In the days of film, few photographers, unless really keen processed their own photographs in the dark room, and even then due to the constraints of time were unlikely to do much more than develop the best and most faithful exposures that they could. There were of course those who used the dark room to create wonderful effects or fake photographs so famous in spy films etc. Processing in the digital age allows everyone to “work on their images” and change them completely.
When we deliver the second part of our beginners course at Beck Photographic we look at how we manage our images when using a programme such as Photoshop Elements. The trouble with programmes such as this is that they can do too many things to a picture that can alter it almost beyond description. They’re your photos so you are entitled to do what you want with them aren’t you? You can change people’s skin to green surely, make thin people look fat, and take years off people and so on. Well the answer is yes you can, but don’t expect to end up with many friends or people willing to pose for you or allow you to snap them! As a photographer you do have a duty to your subject, so we do discuss some ideas to keep the photograph’s integrity.
When you took the picture you had a good idea of what you expected to see in the photograph. When we take pictures of our friends, who are aging as the same rate as you are, you often see in the picture all the features that we are used to in every day life, and they look wrong. There seem to be more wrinkles than normal and we want to make the picture look like what we think we see every day. When I discovered skin softening techniques all skin began to look doll like, even my dad’s who is a very healthy 92 years young. I had to learn to make the alterations, and then tone them down so the effect was far less pronounced. The effect needs to be subtle and not noticeable. The opacity tool is brilliant here for toning your efforts at skin conditioning down!
The same applies to body alterations. With the liquefy tool it is very tempting with its bloat and pucker settings to add muscles here and shave off some stomach there, but it’s really easy to go too far. I’ve tried shaving the stomach off of pictures that my wife took of me on holiday, and as soon as you start the picture ends up looking unnatural, or the area around where you have altered needs work on because it doesn’t look right. As you can see, tucking my tummy in has resulted in a very strange arm! I’ll have to face up to the fact that I’ll never be Charles Atlas! Its taught me that if someone takes my picture to avoid the profile shot which always shows my middle aged spread and to get them to shoot me from the front. This is my next point, think about your picture composition when you are taking picture and make your original image as complimentary as possible. This is good photography in my view, particularly with portrait work, think about the picture before you take it, rather than afterwards. Just as you think of your aperture, shutter speed and ISO, also think about double chins, stomachs and so on!
However we want to improve our pictures, and people who have photographs normally want them to be as complementary as possible. Teenagers want spots taken off, mothers want the tomato soup cleared off of their toddlers faces and so on. However you do need to be selective in what you alter so that you keep the character of the subject. My grandson has a mole under his nose, and I think its really cute, and it’s part of him, and always will be. When I was given a school photo of him as a present, the mole had been airbrushed out, probably part of a bulk action at the photographer’s, and it didn’t look right to me. I’ve replicated the effect on this quick snap I took of him. The top picture I have applied no skin softening, and he looks as grubby as he normally does (well he is a boy!) on on the lower image I’ve applied skin softening in a mask, and just look on the school photographers shot the skin is cleaned up, but his mole has gone – to me it’s not him. I have known grown women complain about this when it has happened to them. So as a rule when doing faces I ask if the “blemish” is likely to be there in a week’s time, if the answer is no then I’ll remove it. By the way, avoid the word blemish, mole or even beauty spot are far more complementary.
So those are my principles for post processing pictures:
- do as much as you can when you take the original picture
- be subtle
- be selective
- show integrity and responsibility
Bio about the author:
Richard Tester designs the training courses run by Beck Photographic in Wellingborough, England. Having recently retired as the Head Teacher of a large Primary School, he is now free to indulge as much time as he can in photography. He has recently teamed up with the professionals at Beck Photographic to provide fun training for all those who have paid out for a DSLR camera but can’t get beyond the automatic mode.
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By Richard Tester All content owned Richard Tester