July 2, 2009

To Photoshop or Not to Photoshop.

This is the question.

Miss C's Mom introduced me to the idea of headshots and I introduced her to the idea that all good headshots are photoshopped or edited. I guess back in the days of film, retouching headshots was considered cheating. But today, in this digital age, photoshopping/editing is standard faire, and those images that aren't appear dull in comparison to those that are.

There are oodles of Los Angeles headshot photographers who shoot and burn a disk for their clients of UNEDITED images from the session. I maintain that these photographers aren't doing their clients any favors. These unedited images will most likely not grab the attention of those who are looking to hire.

So, let me show you what I'm talking about with a couple images from Miss C's session. The first picture is the SOOC (straight out of the camera, unedited) image. The next image is "popped", edited to add contrast, remove color casts, brighten eyes & teeth & skin, sharpen, tweak skin tones ... all the little things that make a good image into a great image.


See what I mean? The first image is fine. But the edited image is vibrant and eye-catching and just all around more compelling.

Here's another before and after (and a b/w & vintage conversion):



Here's the "recipe" for this last picture - the picture in which Miss C was hugging a tree ... before she discovered the ants and the spider, which meant we were all done hugging trees. aww, a girl after my own heart! ;-). Anywho, the recipe (using TRA actions):

Pool Party 50%, Lux Soft 50%, Oh Snap 75%, Pro Retouch Eyes, Select o Pop on eyes, and highlight separator 25% (to bring back some of the freckles that got lightened too much with the first two actions).

I'm excited to be adding headshots to my client offerings. BUT. I will NOT be doing business like the mass-market LA headshots photographers. My packages will only include finished, edited images. Yes, they will cost more than those LA companies; but, I believe the additional work justifies the additional cost AND will leave you happier with your end product and results.

Clearly, I fall into the camp that believes the answer is: To Photoshop.

Ok, I'm climbing off my soap box now.

And Mom of Miss C and Miss C? Thank you so much for trusting me with your headshots and for letting me show you what I meant about editing. I hope you're as thrilled with the results as I am.

ps. There's a conversation happening in the comments about the "truthfulness" or "realness" (or lack thereof) of Photoshopping. Feel free to chime in with your ideas...

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Laguna Niguel Portrait Photographer, Orange County Headshots Photographer


metaphase said...

I am no where near as good a photographer as you, like waaay far behind you. I must say in reference to Photoshop, the photos do look very pretty. I really like them, in fact. So it is with the utmost respect that I say, I just have one problem with photoshop- it's not real. I feel like every image we look at as is photoshopped to the point that we no longer see life the way it really is. It's not always bright and sunny with just the right light hitting our faces. We don't all have bright, white teeth, beautiful skin, and glistening eyes with bright whites. I guess I'm just nostalgic for the days when I could look at a photo and beieve what I saw. I just feel bad that the real thing is no longer good enough. What does that say about us?

Heasleye said...

Bravo, Susan! These are beautiful examples. And Miss C is a complete doll!

Since digital cameras basically do some processing in camera anyway, the folks that don't like any Photoshop are still dealing with processed pictures, depending on their camera and the inner workings and what settings it is using (contrast, sharpening, vivid colors or not, etc...). And cameras are not capable of always capturing the range and color of light that our eyes naturally see, so often times, Photoshopping an image can simply be bringing it up to what we saw in the first place. For me, an untouched digital image is not usually an accurate capture of what was there in the first place, so doing some tweaking to make it sparkle is acceptable and often desirable.

SKELLER said...

Meta -
Good thoughts. Yes, indeed, photos are not always to be trusted today in terms of being entirely "true."

Although ... digital pictures themselves are not always "true". Cameras interpret data differently than do our own eyes. For example, in the first photo, there's a red cast under Miss C's chin (reflecting from her shirt - might be hard to see on screen, but would be glaring in print). Our eyes do NOT see that in real life. It's something the camera creates. It needs to be removed for professional pictures. Digital imaging is also inherently "foggy" and less sharp than our eyes see naturally. That also needs to be adjusted. Cameras create a blue cast in shade, and a green cast in tungsten lighting that our eyes do not see. Again, these need to be adjusted so the images look like our eyes see. Cameras also create glare on our skin and/or eyeglasses. Our eyes don't see that. You get the idea...

