I consider myself lucky. Not because I won the lottery (which I didn’t), or because I drive a Dodge Viper (which I don’t). I do however, consider myself lucky for photographing subjects with a clear complexion more often than not. It’s luck. Not Photoshop.
I’m often asked by clients and other photographers what software I use to edit my photographs. I don’t spend much time providing an answer and generally mutter something like "Abobelightrooshop” and quickly change the subject. I don’t change the subject because it’s some secret that I guard at night. The truth is, I really just don’t care that much about unnecessary post processing techniques, and to this point, I’ve only learned to use the tools made available by programs like Photoshop to correct problems that I feel are necessary to correct - the ones that don’t take too much away from the moment or person that I photographed.
Ah, our little puss-filled friends that are the food for the vain insecurities of teenagers everywhere. Disgusting, right? They are natural, so arguing to remove pimples may be taking a step towards supporting the type of post processing that I tend to find distasteful – you know, those portraits depicting people with plastic looking skin that's so obviously Photoshopped it more closely resembles digital-art. However, considering the ease of removing unsightly blemishes with Photoshop’s spot removal tool, I don’t find any reason to leave a reminder of something that in the scheme of things, is quite temporary. Pimples get popped in my imagination as I click them away in PS.
Moles, Freckles, and Scars
Pimples get removed, but moles, freckles, and scars are another story. What if Cindy Crawford had her mole removed during post processing? Would her face be as memorable as it is without the mole? I think not. That’s because people remember physical characteristics like moles and freckles and associate them with your identity. And scars, well, scars are earned. That being said, I’m a photographer, not an identity-changer (if that is such a thing). Moles, freckles, and scars stay.
Lint, Dirt, Deodorant
After I’ve gone through and made any of the corrections I deem necessary on my subject’s skin, I then move to their clothes and inspect for things that I may have missed while on set, such as dirt, lint, pieces of grass, and deodorant marks. There isn’t much more to fixing these issues than there is to fixing blemishes on the skin, however patterns and designs can sometimes present a challenge when trying to spot heal or clone something out.
Oh boy. You may have heard these once or twice before: “Can you use your skinny lens?” “You’re going to make me look skinny right?” “I hate my arms, you can make them thinner in Photoshop for me, can’t you?” "Just Photoshop my gut to look like I have a six-pack. Okay?" I generally answer these types of questions by telling the person inquiring that I’ve only learned to enhance features in Photoshop so far. This tends to generate a shock response, shortly followed by a sarcastic laugh. Don’t hate me if you try it and it backfires.
When it comes to situations brought on by lifestyle choices or genetics, I find it difficult to put much energy into changing them. After all, I’m a photographer, not a lifestyle coach, and it’s awkward being put in a situation where you’re defending the quality of your images to someone only concerned with your creation matching whatever self-image they’ve created for themselves. I know it sounds insensitive, but this thinking has taught me to feel out potential clients and turn down gigs that I know will lead to an unsatisfied client regardless of the quality of my work.
So, what can be done to prevent having clients who are less than flattered by their portraits? Well, this is where our skills as photographers are needed to direct subjects to pose in the most flattering ways, and to suggest changes to poses or wardrobe choices that may not be doing the individual(s) any favors. Personally, I’d recommend spending time learning about posing and lighting techniques far before I’d suggest spending any time learning about fixing them in post.
I recently wrote an article about five purchases that changed my photography forever. Adobe Lightroom should have been one of them. Lightroom really did change the way I process raw files and has become an irreplaceable part of my workflow.
More Power and More Tools
While Adobe Lightroom does offer many convenient tools, and I rarely use anything else, there are times when you need a few more tools than it provides. This is where programs like Adobe Photoshop really shine. Prior to making the switch from a Windows PC to a Mac, I had only used Corel's PaintShop Pro – mainly for flyers and graphics (and embarrassing over-processed HDR shots). It became clear after downloading PS for the first time that the software was far more capable than the Corel software I had been using before.
All people are different and carry different physical traits that visually make them unique and who they are. I feel, and you may feel differently, that it’s the responsibility of the photographer to portray subjects in a way that depicts who they are, and accurately. While it’s obvious that not everyone is going to love they way they look on camera, there’s a lot that can be done to ensure we’re not capturing unflattering and distasteful images to begin with, far before they're ever brought into post - and that's where the focus should be.
Have you ever had a client that you just couldn’t please, or who had unrealistic expectations of you as a photographer? How did/do you deal with those types of situations?