Contrary to popular belief, retouching (aka photo-shopping, air-brushing or non-invasive cosmetic surgery as many celebs prefer to call it) is not just used to perpetuate an unrealistic notion of beauty for fashion magazines and the like. It is in fact one of the professional portrait photographer’s key weapons in the fight against unwanted bits and bobs. To give this some historical context, retouching portraits has been in existence right back since Victorian times using glass plate prints when curves and other features were accentuated by hand in the editing process.
Okay so high end fashion photographers mincing around Hoxton in their fancy body warmers (they really do that, honest!) may have the luxury of wizard like make-up artists and Gok Wan trained stylists, however most portrait photographers would be grateful for a handful of baby wipes and a hair brush! We often end up having to do some of the work after the sitter has gone home… crank open the mighty Photoshop!
With our specialist genre of portraiture in particular, babies and children’s portraits, Photoshop is both a gift from the digital gods, boldly cleaning up crusty noses, milky moustaches and drools of slobber everywhere, but also an essential, painstakingly slow and often hugely under appreciated part of our workflow.
Before & After Retouching
“Why are you photographers all so $$$$$ expensive?” is often a jolly taunt banded around the pub after a few sherberts. Oh how we love such banter! “Because we like fast cars and have to pay for our drug fuelled parties somehow”, is how we’d love to respond. The fact is, most of our work is never seen by the client and the rather tedious and unglamorous time spent in post-production makes up the vast bulk of this unseen workload.
Yes I could, and indeed many photographers do, exploit automated photoshop plugins that at a touch of a button magically transform all that enter into beautifully presented beings (more sophisticated versions of the apps found on mobile phones) fit for any glossy magazine, however our particular taste for retouching is considerably more subtle. We believe that our clients deserve professionally hand edited portraits that actually physically resemble their child. We’ve all seen those portraits where the skin detail has been softened to a rather characterless plastic mush. We celebrate the detail!
This lighter and considerably more involved touch does come at a cost though… time, plus at a risk of sounding pompous… skill.
We don’t wish to get into a longwinded rant about the ethics surrounding the use of heavy handed retouching, as luckily we work with naturally beautiful creatures that need no help from us. Subtle, restrained and professional retouching not only removes non-permanent blemishes that would otherwise distract from a child’s natural features, but is also a fantastic opportunity for an artistic photographer to add another layer of creativity to their already unique style and approach. Our rule of thumb means permanent features stay untouched such as moles, birthmarks, scars etc, but bogeys, snot and slobber are not a good look, especially not magnified in your feature piece above the fireplace!