Is Photoshop Bad For Business? (NSFW)

Is Photoshop Bad For Business? (NSFW)

The use of Photoshop by companies is changing and it’s indicative of a much deeper trend. Earlier his year, American Eagle stopped retouching the models in their 'Aerie' lingerie shoots. They claim that the 9% sales increase last quarter is directly related to this position. This is an unprecedented commercial statement, and has wide implications for photographers, videographers and post production specialists everywhere.

 

To Retouch Or Not To Retouch…That’s Not Really The Question

There has been contention over the use of “retouching” in photography for over 100 years. This early photograph of Lincoln created all sorts of fuss when it was revealed that the Lincoln pictured here was actually a composite image.

This shot of Abe Lincoln in 1860 turned out to be an early composite image....

Lincoln's head was simply added to the body of politician John Calhoun, pictured here

 

However, there has never been more of a focus on the use of retouching in commercial imagery than today.

The concept of unattainable beauty is one that incites people to anger very quickly. In the same week as American Eagle relate their 9% sales increase on their Aerie lingerie line to using unretouched imagesVictoria’s Secret is under fire for using ads with a slogan “The Perfect Body”  - something largely seen as completely unattainable for most women (the average woman's dress size in the US is a 14) and where supermodels and retouching have been used hand in hand to define what is seen as perfect.

In fact the backlash has been so significant that as of yesterday, Victoria's Secret decided the change the campaign slogan from "A Perfect Body" to "A Body For Everybody".

This backlash against “unattainable beauty” has became a (perhaps simplified) argument of the pro's and con's of actually doing any form of retouching to images. For the last few years, commercial campaigns, celeb shoots and editorials have all heavily promoted natural images that haven’t been retouched.

Jessica Simpson, no retouching, 2010

Kim Kardashian, no retouching, Life & Style

Cate Blanchett, no retouching, Intelligent Life

 

The point is that it’s not a new concept, but there seems to be a definite direction the industry is going, driven by strong, growing public demand and sentiment.

What Is American Eagle Doing That’s Different?

In January this year, American Eagle decided to take a clear position on the use of Photoshop in it’s Aerie underwear line. Jenny Altman, the Aerie’s style and fit expert, explained the thinking behind the unconventional approach

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTeZZnyC31Y

This is the first time that a company is going on record to say it’s sales increases are due to the use of unretouched images in it's commercial campaign.

Tattoos left in as part of the campaign

Some of the things retouching in campaigns will typically do away with - a little belly, armpits and the natural crease around the waist/hip area, all left in as part of the campaign to feature no retouching

Why Are Things Different Now?

Reality TV has become a mainstream global phenomenon. With the demand for “reality” and the frustration with constant marketing by companies selling the unattainable, it’s no wonder that there is a perfect storm of demand for greater  reality in the imagery that is pushed on us.

This trend is driving momentum to see more “real” and unretouched images in the products we are being sold. It’s different now because companies like American Eagle are taking note and changing their business practices in ways even that a year or so back would have been unheard of.

What is truly fascinating about this is that it’s an argument that's going to be happening in the video world too very soon too. Video retouching/manipulation technique is a massive growth area. The new critically acclaimed Michael Keaton movie, demonstrates just how much is happening in the world of video post/retouch/adjustment work (skip to about the 30 second mark)

The role of the “Digital Intermediate” in film (effectively a “video Photoshop” person) is exploding since the mid 2000s. In 2005, 50% of all Hollywood films used a DI, and this had grown to 70% by 2007. Today, entire films like Birdman are reliant on them to bring the director’s reality to fruition.

Video retouch tools and plug ins are making their way into the hands of anyone with a reasonably fast home computer as this Imagenomic Portraiture for Adobe Premiere video shows:

Money Talks, The Rest Walks

Once you move away from the moral argument of whether or not retouching pushes the concept of unattainable beauty, and closer to the discussion on if there is market demand to see images that have not been retouched, then you really could see momentum build. Thanks to good old capitalism, dollars and cents have a funny way of making things happen quickly.

This is where things get interesting (and obviously where American Eagle are positioning themselves) because we have a clear line drawn of how the “natural” look of an unretouched photo is a unique selling proposition, and others are capitalizing on it.

Last year saw the launch of Verily a magazine with a strict no-Photoshop policy and a tag line that states it’s “less of who you should be, more of who you are”. Verily has grown from nothing to a not-insignificant 30,000+ Facebook fans in a relatively short amount of time.