Now, in terms of how PS is used to "perfect" a person (bright whites on eyes, softening wrinkles, removing under-eye shadows, whitening teeth, removing double chins, flattening a belly, etc etc etc ad nauseum) ... yes, it's kind of sad.

And I don't go to great lengths to perfect my own fun family photos. I want to capture our history. But for headshots for Hollywood?? It's absolutely expected that you will whiten and brighten. That's just Hollywood.

That said, you can see from my SOOC pics that Miss C is a natural beauty who certainly didn't need ME to improve HER!! But certainly I wanted to give her the best image I could that reflected her bright, sunny self.
:-) I try to keep my editing "honest" ... mostly. [grin]

SKELLER said...

I always appreciate your insight. Especially when what you're saying is backing up what I'm saying. [huge cheeky grin]. We must have been composing our thoughts at the same time...

PQ said...

to photoshop! for sure!

well said susan. it would be a lite to cover her freckles or make her eyes look more hazel. you are simply refining an image.

Rosina said...

Wow. Thank you, Susan, and Meta, for your different perspectives. It gives me so much insight.

Melanie said...

I am right there with you. My clients deserve the best image I can give them, even if it means I spend some quality time with Photoshop.

Tracy P. said...

Just a few minutes ago my eight year old and I were in the bathroom, and she was polishing her nails, putting on a little glitter gel and lip gloss, all from a kit she got for her birthday. She LOVES this stuff. I am super careful to NEVER make negative comments about my own physical flaws in front of my kids (actually has been very healthy for my self-image), and our little saying is, "God already made us beautiful, we just add a little sparkle." I'm for REAL. AND a little sparkle. I think there is a place in the world for both. Glad you got to photograph a girl so we could have a conversation that happens less often around boys! :-)

And obviously, Miss C really is "all that" anyway. So sweet!

Deidra said...

I'm way way new to the world of photography and not at all a photographer. But when I was looking for someone to take my daughter's senior pics, the photographer who photoshopped definitely had a portfolio that popped. We chose her, without hesitation. She was my introduction to photoshop and I signed up to take a class with her. I didn't hesitate. I compared it to my mother's high school picture which always sat on my grandparents' tv console. One of those with the black drape over the shoulders and a string of pearls around her neck. But it had been "touched up" - that's what my mom called it. The lips were redder, the teeth whiter, the eyes had a special sparkle added. And I thought it was beautiful. So is photoshop really new, or a just a reinvention of something that's been going on for decades?

Aunt Tea said...

Digital did not invent processing or touch-ups. It did put it in the hands of everyman though.I think "being real" touch ups can include a little correction for eye circles, teeth, *PIMPLE removal etc. We believe in make-up after all.

And a big yes to correcting an image to better match what we wee with our naked eye.

The thing is, old photographs often made us look worse than in real life. Nice to be able to refine and capture the images.


the monkey's mama said...

I was actually just headed here to tell you that i LOVED those edited versions--really popped! when I read all the comments. I think that what you are doing is perfectly acceptable and expected!

The photoshopping I don't like is when you merge two different photos or take elements from one image and use it on another. The only time I find that okay is if 1) the artist tells you he/she did that to produce such an effect or 2) it is artwork that is very obviously photoshopped for the purpose of creating something "crazy"

My father-in-law is a professional photographer and still loves his old-school film and limited use of photoshop but I think the pics he takes and then edits the exposure, etc. are even more outstanding!

Anyway, great discussion!

Kelly said...

yep...i'm an addict of PSE! i'll be the first to admit it. i like how my camera shoots....LOVE IT...but i just like playing around a bit and usually end up with a good resutlt. : )

Beth@Pages of Our Life said...


