To Edit or Not to Edit? Mum Raises a Debate by Retouching Her Baby Daughter

To Edit or Not to Edit? Mum Raises a Debate by Retouching Her Baby Daughter

Retouching and photography have always gone hand-in-hand, but what are the possible implications, if any, for publicly sharing retouched images of your baby daughter?

For better or worse, there is no doubt that the rise of social media has impacted our lives. Equally, the instantaneous nature of it has raised questions about privacy or lack thereof, and what is acceptable to be shared and shown to the wider public when it comes to personal photographs. But, privacy concerns aside, what about airbrushing photographs of your baby daughter? 

Danielle Wall, a U.K. blogger and mum of beautiful 11-month-old baby Isla Rose, admits that she airbrushes her daughter's social media photographs that are posted as a thanks for local businesses sending free items for her baby to wear and use. Wall admits that her baby is photogenic but brands deserve to receive carefully staged and retouched images, albeit with minimal changes, such as "removing blemishes like milk spots, redness, or a runny nose," so as not to completely alter her appearance but rather make the photographs appear more professional, according to The Sun newspaper.

Rose's life is being documented on her Instagram account, which Wall uses to showcase personal moments as well as to promote clothing and items Rose has received in return for posted images. Parents have always faced backlash or criticism of their chosen parenting methods, and as such the debate whether to edit or not to edit your young child's photographs is a heated one. On one hand, as a photographer you may wish to remove non-permanent distractions, such as spots or redness on the skin, in order to create a realistic yet flattering photograph of one's child, but on the other hand who's to say where's the limit?

I myself have been faced with this dilemma because sometimes babies, just like adults, have minor blemishes, and by removing those I don't drastically alter the baby's appearance but rather enhance it. One may argue that this shouldn't be done without the permission of the child, which of course is impossible, but what about commercially driven photographs? If the sole purpose of the photograph is to raise awareness of a brand and create new sales, does that become a game changer?

What are your thoughts on this subject? Have you been faced with this dilemma yourself?

Lead image by Alex Pasarelu via Unsplash, used under Creative Commons.

Anete Lusina's picture

Anete Lusina is a photographer based in West Yorkshire, UK. You'll either find her shooting weddings, documentary, or street photography across the U.K. and Europe, or perhaps doing the occasional conceptual shoot.

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I highly doubt any of the big brands like Gerber would put a baby on their marketing campaigns without retouching.

FWIW, the Sun is a rag. It's not a reputable source of news, and I don't see any indication of proper reporting.

I'm replying just to reiterate Jen's second point, in particular. The Sun is a vile outlet of anything that will sell. Journalism is bottom of their priorities. Same goes for the Daily Mail.

This is where the difference between retouching and editing become important. I understand retouching like what was described in the article but u wonder how people would feep about editing. Especially warping.

And maybe it doesnt even come into play with infants but i wonder the ethics of a mother or father warping pictures of a young daughter

I'm sorry for being uninformed, but what do you mean by warping?

I'm sure he means manipulating via "warp tool, liquify tool, etc" in photoshop to change the subjects height, weight, facial features, etc.

AKA what Trump does to his instragram photos to look thinner and his hands bigger. True facts, look it up.

Stop saying stupid things... it's damn unattractive! When you build an $8 billion empire, some of the finest Real Estate properties on the planet, in locations all over the world, then say you will become President and accomplish that as well... only Demozombies care about the size of your hands. Billionaire, President of the most powerful nation on earth and married to a Supermodel? Again, stop saying stupid things... it makes you look, well... Juvenile and Petty.

You direct me to a page that CLEARLY and by CLEARLY I mean it could not be MORE OBVIOUS that it is a biased, Trump hating website, the entire tone of the site is infected with DEMOZOMBIE spit and spew and want me to accept anything it says? For all I know, THEY altered the images or some other DEMOZOMBIE and passed it off as Trump doing it. Your suggestion is equal to me sending you to KKK.ORG to prove to you that African Americans are somehow less evolved or sending you to ATHEISTS.ORG to prove to you that Jesus was actually the son of God. Slap yourself! Snap out of it! As I said, Trump has achieved a success few people in the world ever get to experience. He does what he says, and so far has produced record employment for minorities, no period in history has this number of Americans been employed, taxes are down, stocks are up, companies are working out better trade deals, North Korea just two years ago was on the brink of nuclear war and today is on the brink of another sit down negotiation with Trump and you want to worry about the size of Trump's hands or whether or not his photos are retouched? You don't even know how petty and ridiculous you sound.

Oh yeah, that makes a ton of sense and I feel foolish for not figuring that out on my own. Thank you!

