Post Production and Porcelain Dolls

 In For Photographers

Photographers or Photoshop Artist?

Let’s face it, we all have been there before: playing with an image in Photoshop, feeling the power of being able to do everything we want and before you know it, the photo you are retouching is just… not the same photo any longer.

Disproportionate limbs, shapes that are worth Photoshop Disaster and, worst of all, a skin that is everything but natural. Maybe because we wanted to play around with the last super feature of the new post processing software and we were too focussed on the details to see the bigger picture, the result is that we have produced a bad image.
There are two choices you can take in those moments: trash the picture altogether or create something of questionable taste and value.

Your value as a Photographer

We are those kind of photographers who believe in creating magic in camera. It can be the exposure, the plugs on the wall, the pose or the angle of your subject: we think that as photographers we should do it right in camera.

There will always be visible plugs in the wrong place wherever you are going to shoot. If you cannot remove them, you need to work around them because – as Zack Arias says – you are only a mediocre photographer if you think “I will fix it later in Photoshop”. Thinking like that is dangerous because it will lead you to being lazy. After that you will stop caring about details and you will spend most of your time in front of a computer instead of doing what you love.

Our approach is simple: either we photograph from a different perspective or we hide the clutter with a pillow or with the customer’s figure. Easy, simple and not time consuming.

A natural skin is better than a plastic skin

Using the “infinite” power of Photoshop is like being in the film Spiderman: “With great powers come great responsibilities“. You can alter almost every detail of an image and, if you are really good, you can obtain incredible results. But chances are that if you are not an awesome retoucher, you might run the risk of producing one of those porcelain dolls that scares the bejesus out of me when I look at some portfolios.

Whenever we finish the post processing of an image we like to see the before and after side by side, making sure that what we did was just eliminating the small imperfections and minimising age lines. Actually the best way for us is to wait about an hour and go through the images again. Our brain needs a break to be able to “see” properly.

Even better if you look at your photos in black and white, because shadows, imperfections and textures are much more visible if you remove the distraction of the colour element.

I would be rich for every time a client has asked me “Did you Photoshop me, right? because they do not believe they can be so beautiful as they are. A pimple, a spot or a bra that is too tight do not define you as a person, so it is going to go but that is pretty much it.

For us post processing means that mature women need to appear “rested” and young girls need to appear fresh, nothing less and nothing more.

I will tell you a story: one day we decided to photograph a model who came in contact with us a coupe of times. After seeing her portfolio we thought she was not the kind of model we normally work with, nonetheless we agreed to shoot a test as she was very keen on working with us. When we met we were unsure what to say because the model looked nothing like any of her pictures. Both her body shape and her facial features were so very different that we were embarrassed for her. This is bad Photoshop for you because she will never book a single job based on her portfolio.

The right formula

There is no such thing as the right formula unfortunately, but common sense and good taste always help to make the choice that feels right for you and your brand.

Along with lighting and styling, we are convinced that post processing is the signature of a photographer.

For us a photo to be good it needs to be believable and flattering. We want women – clients and models alike – to look at our images and be proud because they see the best version of themselves.

For a photo to be flattering you need experience in posing and in shaping the light, and for it to be believable you need real emotions and real skin.

In essence our approach is “less is more” and I believe that Bambi Cantrell explained it perfectly when she said that Photoshop needs to be used as salt and pepper to spice up a plate ; “the right amount and you will enhance the taste of your food, too much of it and you will ruin the entire plate”.

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Showing 3 comments
  • David Hammonds

    Great article. ‘Porcelain doll’ is overcooked retouching at it’s best – it can easily go ‘plastic Barbie’ or even ‘bruised peach’. When retouching I like to make the retouching transparent – the client is a fresh-faced and vital 20/30/40/50 year old version of themselves but hopefully never like a mess of Photoshopping or, worse, a celebrity plastic surgery disaster.

    I also try not to ‘process’ my images in ways that makes them look either alien or hackneyed. I feel so many digital processing effects will date images terribly in future years much like a 70s soft focus glamour haze.

    Yes, do everything in camera. A computer will never beat a skilled makeup artist, contrast created by well-chosen lighting can never be replaced by a slider in Lightroom, etc.

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