UPDATED: Retoucher Kristina Sherk Does Mind-Blowing Work

UPDATED: Retoucher Kristina Sherk Does Mind-Blowing Work

Photoshelter is hosting a webinar featuring retoucher Kristina Sherk this week, and to advertise the webinar they posted an animated gif showing before and after Sherk got her hands on the image. I was shocked, as Sherk not only easily erased 10 years off the model, but even more amazingly did it without making it look fake.


Unfortunately, the webinar closed because it filled, but Photoshelter will be posting a recording of that webinar on their blog later in the week. Amazing right?

UPDATE: It has come to Fstoppers's attention that in our original article showing the outstanding retouching work of Kristina Sherk and her upcoming webinar, we neglected to put the image (and the retouching applied to it) in the proper context. Having only what was written on the PhotoShelter Blog, we lacked the back story that properly contextualizes this image. In an effort to quickly publicize the webinar being hosted by PhotoShelter and SharkPixel.com, we failed to check into the full story behind the retouching. Thus, giving our readers a fragmented frame in which to view Kristina's work through.

Sherk’s original purpose behind retouching this image was strictly for educational purposes and is to be included in her upcoming instructional retouching DVD. Her intent with the image was to show the possibilities of post production, but with the stipulation that though it can be done, retouchers should take the skills learned in creating such a piece and utilize those skills in the degree they see fit for their client's needs.

[Via Photoshelter]

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Previous comments

It is true, the media always fills us with surreal idealistic human utopias, but they don't limit themselves to a photo-retouching, it's entire lifestyles portraying something a minimum percent of people can achieve, thus making everyone else feel they are the problem since they can't achieve that. Publicity has always made profit out of this dream chasing done by a public who finds it's own reality too poor to fulfill them. However, those who know better and are strong enough to realize what's really important in life, don't have such image and self-esteem issues.

"those who know better and are strong enough to realize what's really important in life.."

To say to the model "you're not good enough" is one thing. She is a mature adult who is getting paid, but you can't really mean that 7, 8, 9 year old girls can be held to that same standard. Do you? Children aren't "strong" and wise enough to know what's really important in life. That's a major characteristic of a child.

Should we keep the work with the porn away from children's eyes? No, but we should be more responsible.

I understand your point of view, and it's really all about that, the "point of view". If you as a person feel that you should BE the way someone else is, just because that person receives attention or appears on tv, then you are weakly minded. Forget about image and think about sports, where nothing is "wrong" there.. if a kid sees Tom Brady throw a football at blazing speeds with high accuracy and become successful and on top of that he's rich, famous and considered by most very handsome, well I'm sure that kid will try to become in many ways as Tom Brady is, but if the kid just doesn't have what it takes, he COULD become frustrated, feel useless, worthless and have low self-esteem issues. Of course 7,8, 9 year old boys and girls don't have the maturity to understand properly what is truly important in life, but that's where parents come in, it's the reason parenting is so important and that is one of the major flaws in a lot of countries where unimportant things such as image and money suddenly become priority instead of morality, ethic, and the importance of meaningful things.

Anyway, I do see your point, and I partially agree with you. But making such comments on a photo-retouch post, which is the most common thing for digital photography, is pretty much like saying the bible's wrong in a Catholic blog.

In a nutshell, you are what you decide to be, let others decide for themselves.

BTW, don't blame just "the media". We are accomplices: the photogs and retouchers. WE are as much to blame as "the media" for participating.

Brian Supple's picture

Kristina, I think you did an amazing job! I understand, as I'm sure you do, where the torrid yet sometimes overly critical comments are coming from. You have taken an average photograph and made it a masterpiece. Yes, it may be a little heavier retouch than I would normally apply for the average consumer portrait, but for a high fashion magazine layout, this is also about how I would apply the necessary Photoshop skills. It seems to me that most of the overly critical comments are coming from individuals not really associated with this type of high fashion layout. I hope you ignore the harsh critiques of these individuals and realize what an exceptional skill you have. Keep up the tremendous work! You are amazing!!!

I appreciate this level of retouching, although a bit overdone, takes a lot of time and practice get right. I agree the fingers look bad, it seems like they were an after thought once the initial retouching on the face was done. I can see why the emphasis was brought away form the hands, it was just executed wrong in my opinion. It's the small details in the overall image that have the most impact, if however subtle, can really effect the final outcome.