First world problems. Anyone who's upset that the mother edited (touched up) images of her daughter really needs to refocus their energy towards more productive topics. Is she liquifying the image to make the child look thinner?

This isn't a problem. This is a discussion raised by this individual on the ethics of editing photographs of a child. Please feel free to add your side of the coin to this discussion.

Well sure I agree that there is no problem here being what the mother did, but asking for a discussion on the ethics behind this story is searching for a problem. Wouldn't you agree that if something were unethical it would then be a problem? Ethics are based on moral principal.

> This isn't a problem. This is a discussion raised by this individual

The title says there's a debate. I even looked in the comments of the "article," half expecting to see back and forth discussions, throwdowns and browbeating. Nada. Plenty of snide and one-of comments, sure.

This seems like a weird thing to discuss because I find it hard to believe that there are many photographers out there NOT retouching their professional work. Like, really, who is out there saying photos (any photos) should be unedited? Professional photos are all retouched and edited. The debate is how far, which I think is a great conversation. But the photog in this article literally states it's only minor touch ups. I'm also curious why the subject being a baby makes this any different than other edits on other subjects.

I completely agree. I have never delivered anything but an edited photograph to ensure it is finished off. However, continuing this conversation about babies, I have had a client whose baby had a rather blue and red looking skin that day (and the light that day made it worse), which I of course edited as I edit any other lifestyle image with adults, but the client came back to me concerned about editing her baby's skin as she didn't want anyone to think that she's unhappy of how her baby looks in real life. To me that was definitely overthinking it (seeing as I hadn't changed baby's features) and had to explain that it's okay and looks very natural, none of her features have been altered, and really you shouldn't care what other people think because you know the baby looks exactly as she does in real life, so since then it's just something that has stuck in my mind.

This article will likely generate lots of traffic from mummy blogs and mummy forums, where flames will be released with fury. That's the advantage of making the subject "babies". Most of us commenting here, who know that retouching is the norm, are therefore not the main target audience.

The only limit to retouching is your good taste, not arbitrary factors like subject age.

Isn’t it easier to wipe off milk rest and a runny nose?
Seems to me like that mother is just saying “oh look at my baby, isn’t she adorable? What, you’re still not looking? How dare you, well here is a dilemma for you to make you look at my baby whether you want it or not.”

You just went from 0-60 real fast.

I shoot newborns and one year old a lot. Parents wants skin retouch. On new born skin can have a lot of red irritated skin and marks. I do not do a lot of skin smoothing and it should look natural.
Just look what newborn photographers do.
Actually I am a little offended by how newborns are put into all kind of positions and situations, I think it lacks respect for a little person. But if needed, and most of the time, I remove redness and do retouch. The camera and light does make it worse then how it is, so absolutely yes.

Basic retouching is basic retouching. I don't understand the debate.

What are you talking about? I have seen no debate on this subject and nobody is debating it over at the sun. Maybe that one client you had experience with. The debate is whether you should have your baby be an Instagram model, otherwise nobody is having a heated argument over at the Sun.

From what I've seen online, the most vitriolic judgemental hate that gets thrown at mothers of young children is from other mothers of young children.

So most of the usual Fstoppers readership is probably not the target audience for this article. Fstoppers is just meant to be a clickable online location for this article, which will be used for clicks from the mummy blogs and forums, which is where it will really fan a lot of outrage.

My thoughts, let 'em be. What and how she is retouching is nothing extreme.

I don't think this could actually be classified as a "dilemma". :P

Don't anybody retouch a photo of me. Just let me touch up my makeup before the photograph...

I once watched a tutorial by Chelsea Northrup, retouching a portrait of her teenage daughter. It made me feel weird. She was removing pimples, some purple below her eyes because she was tired, yet saying she wanted to keep a natural look. She didn't polish everything, but I still felt uneasy watching a mother retouching her child's picture. On some level it's like not accepting who your child is. But she did it without a second thought, which scared me a little bit. Maybe I'm being overdramatic, but that's how I felt. I mean if there is a grain of rice on her cheek, sure remove it. But so much done on a family portrait, that's just for you and immediate friends maybe, that's just weird.

The non-issue issue that seems so popular to the photography police.

It's pretty simple. It's her child, it's her photograph, she can do what ever she wants with it.

Unless you have a contractual agreement to not retouch a photo, it's nobody's business. If you do have an agreement, it's only the business of the people you have an agreement with.

No other opinions are of relevance.

Retouching is like water... a pint quenches one's thirst, 16 pints results in a drowning. Drink up my friends... drink up!

Ridiculous baloney. Debate? What right-minded parent, given the choice, would leave boogers and snot in their kids photos? When you have kids in school, cold / flu season lasts from August to June. And no, I don't have the order of those months mixed up.