According to this interview, the co-founders of Verily, Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm, believe that "the unique features of women, whether crows feet, freckles, or a less-than-rock-hard body, are aspects that contribute to women's beauty and should be celebrated -- not shamed, changed or removed."

What’s Better For Business?

If you look the news American Eagle’s sales uptick, most are saying they aren’t sure if the rise is due to the fact their lingerie campaign images aren’t retouched. That’s really besides the point.

The point is, the sales have increased. Using “natural” images has either a) struck a chord with women and are causing an uptick in sales or b) the story had enough good PR to drive more traffic to the site, which is causing an uptick in sales.

The bottom line is that there has been an increase in sale. Whether it’s directly attributable to the natural images of the models on the site doesn’t actually matter. The concept around it was enough to generate increased demand.

Is This The End For Commercial Retouching?

Probably the opposite. What is far more likely is greater demand (at least in the commercial world) to utilize Photoshop in ways that make people look more natural. If this is what is driving consumers, more companies will want a more “natural” look – and Photoshop can of course deliver that.

This really isn’t such a bad thing. Just as your sliders help exercise control over whatever you’re doing to your layers and pixels, and 100% all the time isn't necessarily the best way forward, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that heavily or over retouched images are seen as undesirable. Too much Photoshop can kill a good image quickly, and certainly ramming the concept of unattainable beauty down any young impressionable child's throat can't be good for anyone.

Will we see the likes of Victoria’s Secret adopting an “all natural” no Photoshop look? Time will tell, but one thing is certain – less is definitely more than ever before, and the public does seem to be interested in the idea of less retouching and more “reality”.

 

What do you think? Do you prefer the more natural look to retouched images? Does it have any effect on your purchases? For those of you who have children, what are your thoughts? Drop a line in the comments below.

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16 Comments

David Vaughn's picture

I find it funny how Aerie still uses models who don't look that far from being Photoshopped anyways, and then pats themselves on the back because they left the tattoos in.

Bravo. Activists of the year. 10/10. Nobel Peace Prize.

It may (or may not since their increase in sales could be caused by several things such as the "look at how un-Photoshopped our images are" media hype instead of the actual images themselves) have increased their sales, but they could probably cool it a bit with the premature self-congratulating on their supposed revolution.

Matt Owen's picture

I think you nailed this one. They may not be retouching but they're still projecting an ideal and perhaps unattainable (for most people) image.

I think the "most people" is the key, though. Removing skin folds that everyone has is not just unrealistic for "most people", it's simply not realistic at all— for anyone.

David Vaughn's picture

Or stretchmarks. I don't mean stretchmarks from being obese, but just stretchmarks in general. I have stretchmarks on my thigh, for example, because of my 5 inch growth spurt when I was 14. And I'm not even that tall. I'm like 5'11.

You cannot tell me that NONE of these 5'10-6'1 tall women who are in these ads don't have any stretchmarks from puberty or a young adult growth spurt.

But then again,it seems like they cast models who look "the best" without Photoshop, anyways, so it's not surprising that the worst physical blemish is "slightly wrinkly skin from bad posture."

Dana Goldstein's picture

It's a gimmick, no different than the occasional "plus-size" model or Vogue remembering every few years that there are women over 40. They do it mainly so that they can very publicly pat themselves on the back for their "answering the needs of real women." And, well, there's no such thing as bad publicity. PS David it's "incite" (to encourage) not "insight" (which is a noun not a verb). Please edit.

Spike S's picture

Regarding the comment on word usage, there are quite a few grammatical and spelling errors in this article. I counted 18. Fstoppers should either hire a proofreader or have someone on the staff doing a good job going over the copy. It makes articles look amateur. I work as a writer as well as photographer, so maybe I'm more aware of the problems, but they aren't difficult to fix.

Shane Castle's picture

Yep, plus awkward language. Hardly anyone knows how to use the apostrophe correctly anymore, it seems, and is clueless about the possessive of "it".

As to throwing up one's arms and running in circles about Photoshop and retouching, well, I wouldn't worry too much if I were a retouching expert.

Tim Fitzwater's picture

We'll always retouch a bit but I hope the trend of not going overboard continues. Plus it saves us all time!

Scott Spellman's picture

It's a good message, easily visualized, and a good way to separate from VS. However, claiming the marketing campaign as the sole factor to change sales is just more marketing hype.

