Photoshop’s Slippery Slope

Taking Back the Art of Real Photography…

When my bambinos let me, i.e., when they’re not tugging at me to get on with the business of being their mom, I enjoy playing in Photoshop. It’s amazing! It can take out entire buildings, blur backgrounds, correct white balance issues and fix color saturations. It can even make you look 20 years younger and 50 pounds lighter. That’s cool, isn’t it? Or is it?

I think a great number of photographers take Photoshop and postproduction too far. My mom is my mom; I have no desire to look at a fake, wrinkle-free version of her with smooth skin, perky, fat lips and no rolls around her belly—unless it was from 30 years ago. She earned those wrinkles and rolls, and as a photographer, it’s my job to let her to keep them. Most importantly, it’s my job to help my clients see how beautiful they are, just as they are…not photoshopped (fake verb) to hell and back.

I have a process for my RAW images and here it is: I fix what people do not see when they’re having a conversation with you. And, I remove what isn’t ordinarily there. Fever blisters? Gone. Blemishes? Gone. Moles and freckles? Stay. Necklines? Slightly smoothed, but not completely gone. Why? Because people generally don’t see wrinkles on your neck when they ‘re looking at you. Skin? Only slightly smoothed, and I do mean ever so slightly. Why? Because digital photography (when shooting in RAW) is crisp, sharp, and it can be harsh. It can capture every pore on a person’s face. No one’s eyes are that critical, so there’s no reason to cement that harshness in a photograph that will be around FOR.EVER.

I started in this business having lots of fun in postproduction: I removed buildings; I removed pieces of paper that I found distracting; I even removed toys that were the wrong color in certain images. Like so many, I went down the slippery slope of Photoshop addiction and pushed boundaries to see how far I could go. I changed images into total fakeness—some call it art, I call it bull. I am a recovering Photoshop addict and I have changed. Seriously, I saw a painful future for my kids as they look through old photographs from their childhood. In 20 years, they will want to see their bedrooms as they are today. They’ll want to see our backyard as it is, strewn with plastic toys from one end to the other. They’ll smile when they see our messy kitchen as they recall hectic dinners, brotherly squabbles, lots of laughter… even a certain wooden dish will bring back memories. Wet towels and bath toys on the bathroom floor will transport them back to their nightly splash parties. Our vehicles and hairstyles will tell them the year the photo was taken. And all of that information will bring them back to this time…these amazing moments of imperfection when life is so busy that there’s no way to dot every i’ or cross every “t.” There is no way to make this life perfect, and because of the imperfections, they’re having what we hope is a damn good childhood. They will need to see us, their parents, as real people. They won’t want to see perfect, wrinkle-free, plastic people that they don’t even recognize.

In lifestyle photos, I won’t even remove sweat from brows anymore. That sweat brings us one step closer to the actual moment and makes it almost tangible. Our kids deserve to see real moments when all they have left of us are photos. In portrait and family sessions, where people are the subjects (as opposed to bath time, play time, etc.), I manipulate backgrounds for an artistic flare, but I strive to maintain authenticity in people. In general, if I spend more than 15 minutes on a photo, I’ve spent too much. Beyond that amount of time and I’m back to the slippery slope of too much adding and subtracting from what’s real. When it comes to taking pictures or playing in Photoshop, I choose to take pictures. I am in this to be the best photographer I can be, not the best Photoshop artist. And I choose to keep it real for clients. Our kids deserve to hold real memories of real moments, in real photos.

Portrait with cleaned face–nose (you know how kids are), mouth, etc. Toned to black and white and manipulated background to bring attention to just my subject.
Real “lifestyle” moment between brothers. Cropped image and toned to black and white. No further edits for “perfection.” I got it right in the camera.
Real messes,  real little people…

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