Is Photoshop a Liar?

I recently had a client contact me about touching up a picture in some areas she felt self-conscious about. As we were discussing this she expressed her concern that it might be dishonest, as these areas are there in “real life.” My answer was humorously supportive, as I can certainly understand where she’s coming from! Since then, however, I’ve really been pondering her comment. IS it dishonest to do retouching on a photo?

As many of you know, I have four girls, two of whom are extremely involved in my photography. They love to be with me when I take pictures and love to watch me edit. They ask questions about what I’m doing and are anxious to learn. Lately, they’ve been asking some tough questions about the editing process that I’m not always sure how to answer, such as “why do you get rid of all her bumps?” (referring to pimples.) These girls are going to be teenagers sooner than I’d like to admit, and the LAST thing I want to do is make them self-conscious about the changes their bodies will go through.

Which leads me back to my question: is all of this retouching dishonest?

As women, I believe we have an inherited desire to look our best. I believe it’s the way that God made us and that even the plainest of women, those who believe it’s wrong to wear makeup or jewelry or fancy clothes, still look in the mirror before heading out the door, more often than not.

As a photographer, my number one aim when taking someone’s picture, is to capture that person genuinely, and beautifully. I want to capture more than their physical attributes, I want to capture the smiles and expressions that make them, THEM. At the same time, I recognize the desire most of us have to be as beautiful as we can be, on the inside and the outside. Most of the women who come to me for portraits make sure they are wearing makeup and their most flattering clothes, have their hair recently colored and styled, etc. What I do in post processing is done to enhance these efforts.

Now, is it WRONG for a woman to enhance the way she looks? Some might quote 1 Peter 3:3 (“let not your adornment be outward”) or 1 Timothy 2:9 (“women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire”), and I wouldn’t argue with you. And out of respect, I’ll wash the makeup off my face before coming to visit. ;)

The reality is that even if it IS wrong for a woman to wear makeup (and, personally, I’m not convinced that it is) it’s not my place to tell someone else they’re wrong to enhance their appearance. Although I would love for all women to embrace their wrinkles and double chins, it’s not my place to convince them that their love-handles are beautiful or that their zits are just “a part of them.” It’s my job to give them images that they will proudly display on their walls and feel good about, in a way that doesn’t violate my own conscious.

A portrait is something that will become a family treasure, passed down from generation to generation. It’s something that represents not just our physical body, but our spirit as well. Our bumps and lumps shouldn’t keep us from getting in front of the camera and giving our children and grandchildren something to cherish. More important than having the perfect, most flawless picture, is having an image that our families will treasure… bumps, lumps and all.

And if wearing makeup and tummy tucking spandex and knowing that your photographer will do her best to enhance your image makes you feel better about getting in front of the camera to give your family a portrait to cherish, then I’m all for it!


*What this article doesn’t address is the simple facts of a cameras limitations. We’ve all heard it said that the camera “adds ten pounds.” If you have a pale complexion and aren’t wearing makeup, you’re going to look stark white and washed out in your photo. Lighting coming from different angles will affect the way your face and body are contoured, and the position you sit or stand in will effect the shape of your body. Even clothing choices such as color and pattern will change your appearance in a photo, which is one of the reasons I now send out a welcome packet with tips to help when making these decisions. So regardless of where we stand regarding enhancing our appearances, makeup and clothing style are things that need to be carefully considered when sitting for a portrait, if not to “enhance” your appearance, than just to help you look like YOU and not a white, pasty, ten-pounds-heavier version of you. :)

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2 Responses to Is Photoshop a Liar?

  1. Jo says:

    This is great! My husband says a similar thing to me. I take oodles of pictures of my kids in one situation, and I’ve been known to Photoshop the best image of each kid into one really good photo. He jokingly needles me that it’s not historically accurate! I tell him that it is because they all did smile, just not at the same time!! ;)

    • Rina says:

      :) I do swapping from time to time, too… and got in trouble with it once when I had a session with twin girls… accidentally put the SAME girl in in the picture twice! Mom was great about it, though, and we all had a good laugh, but it taught me a huge lesson!