Its far easier for the Aerie brand to focus on the temporary success rather than the other challenges faced by the parent company AEO Management. Reported sales may be up 9% Q2 for that brand, so its easy for them to shout about that success rather than talk about the -8% sales for the company, or the 25 Aerie brand stores scheduled to be closed this year as shown in their financial reports. Initial Q3 reports show -5% sales across all brands.

Consumers might buy the hype, but every real marketing and sales professional knows its still just smoke and mirrors.

Is Photoshop bad for business? That depends on what your business is, doesn't it? Selling beer? Of course it's not bad for business. Selling clothes to women? Yeah, it might be bad for your business.

Anonymous's picture

So I'm curious.. does a car get blamed for DUI accidents? Do you ever see the headline "Toyota Corolla hits two pedestrians" or would the headline read "Drunk man hits two pedestrians"?

I am so sick of photoshop being in these headlines, as if Photoshop automatically smoothes skin and shaves 5-20lbs off of each person as soon as you open it.

How about "Is editing photos bad for business?" Surely you cannot think that if I use photoshop to color correct or crop, that the image has been photoshopped and is bad for business.

/rant

Spike S's picture

Mark's point is really important. I'd use "retouching" rather than "editing." Photoshop, or something similar, will always be good for business. Lighting needs to be fixed, makeup sloppiness needs to be fixed, problems in a background need to be fixed, bad pixels need to be fixed, text needs to be added. Photoshop is necessary for this. This is about one way in which Photoshop is used, not Photoshop.

Vladimir Ladev's picture

Everything is a fluctuation. What I mean is, Editing was present even in the old days of film, it just progressed and progressed to the inevitable limit of acceptance. Now it is just going down the curve towards a more natural feel and look. It's not the end for Editing and Photoshop, just finetuning the acceptable limit.

Ralph Berrett's picture

I don't think this is one overwhelming factor. A big part of this is the alchemy or if you prefer the mystery of the darkroom is gone. In way it is like the wizard of oz being exposed behind the curtain so there is no magic like there was in the past.

I am also going to say something that will cause a little heat. We are dealing with a new generation of photographers in which the capture is secondary and post is the priority. In the film days you had to capture the image in camera the way you needed it. Today you here those most dreaded words,"I will just fix that in post".

I think what we are seeing is something of a rebellion against over processed images (Can we say, "Calvin Klein", I knew you could") and the idealistic image of beauty. I think that this new politically correct view of the human image is just as faulty as the old idealistic version. Also what was defined as a homogenized way of viewing beauty has changed drastically.

Every society has in their own way tried to define their version of the ideal human image image so why should photography be different.

In way I have to laugh a little here when we say "Is photoshop Bad for Business". Because every modern publication uses photoshop for their prepress. Also it should be pointed out that the EU has been cracking down on photoshop use especially with makeup ads.

In the short term I think it force more focus on capture and also we will see a battle of semantics here. For example in the fstoppers post is "Is Photoshop Dead? An Interview with Dave Doeppel" in which the discussion has been more about m ovine photoshop functions like skin smoothing to Lightroom.

The thing is there a great difference in using lighting and posing than photoshop to make the subject look. Does this mean the end of super models I doubt it.

Paulo Macedo's picture

Photoshop is as bad for business as photographing is on the first place.
If the results on the camera are bad, the "photoshopping" will be bad too!
Now there is this "purist" cult, no meat, no sex, no photoshop. Why don't people bother more with themselves, and what their photography looks like, and less with the Photoshop?!?
I will give you a great example, Michael Woloszynowicz, the results of camera just look amazing, all it's done next is some stray hair removal, and some skin things that don't even change the person traits.
I don't remember if it was here or at petapixel, some article regarding retouching in the 30's. They did it back then!! It's a normal thing!
Photoshop is not making models go skinny, fashion world is!

Spy Black's picture

I find it amusing that so much emphasis is placed on whether an image is retouched or not. This is advertising. This has been going on long since before computers. The only thing different today is sheer amount of it. When you have that much junk being schlepped, something's bound to blow. There was bad airbrushing back in the day as there is bad Photoshopping today. It just wasn't in the public conscience. Nothing is going to change, because products and the models wearing them need to look perfect to sell. So don't lose any sleep on this, your retouching jobs are quite secure.