Hair can be the hardest part of a beauty retouch, it can be painstakingly time consuming to correct and get right. I think a little more attention and time could have been devoted to that, particular the models right side.

Nice work on the skin detail!

- Fellow retoucher

B Jota's picture

Hi Kristina, i really admire your skills. Do you use Portrait Professional in your workflow? My only criticism is that since you went for the perfect skin look, the hands could have been smoother. They look like an older persons hands.

All the negative comments "omg so fake" - grow up.
That was the desired look and the retoucher has done a fine job.
Take your rant about how it's giving young girls a self esteem issues and bla bla some where else.
Whilst important this isn't the place for it. We are here discussing the techniques used etc.
If you're to retarded to open a fashion magazine and realise for this style of photograph it looks good, go sell your camera now and uninstall photoshop.


Tom, if this work was only seen by adults, I'd agree with you. However, I'm arguing on behalf of those WHO HAVE YET to grow up: children.

This work is seen by more than just mature adults.

Dear Martin, I completely agree that retouching (as a skill and an artform) is mis-leading young girls into having unrealistic body image expectations. This is the EXACT reason why I insist on keeping as many before images up on my website. So many people come up to me and comment on how nice it made them feel to roll over the before and after images on my website, and how it boosted their self esteem to know that all of those models in the magazines 'aren't as perfect as they seem.' It makes me proud that I am one of the only retouchers who insists (for the sake of the industry and the field) to include the before images on my website.
I like to draw comparisons between retouching in photographs, to special effects in movies. Just because a teenager runs off a barn roof and begins flying in a movie, doesn't mean that every teenager who sees the movie will go home and expect to have the same result if they run off their roof. It's common knowledge that special effects exist and are used regularly in films.
The more retouchers band together and insist on including the before images in their portfolios, the more the knowledge of the capabilities of retouching and photoshop will spread and thus, it will become common place knowledge that retouching exists and that young girls should not believe the images they see in magazines. The sooner this happens, the sooner retouchers like me will stop getting the bad rap they currently get (and in all too many cases; don't deserve).

Thank you Kristina for your comments.

Let me first state that if a body of medical professionals hadn't taken a position on this, then I'd be quiet and move on. We are all different with different tastes. But the American Medical Association did take a position and published an article so I'm guessing they know something.

While I'm glad that you acknowledge the effects of your style of work and have taken steps to mitigate the negative impact, those steps seem a bit self-serving. I would argue that placing the before/after comparison on your site, rather than in the finished ad / story / promo / however it's used, serves to get you more work than to eliminate the problem. If you really wanted to stop causing harm, you would stop being a party to the cycle.

Your comparison between portrait retouching and special effects in movies is not accurate. Children realizing that they cannot "run off a barn roof" do not then internalize the issue resulting in unrealistic life or body expectations. Also, to continue the comparison, there is more and more evidence that suggesting that movie violence does in fact lead to actual violence. So yes, movie special effects DO affect children, but we aren't talking about that here.

Let me be clear: it's not your skills that I have a problem with. (They are impressive.) It's your choice on how you USE those skills that I have a problem with. I also understand that you have a need to feed yourself / family, but by participating in a seminar you are continuing the cycle of harm and profiting from that cycle. Retouchers such as yourself "get the bad rap" because you've earned it.

I'm asking that you consider finding other subjects & take on different work. I'm sure your skills could be used somehow that didn't plainly hurt others.

Rebecca Britt's picture


I have two young daughters and they watch me retouch all of the time. I am far from perfect and so are they, and yet they still have a healthy view of themselves. It's not her job to make sure that children have a good self-esteem. Leave that to us, the parents.

Can no one take responsibility for their children's physical and mental health anymore? Stop blaming everyone else, but yourself.

"Young daughters"

The problems manifest over years. I hope they are the exceptions.

Rebecca Britt's picture

How about you let me and the other parents worry about our children and you go worry about you own?

No problem. Then don't post your work and ask for comments.

I think your work is fantastic. Absolutely baffled at the criticizers who attack (and yes it's attacking) as if they stand for the good of mankind and yet I'm sure in some ways they contribute to the deterioration of not only civilization but the planet. Oh the horror.

I think the critics are just beyond shocked and afraid of what they see here and can't accept it. They never seen the back door to what goes on in such productions nor can they conceive the logistics of it. They are probably the same people that think photographers / retouchers do this as a 'cool little hobby', and can't figure out why we charge what we do. This is the world we live in and @kristinasherk:disqus sure didn't create it she only retouched this image. Its truly amazing how people want to hinder talent. She does great work she worked hard to get where she is and I wish her continued success.

