Should Photographers Make Subjects Look Like Magazine Models?

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How far is too far when it comes to slimming, smoothing, and altering your subjects in Photoshop? As photographers we decide how far to go every time we edit photos.

My personal Photoshop retouching philosophy is to edit temporary things if a customer wants, such as reducing acne and smoothing out skin, but to leave the permanent ones like freckles, scars, and overall appearance.

To me, liquifying a shirt where the fabric bulges or an arm where a wedding dress dents in because of the angle is acceptable. Changing a person’s facial structure or taking 50 pounds off a person by liquifying the weight into Photoshop oblivion is wrong — it indicates you feel they are imperfect and look better thinner or different. We should not make people look super human. Most of us are not cover models (and even most models get lots of editing help to look how they do on the cover of a magazine).

It is not our job to change people’s appearances. Everyone is beautiful in their own way.  Scars, freckles, thin or thick hair, our curves and even our weight define our character. As photographers, we should aim to document life and preserve moments and memories. While we want people to look their best, we should not do it at the expense of their identity.

Here’s a short You Tube clip by BuzzFeed that really helps this hit home.  Women were given physical and then digital makeovers. And in the end, they preferred their own imperfect realities (who they actually are) to the “perfect” versions that the photographers and editors created.

Remember this next time time you edit photos. What do you think?

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 Should Photographers Make Subjects Look Like Magazine Models?

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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5 Comments and 1 Replies



  1. 1

    “The ideal just doesn’t exist.” This is the reason why I do not retouch people in Photoshop or Lightroom. What you see on my photos is who you really are as a person. Beautiful, just the way you are. YOU are what makes the photo beautiful. I love what the girl with the curly hair said, “Instead of looking at other things and trying to aspire to be something else, we should just be comfortable in who we are and just try to be our BEST selves.”

  2. 2
    Sarah says:

    I agree and do not feel it’s right to start taking off pounds or changing facial structures, etc. However, as a professional custom photographer, that is what people are paying for. When they ask me to remove their acne blemishes or a bruise or to help whiten their teeth a bit to keep the focus of their yellow teeth then you bet I’m gonna do that! That is my service and that is one reason to hire a custom photographer. If they wanted to get photographed and leave their pimples, scratch, bruise, yellow teeth, etc because “that’s who they are” then why pay the extra money for a professional when there is such little post processing involved. Instead, go to the mall and get your photos taken there, where they will shoot and burn you a CD that same day.

  3. 3

    Where’s the video link!? I can’t see it :\
    I agree with you on your opinion of how far is too far. Although, for my own use (and practice, and mere amusement), I will admit that I sometimes go wayyyy further than I should. But, the client never sees those edits. ;)

  4. 4

    As a professional headshot and portrait photographer this is a dilemma I face a lot of the time….I always advise my professional actors who are getting head shots that if they do too much retouching when they walk into an audition and the casting director is looking at their headshot, they will not be happy if they look totally different.
    I always remove blemishes, bruises, scratches and ask the client about moles or discolorations….as for freckles…I leave them but find a lot of retouching plug ins like portraiture and Portrait Professional make that hard…
    Retouching a fatty back or a bulging sweater…..I do but no sculpting of the body to look pounds thinner and never sculpt the face….although I have been known to even out the size of eyes in some people. I learned a slimming trick from a workshop once where I simply transform the width of the photo to 95% and the person is almost imperceptibly slimmer, I don’t tell my clients I have done this and you can only do it with a single person in the photo.
    It’s refreshing to see that people prefer real to fake…..thanks for this video!

  5. 5

    There are five things I keep in mind. 1 Is the imperfection temporary and gone next week 2. Could it have been covered with makeup base. 3 Are the blemishes being accented by the high definition camera or the angle of the light. 4. Did the client request that a blemish(s) be removed. 5. Is the pose or the angle of the shot making the face/body appear wider than in real life. If the answer to these is yes, then I retouch the photograph. For example a pimple, a wart the customer hates, deep pores accented by the light and HD and finally when a person leans against something that widens the hips or a pose that poofs out a cheek. I do not make people 60 look like 40, or 200lb women look like 120lbs. Or fat guys look muscular (except me. j/k) Now reality check… I do not get paid enough nor do I have the time to make the dramatic changes that are shown on the video. :-)



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