Whether it’s models on set for a commercial shoot or a young mother who is having her family portrait taken, I come across this inevitable question: “You’ll Photoshop me, right?” The Adobe program is so widely used that the word has become a verb. It is the new norm when it comes to digital photography — from magazines to billboards — and it’s expected. 

"Yes, of course I'll Photoshop you," is how I usually answer this rhetorical question. But what do they think this actually means? Does it mean I’ll add some contrast or give the colors in the photo a boost? Or is it about taking ten years or ten pounds off? As a photographer, I ask myself: How much Photoshop is too much? 

Controversy comes into play when the question of retouching and body image are linked to unrealistic expectations. When we see a fashion or beauty advertisement we’ve all had thoughts like: “Am I supposed to look like that?” or “I will look like that.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the truth is you will never look like the woman in the ad because not even the woman in the ad looks like that without retouching. 

Photo manipulation has been around since photography was invented in the 1800's. It's also no secret that commercial advertisements these days use plenty of retouching. Ads and fashion magazines are a fantasy of what we wish our lives would be and should be taken for what they are: entertainment with a lot of product pushing. 
demi moore photoshop w magazine cover
photo: W Magazine
Having said that, I do feel that some magazines tend to go overboard with their retouching to the point of absurdity. One of my favorite Photoshop fails is of Demi Moore on the cover of W, where the retoucher sliced her hip off and created an unnatural connection between her hip and thigh. If your retouching looks like bad plastic surgery then you have officially reached the level of too much Photoshopping. 

But what about retouching in the real world? Should we be retouching ourselves? Social media platforms from Facebook to LinkedIn and dating apps pretty much force users to have a profile pic. The way you present yourself to the web is essentially the way you present yourself to the world. Putting your best face forward for that first impression is crucial. Your profile picture will get you a click, a swipe or a like. And who doesn’t like a like?

My advice is to follow the “good lighting and makeup” mantra when it comes to personal photos. If the desired effect can be achieved by a professional lighting crew and a rockstar hair and makeup team, then it’s realistic. We may not have the means to hire such an team but we have $1.99 to download an app on our phones and digitally fake it. With the swipe of a finger you can smooth out skin or recreate great lighting with a filter (think Amaro or Valencia), all in under 20 seconds.

So go ahead retouch away, but don’t change what fundamentally makes you YOU. Be proud of your appearance, and know that it’s OK to seem like you have permanent good lighting and good makeup — and just roll with it girl.