The thing that I see make or break a lot of new photographer's work is their editing. I see a lot of SOOC (straight out of camera) shots that aren't too bad, but then two, three, four, or ten filters later, the finished product has taken the image from okay, to "what the heck is wrong with this photo?" Color shifts, vignetting, skin softening, contrast adjustments, object removal, head swaps - you name it, there is probably a filter or app out there for that now.
So how do you know if the manipulations you just made were good or bad? The question I ask myself first is obvious - does it look better or worse? Then next, "Did I just take the truth out of that photo?" If I answer yes, then I ask myself, "Was it okay to just take that truth out?" Maybe you're asking what that means. Let me explain. Photography is the only form of art that can capture a real person, place, or thing. A painting is an interpretation of a person, but a photograph is a representation of a person. When you begin manipulating the photo, you change the reality that was captured in it. With every manipulation you make to a photo in post-editing, you take a bit of the reality of the photo away. I am not here to judge those that do fantasy edits and over the top manipulations - there is certainly an art to that I can appreciate, and a place for it. But as a portrait photographer, I believe my goal is to honestly capture my clients in a way that is true to who they are, but that is also flattering.
We have all seen the before and after edits of famous models and actors, but the question lately has been whether or not the edits have gone too far. Photographers and editors have created an unrealistic image of women because of the manipulations that have become standard - elongating body parts, nipping in waists, bulging eyes, ballooning breasts, smoothing skin to a buttery soft consistency, adding hair - these are just basic edits we all see on a daily basis now when looking at celebrity photos. What I've come to realize in the past few years, is that my clients are now expecting the same over the top beauty editing. Of course we all want to look our best! But my question is this - do you REALLY want to look like someone you are not?
Let's look at a photo I took and talk about the editing progression (note: this is a beauty session. I do more manipulating than I would to any other type of session I shoot. I picked a beauty image so you can really see a difference in the editing):
From left to right: SOOC - this photo is exactly what I captured in camera, not one bit of editing done
Next over from left: This is how I would edit a photo for my client to view and purchase at my studio. I have enhanced the skin, added some volume to the top of her hair. brought down her shoulders just a touch, and actually reduced the size of her breasts just a touch. You can see a definite difference from SOOC, but it definitely still looks like Rachel.
Next over: I would call this a "beauty edit". On top of the previous edits, I have added even more hair volume, burned her cheeksbones in to narrow her face (just like makeup contouring), angled her shoulders down to elongate her neck, shortened the length of her chin, and tucked in her waist. Rachel is definitely looking curvier and thinner through the face.
Image to Right: We are getting to Barbie proportions here people! I nipped in her waist even more, thinned her arms, added shadowing, angled her shoulders, and rounded out her breasts.
There's no doubt, Rachel looks amazing in the image to the right. But the question is, is that really Rachel anymore? Look at the left and look at the right.....you tell me.
How about another one....oh gosh, its me. Forgive me for that. You have to use one of your best friends and yourself when you're doing this kind of manipulation! Plus, who knows me better than me to know if the manipulation went too far?
Left: SOOC, au naturale
Next over from left: If I were editing this to use at my studio, if I were my own client, this would be it. I have smoothed out my skin, added contrast to my eyes, and gotten rif of my dark under eye circles (too many late nights editing I guess) Definitely a better version of me, but be nonetheless.
Next over: My beauty edit - in addition to the above, I burned in my cheekbones to enhance my bone structure, burned in my nose to slim it down, removed stray hairs and added shadowing to forehead to reduce the size, brought my chin up to reduce the length of it, and filled in the cheeks to round out the shape. Me, like ten years ago on my best day ever.
Image to right: This is my "doll" edit. I have increased the size of my eyes and lips, added shadowing to the right to elongate the neck area, brought my shoulders down to also elongate the neck, tucked my nose in to make it smaller, and lengthened my eyelashes. Gosh guys, that just doesn't look anything like me anymore!!!! Not one bit. Is it a pretty person, yes! But is it me? No!
Let's get honest and real here.
I spend a good 4-12 hours editing a session (sometimes more and sometimes less for various reasons). When you see your images, they have been manipulated. Lately I've been hearing a lot of, "You'll edit these photos before I get the print, right?" Look at the left image, then look at the image to its right - that is how much editing I have already done, if not even a touch more from time to time. That's a pretty big difference right there! Anything more, and you start to lose the honesty of who you are. But our society is training your eyes to expect more - absolute perfection.
I post this so you can start an honest conversation with yourself, and hopefully with me. How far is too far? What are your expectations? Lets talk guys - comment here, head to my Facebook page ( http://www.facebook.com/perceptionstudio ), email me email@example.com with your thoughts.