Honestly I can only say that most of the negative comments are a result people who never knew what goes into this type of work so I can understand their frustration.

Age can be cruel but we all have options to do it gracefully.

Andy Kerr's picture

Thanks, Kristina. I think your attitude towards this shows a real touch of class.

Stan Schurman's picture

Wait! Wait! wait, Mike Newton and all the others who believe it's pure negativity to criticize this work. This is put up as the be all and end all of retouching and then, if someone disagrees that it's the gospel, they're labelled negative. And Mike, just because someone might not be adept at retouching doesn't mean they can't have a valid opinion on the work of others. IOW, don't put someone's work up for display as what everyone should strive for, then expect your readers to raise their hands in unison in agreement.

Stan Schurman's picture

And I understand the difference between pure negativity and thoughtful criticism.

Jeremy Sale's picture

Agreed. For instance, I can't do landscape photography for beans, but I still can critique it, last time I checked.

Please look at your own face and you will see that skin texture differs a lot in it's different parts. Killing this differences (both in make-up and in post-processing) kills a portrait. You will have just another magazine-stile dollface. A lot of people will like it and ask for more but a lot of people like burgers and Cola as well...

PS: Frequency modulation and D&B, am I right? :)

PPS: Fingers are looking a bit strange too.

Amazing job Kristina!

Nicholas Gonzalez's picture

Wonderful work. Beautiful and elegant retouching which, from my experience, means she took her time and worked her butt off to get it so well rendered.

Tony Guillaro's picture

Not that hard to do...Although I have no idea how she did the ears

Good job from what you had to work which I'm guessing is the point of the webinar. If this would have been a beauty editorial I would have been annoyed at the model choice. No point in making things hard on yourself unessassery :). This retouch is a touch excessive for my personal taste but the necessary skills are evident.

My opinion, FWIW (which probably isn't much to be fair) is that I think the question should be asked - Why? What is the underlying purpose of such touching up? Personally, I think the craft of the touching up here is extremely good, and definitely way better than a lot of stuff out there, but what is the end purpose?

If it's for advertising, then what is it advertising? If it's make-up then it must be considered too "fake" and could/should be considered false advertising as the results would plainly be unachievable by using the product alone.

If it's trying to be a true reflection of the individual, then anyone with any honesty/credibility (including the models friends) would easily see how "different" the end result is from the reality.

If it's to be used as an overlay on a CGI model or something (say, for a game etc.) then I'd say it would fit that requirement perfectly.

If it's simply "art", then to be fair to the originator it's no different from painting an original picture that would be considered "perfect".

So, I think it's difficult/rich to consider criticising for the sake of criticising, without knowing exactly what the end result is intended for.

Great post.

I think you overestimate the ability of the "man on the street" (or woman) to identify retouched details. I come across images that are so massively retouched that they make me want to cry for destroying what I think must have been an underlying beautiful image. Or retouching a beautiful model who I know to the point where she doesn't even look like herself.
These are usually the images that get the strongest positive reactions. From both men and women.
If you spend day-to-day dealing with this stuff, then retouching becomes obvious. But people who only look at pictures either don't recognize the retouching, or don't care.

But in that point I was referring to friends of the subject, who I think would surely recognise such significant changes (at least to skin/wrinkles etc. I'd challenge anyone to notice the ears in this one if the images weren't presented side-by-side) to someone they knew well.

Having said all that, and despite what we might think of it here, there is clearly a definite market for this kind of work. I know of someone personally that was "photoshopped" almost beyond recognition (the end result of her "photo session" literally had her looking half her actual size) and she absolutely LOVED it. However, you could almost hear the echoes from Facebook of her friends shouting (yer 'avin a laugh, that's NOTHING like you!). To be honest, in those situations it's really no different to slapping one persons head on another's body, you might as well save yourself the hours of retouching.

Andy Kerr's picture

Kristina's done some excellent work here, but I guess I'm puzzled that it needed to be done at all. Was she ugly before? In the "before" picture, I think, "here's an interesting person, with a story to tell" but with the "after" I'm left wondering why someone wants me to see this image—am I admiring the makeup? Is this a person I should know? I feel like my eyes wander over the image, looking for significance, and I don't find it. Perhaps in context (a magazine article, say) I'd know what the photographer was aiming for, but without it, I think the person loses their voice and their character along with their laugh lines.

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