Retouching, Photoshop, and Self-Image

“Do you retouch your images?”

“Do you slim your clients?”

“How much do you Photoshop your clients?”

These are questions we have fielded over the years, and they are revealing of one critical aspect about the work we do: we’re working with people who are on their own journey. We’re just privileged to be a part of it.

We strive to strike a balance. The questions above reveal that there are aspects about our physical appearance we don’t feel demonstrate our true self. In some respects that can be true. In others, it is patently false. As we enter 2018, many people evaluate the things they want to improve about themselves with their stated resolutions. According to Statistic Brain, 44% of resolutions are self-improvement related, 32% are weight related, and 23% are relationship related. We pick these three categories because they manifest from the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves. When we meet with clients, the self-talk we encounter can be healthy. It can also be unhealthy.

Today’s discussion is a glimpse into some of these discussion. It is not the be-all, end-all: this is a layered, complicated topic, and one we are happy to engage with you.

What is retouching?

The textbook definition of photographic manipulation is the:

transforming or altering a photograph using various methods and techniques to achieve desired results

Image correction and retouching both fall into this category. We apply image correction to every single piece of art we produce: it includes color matching, proper exposure and image crops.

But this is distinct from retouching: retouching is the improvement of an image using one or more techniques to alter skin complexion, hair color, eye color, body shape, and other aspect. These aspects of retouching are regularly under debate. One of the core issues revolves around a key question: How does retouching distort or promote body image?

Do we apply retouching to our images?

Our answers to the opening questions are as follows. Yes, we retouch our images. Yes, we will slim our clients (both in camera through flattering poses and when we process the images. And finally, we use Photoshop, primarily to enhance what is captured during the session, but we draw the line when we feel Photoshop begins to undermine our mission.

Our mission is stated on our Biography page: “Our mission is to inspire within you an appreciation for who you are and a confidence in who you can be.” There’s a lot to unpack there. Let’s start with the first piece, an appreciation for who you are.

Our Retouching Principles

We believe it is challenging to appreciate who you are if you take away all the things that make you who you are. Retouching is not a magic wand: we want to make sure clients are not seeking to leverage retouching as a weapon for feeding negative self-talk that undermines a healthy self-image.

Tiffany and I are parents to three daughters. Tiffany carried all three and has the stretch marks to prove it. They are mementos of the swollen ankles, hot Texas summer months, and midnight food runs we had while Tiffany nurtured the growing babies. So in pictures with bare bellies, do we take Tiffany’s stretch marks out, or leave them in? To remove them is to erase some physical evidence of a beautiful time in both our lives. To leave them in runs contrary to a beauty ideal. One is a pragmatic beauty. The other a fantasy beauty. We find there to be reasons for and against both.

And that’s why we discuss these items during our consultation. We continue to explore the balance between appreciating yourself for who you are physically – scars and all – while also appreciating that scars themselves don’t define us, and removing them or other blemishes does not take away from who you are.

Some of our photographer colleagues have developed rules to govern this search for balance. For example, “Photographer X will remove anything that will be gone within six weeks (think acne, bruises, scratches, etc.).” Anything that would still be there in six weeks like scars, stretch marks, cellulite, moles, etc., remains. We understand this rule and the desire to have something more final to share with clients, but it’s not how we approach it. We engage in a candid discussion about why you’re doing a session, how you want to see yourself, what you want to change, and whether we are the right artists to partner with you.

The second part of our mission – a confidence in who you can be – we use as license for retouching beyond the ‘six-week rule.’ We do have to walk a tight line, however, because there are very real, very risky behavioral health issues we are all susceptible to that can tip our journey toward confidence from healthy to toxic. And we believe that false ideas of perfection have contributed to a risk in behavioral health disorders. We have structured our business as a world that allows for retouching, while not contributing to the body dysmorphia epidemic. So we break the ‘six-week rule’ sparingly and with direct intent.

Now that’s a lot of descriptions of how we don’t want our collaboration to be misused. Let’s get back to the positive discussion of how it can be used, and how retouching can be a boon to confidence.

Our Team Retouching Goals

We aspire to show you at your personal best. This includes the makeup and hair styling before your session, the clothes that give your session direction, the lighting and pose that shapes your face and body, and finally the expression that tells your story. When these elements come together, you become the bombshell you were always too shy to show. You become the picture of professionalism, the next expert in your field. You become the girl-next-door instead of the active wear, Starbucks, stroller mom from the suburbs. You become the face of fitness, inspiring those around you to take control of their lives and health.

Getting in front of the camera, embracing the vulnerability can be scary. We’ve been there. The camera can be intimidating. So we tell ourselves just enough to get us to commit: “If I can just get an image I love, that makes me happy, it will be enough.” The focus becomes the output, the final art, not the experience.

We want more for you. We see your potential the moment we meet you. We discuss your likes, your dislikes, your goals, and your concerns during the consultation. This kickstarts our work together to realize how you want to express who you are, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. When we retouch, it is in deference to these goals. And we will ask you to trust us. To trust that what we want you fully preoccupied with the experience in front of camera, focusing on connecting with your emotions and greatest aspirations. We’ll make sure the final art reflects those.

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