The thought process of skin retouching seems to vary between photographers. Many favor a smooth, glossy effect, some like it natural, and others don’t retouch at all. So, where do we draw the line? There’s no right or wrong answer, but what do most people prefer?
I recently stumbled across the below Neutrogena advertisement. The skincare company promise their new Hydro Boost gel cream will have your skin glowing, and if their commercial is anything to go by, you’ll be glowing so radiantly you’ll barely look human. The video features Actress Kirsten Bell, who of course is all smiles about the way her skin looks. Except, in trying to prove their product smooths your skin, the team responsible for processing the video have taken it a step too far, in my opinion. It got me thinking: how much should we be retouching skin?
We all know images undergo retouching, but articles detailing heavier usage within video have been cropping up aplenty in recent months. Last year, Meghan Trainor demanded her own video be removed from Youtube after realizing it featured a digitally altered version of her waist, making her appear thinner. It’s clear this kind of retouching is becoming accessible to teams working on video projects even without the budgets of a blockbuster film; more often than not, many of the video retouching scandals of late have stemmed from relatively inexpensive pop music videos.
The rule I live by in regards to skin retouching specifically is to only remove non-permanent features of a person’s face, that being spots, bruises, fluff, lipstick stains, etc. Moles, freckles, and dimples all stay. It might seem like rational logic, but I’ve seen plenty of photographers remove all of these, despite the fact they’re a permanent fixture of the model’s face. It all contributes to the notion that somehow having freckles and so on is a flaw. Let’s not even talk about the Match.com campaign featuring a freckled woman with the slogan: "If you don’t like your imperfections, someone else will." I’m not against taming wrinkles or facial creases, but all within reason. There’s a fine line between making someone feel good by tidying up, and rendering them unrecognizable.
A few months ago, I promised myself that in order to evolve as a photographer, I’d continue to experiment in Photoshop and look at other post-processing techniques that would either speed up my current process or improve it. Since then, I’ve discovered a multitude of alternative ways to improve skin, and I have no qualms in admitting it’s easy to get carried away. Often, you can become engrossed in retouching skin within a close-up portrait – I often find the process quite therapeutic – only to zoom out and realize that you went too far, and your subject looks a tad on the plastic side.
One rule I like to live by when it comes to my work is that I want to be able to look at an image and not be able to pick out what has been altered or enhanced. If I can determine what exactly someone has had Photoshopped (their eyes have been saturated to an unnatural degree, their cheeks blur into their chin, etc), it ruins any impact the photo could have had on me. Instead, I’m distracted by the over-the-top post-processing. There’s a lot to be said for the skills required to alter and enhance a person’s features in a photo, and for many photographers, it is their signature style. But for me, more often than not, less can really be more.
I’m interested to know what your stance is on skin. Do you tend to like images with high-end retouching or that favor a natural approach? What rules do you enforce on yourself when editing skin?