Photography Photoshop

Confessions of a Photoshop User

retouched portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

I just read this article over at the Fstoppers blog about how the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority banned an ad by Lancome because Julia Robert’s skin in it was Photoshopped too much and represented ‘false advertising.’

The question raised on the blog was, how do retouchers and photographers feel about this ban by the Agency, and “How would it affect the way we do our jobs or how we look at things aesthetically, creatively and socially?”

I use Photoshop. I use it for retouching photos of models for print ads on fashion magazines. But notice how many tutorials are out there for making sure retouching preserves skin texture, detail, and cautioning us against making the skin look like plastic. As of this writing, 49,700 tutorials online talk about how to retouch skin so that it looks like real skin. Like me, a lot of photographers are concerned about not making retouched skin look unreal in photographs.

An unretouched photo can look beautiful. The model’s skin in the photo below was unretouched because I had virtually no Photoshop skills when I took it. But you know what? The model was 18 years old at the time the photo was taken; she had flawless skin, and besides, she had charming freckles.

no retouching portrait copyright Aloha Lavina
Unretouched portrait. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

But the truth of the matter is, if you’re a photographer who wants to get an editorial commission, you use Photoshop. You use Photoshop because the industry standards for beautiful ask you to remove blemishes. You use Photoshop because no one wants to see a zit smack in the middle of a makeup ad. You use Photoshop because flawlessly retouched skin in your look book gets clients to call you and book you.

retouched portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.
The trick is to apply Photoshop without it looking like you did. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

So like every struggling editorial photographer, I study Photoshop. I browse those thousands of tutorials and even made a tutorial of my workflow. I read Scott Kelby’s books. And I use Photoshop because if I use it 10,000 times, each time I get a little bit better at making digitally enhanced skin in photos look like I didn’t retouch it.

If it were your job, wouldn’t you?

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Why You Should Shoot Like Johnny Depp
Sell an Experience, Not Just Photos
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Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures






  1. Quite often people talking about a ‘good’ picture is a picture that doesn’t required editing and presented as it is taken. As i’m new to photography (6 months), i’m curious on how most of the photographer, especially professional like you, respond to that. Personally i dont agree with that.

  2. Hi Shane,
    Personally I think if you work in the digital medium, it’s unavoidable to process your photos; it’s part of the medium itself. Of course it depends on the use of the photo. I would not do too much to a photo that’s used to report events, for example, like in journalism. But as far as editorial ads, most clients will require you to process the photo quite extensively. I think the rule of thumb for me is ‘tasteful’ processing–not over the top, not unrealistic.
    Thanks for your comment! I wish you well as you start learning photography.


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