not make anybody a good photographer

Danielle Rabbat said...

Thank you for this! I agree with it 100% and I think a lot of my clients would be offended if I touched them up to that extent. They have gone way overboard!

Achim said...

Well, while I'm totally with you concerning "real" portraits we should keep in mind that it's an ad...

I'm using this software not for "big" portraits but for concert photos etc. I can clean the skin very fast and easily. The face sculpting features are very useful in that kind of photography as most times they would be noticeable: I'd get some egg formed microphones...

But I see also a good thing in that over exaggerated photos in the ads: "normal" women could easily see that they could be transformed in a glamour girl and come to the conclusion that glamour girls in reality look like them...

Anonymous said...

I see no problem for a software maker to advertise that their software has the following abilities.

It is a little more blunt than normal, but consider that they go against giants like Adobe - they could do to make some noise.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, changing someone's basic facial structure to the point that it looks like another person is just wrong. It's great software and if used wrong you can get these plastic looking results. I use it, but turn off the face sculpting feature and tone down the effects. It's a quick way to retouch a photo and I'm not very good in photoshop, I'm a photographer, not a photoshop guru.

Beverly Everson said...

I totally agree with you!

Rebecca Downes said...

I actually used this a couple years ago to see how well it would work and quickly stopped because I was afraid it would offend / hurt someone’s feelings. I agree that a little retouching is fine, but when it actually changes a person’s appearance it's gone too far. Portrait photography should capture the true image, not manipulate it.

Judi Whileman said...

I completely agree with you Jeff. I do own a copy of the software and I use it to make minor adjustments to images such as the ones you have previously mentioned.I believe that we are Photographers who capture an image of the true person, we are not miracle workers. Images in the media are constantly being fiddled with and this is why young girls and boys are suffering with bulimia, as they try to become something they can never be.

Linda said...

I completely agree with you. I love portrait professional to clean up skin and even out the tones. However, I have my settings with the face and mouth resculpting turned off because I want the person to still look like themselves--some some other person. I want their friends and family to actually think that this is a nice photo of them, not look at it and say this looks nothing like you.

Annie said...

Thanks so much for this Jeff... I had just finished reading an article about 'professionally' retouched portraits and was in a complete state of confusion!
Once I opened your blog though, I calmed down and you gave me back my confidence to stick with my instincts. I totally agree, we are hired to photograph people, not create another reason for them to hate their real selves!

Beverly Hills Facelift Doctor said...

This blog is fantastic; what you show us is very interesting and is really good written. It’s just great!!

Kathy Winter said...

Great blog post. I cringe every time I see those very same ads.

Marc Blazek said...

I live and work in Korea and on the resume you must include a photo. So the photo is an economic reality if you get short listed or not, here in Korea they are really crazy about the outer self. It really surprised me because I thought they would be more spiritual .

Anonymous said...

I too agree but in that case the photo taken by yourself has hidden certain natural features of the person like the skin smoothing part. So its just that where do we draw a line and say this is fine and this is not.

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Maru Photography said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly.
A very good article.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jeff,

I am also totally agreed with you we should never think about such like soft wares.
Great blog as always thank you for such like posts

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