Even with my limited knowledge of Photoshop, I can appreciate a photographer that knows how to correct yucky, yellow, skin casts and overexposure from sun glare. I think it's a double blessing that you can offer your "mad skills" of photoshop expertise to your photography clients.


SKELLER said...

You're totally right. Retouching has been around for a long long time. And Aunt Tea hit the nail on the head: digital cameras and PS have just put editing in the hands of everyman. A darkroom with all the accompanying [and very expensive equipment] used to be required to do this kind of work. Now all we need is the software and our computer.

Darcy @ m3b said...

There is still a responsibility in journalism not to photoshop images in ways that influence the reader. Photojournalists will still get fired for photo editing beyond basic color correction, sharpening and cropping.

But we aren't reporting news. We are artists. When I photoshop, I want to bring out the already existing features, play with some fun color options. You can still have integrity with images and avoid the zombie-eyes & pageant photos that some heavy-handed photoshoppers produce.

Like with most things, it's all about moderation. ;)

I think your edits are beautiful! What a gorgeous girl. I wish her luck!

tearese said...

I love all the conversions for photos to display, but I'd say for head shots I'd just use the first edits you did for each one...you know the ones that make it pop brighter and sharper, like PW's Fresh and Colorful type stuff.

But thats just me.

Great photos, all.

Holly said...

I've spent the last 2 days thinking about this (off and on). My first thought is that if the photo isn't good to begin with, PS might make it ok, but it won't make it great. So from that perspective, the photographer has to "see" the photo, then s/he has to be able to "get" the photo.

Most of what Everyman does is touch them up, and is that such a problem?

Life with Kaishon said...

Well, here is my take. I think in this case, photoshopping is definitely the way to go. I mean, Hollywood is expecting perfection. To give them anything less would be silly! How could she stand out in a crowd? But in real life, sometimes I wonder if we don't photoshop a little too much. It is nice to have perfect lighting and perfect teeth, but is that always real? I don't know. Miss C is adorable! I hope she gets a lot of parts. I always love your pictures.

Donna Boucher said...

I can't imagine anyone wanting the unedited shots.

Your edits are beautiful and natural looking.
The first one goes from looking like a snapshot to a beautiful portrait.

You have a great touch Susan.
Your pictures don't look photoshopped...
they look beautiful!

tonya said...

i think you MUST edit to be competitive! and i love her freckles!

tonya said...

i think you MUST edit to be competitive! and i love her freckles!

~*~ Stephanie ~*~ said...

I love an edited image.... as long as you aren't changing actual features (slimming a nose, or removing a feature that is ALWAYS on that person) I think an edited image can be beautiful. I think photoshop being used to enhance the color is great.

My thoughts -- as a customer, for the amount of money I am most likely paying (let's face it.. paying someone else to take your photo is NOT cheap)I want the BEST possible image that your camera/computer can give me.

As the photographer providing services... I want to give my customer the BEST I can give them. Simple as that. If I can capture that in camera with no other editing--- well hot damn I'll be thrilled... however we all know that every shot is never going to come out all that and a bag of chips, right? So if I want A) my customer to get what they paid for B)be ridiculously happy with the final product C) to spread the word....

I'll enhance color, remove the stray hair the blows out of place, and retouch the excess milk that dribbles out of a baby's mouth in a photo (unless of course that last one is incredibly cute and not gooey looking at all :D BIG GRIN!)

**From an inexperienced point and shoot camera user that 95% of the time HAS to do some editing to fix her mistakes :D

Lisa Webb said...

Great post. I agree to photoshop, I think what you've done is make the photo pop and not necessarily make it look unreal at all.
When I shot film I spent alot of time in the dark room processing and editing my photos. I think that editing has always been a part of photography to some degree and it is all apart of the art as far as I'm concerned. Of course Photography is an art and everyone is open to there own thoughts on the subject. Maybe the problem with photoshop is when we use it to compensate for bad photography and not to inhance our skills. Your images are wonderful and geniue.