January 23, 2015, Posted by Kevin Mullett in big stuff, fun, little stuff, photography, skewed views

Mom, He Keeps Retouching Me!

The next time you shake your head and say, “My photos never look like that.” or “How in the world did they get that shot?” consider that the image likely didn’t look that good right out of the camera and they didn’t just GET that shot. Instead, there is a good chance the photographer created or retouched it. A recent blog post, which displays animated GIFs from Ashot Gevorkyan’s work, illustrates what I mean quite well.

Photo progression of edits

Now, I am not saying this is bad. Far from it. This is an art form. A craft. And I celebrate those with the time, patience, and skill to create images like these. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t be comparing your hot off the memory card photos against pictures that didn’t come, well, straight off a memory card.

TV dinner that doesn't look like the pictureI am not however in favor of sneaky, unrealistic and harmful representations of models, a la the recent Justin Bieber photo manipulation scandal. Sorry to Bieber you. Come to think of it, I am also not in favor of food from my TV dinners coming out of the microwave looking nothing like what is on the box. So basically I am somewhere between digitally removing flab and the purest who insists everything must be shown as you shot it.

Sometimes, altering a photograph may be nothing more than an attempt to compensate for the camera or photographers, inability to capture the scene (dynamic range) as the eye saw it. As was the case in my own snowscape sunrise below.  This was shot with a Samsung Note 4 phone and edited with Snapseed, a free mobile editing app. And frankly, the photo still doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as this scene did while standing there. What about filters? I’m not even going there, because I frankly don’t care if people use them or not. If I like the shot, I like the shot.

Winter snowscape with sunrise

In fact, many of you have probably unwittingly used what was previously a form of photo manipulation. HDR (High Dynamic Range), which most phone camera software offers as a built-in option now, was formerly a photo manipulation technique. It required multiple pictures to be taken at different exposure levels to compensate for the fact that most cameras can not capture the variations (the dynamic range) of light and color spectrum our eyes can. Now you just select that option and take the picture. In fact, the snowscape above was shot with an HDR setting to keep the trees from being too dark since I was shooting towards the sun.

Where is the line? I have opinions, but all I can control is my own work. The image below, for example, was nothing more than me helping a friend win a bar bet. No, I don’t really know how having me swap out the yellow Ferrari for another came up, but here you go. Of course I couldn’t stop with the Ferrari, so I put Michael Schumacher in the pic, my buddy, and myself.  Anyway, I have no issue with acne removal, smoothing of a subject’s skin, removing a stray hair or eyelash, and other subtle things. I don’t feel like a young adult should be penalized for having a bad acne day for their senior pictures, for example. But I am not going to slim them down or pump them up. Frankly, I don’t even like to remove scars, or birthmarks because I believe those represent a true reflection of a person’s uniqueness and beauty (handsomeness). That said, if they request it, I might indulge them. I am sure some will disagree with my line, and that’s okay.

A photo that was edited to win a bar bet

The point is, you shouldn’t lose the desire to go take and create pictures simply because you can’t currently recreate what someone else can. So go ahead; go retouch something.

Let’s connect on Instagram or check out some of my work on Flickr.


This article uses material from the “All Terrain Armored Transport” article on the Star Wars wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Other photographs and animations shared under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial licence.


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