Anyone who has worked at a magazine, ad agency or online retailer will tell you there’s plenty of photo retouching going on in the world. Most of it is benign: the shadows erased from a bottle of shampoo; the fabric creases smoothed on a dress, clouds removed from the sky.
What’s noticeable is when 42-year-old Julia Roberts appears without a wrinkle in a Lancôme mascara campaign. Or, thanks to Photoshop, Lindsay Lohan’s belly button seemingly floats around her body. And don’t get us started on the Sex And The City 2 Photoshop of horrors poster.
Photos have been altered since the invention of photography; artists would etch the plates or paint on the finished product. In an age of Adobe Photoshop CS5, UK minister Lynne Featherstone hopes to regulate retouching, or at least make it known to consumers. And in Australia, there’s a National Advisory on Body Image that seeks to curtail Photoshop use.
With all the Photoshop hype, we asked Sydney-based photo retoucher, Jeffrey Ho to give us the goss on gloss.
Photoshop gets a bad rap – is it warranted?
Bad retouching should always be called out and I love Photoshop Disasters as much as the next person, but I also think as a culture we’re a lot more image savvy than some press gives us credit for. We’re aware enough of the tools employed to spot bad, excessive retouching but also smart enough to know that fashion has always involved elements of art and fantasy. These days we’re a lot more involved in knowing how these images are created; whether through documentaries like The September Issue, fashion industry bloggers or even Photoshopping your own pics. If knowing all of this means we can appreciate a beautiful fashion editorial without mistaking it for documentary photography then that’s got to be a good thing.
What don’t most people realize about photo retouching?
How time consuming it can be. Just because Photoshop has something called the Magic Wand Tool doesn’t mean it actually is one. Photoshop is really just a box of tools; they won’t actually do the work for you and the quality of the final work is entirely dependent on the skills you bring to it.
How did you get into photo retouching?
I’d been introduced to Photoshop as far back 1992 as version 2.5 when I’d first started as a graphic designer. At work our use of the program was pretty limited, but it’s seemingly endless possibilities for playing with images appealed to both the tinkering geek and the creative in me. Exploring in Photoshop became a delightful, obsessive hobby.
Later as an art director working in fashion publishing, I’d have the occasional gripe about the quality of some of the retouching work that we’d receive: too heavy-handed with all the personality of the original image lost. I started using the retouching skills that I’d developed over the years on the occasional fashion editorial. Eventually the work grew and I left to work independently as a specialist retoucher.
Who are your clients?
They’re a mix of fashion editorial and advertising clients, mostly through the talented photographers I work with including Max Doyle, Derek Henderson, Simon Lekias and Pierre Toussaint. This includes regular work for the major fashion glossies like Vogue (Australia), Harper’s Bazaar (Australia), plus advertising work including Covergirl, Lee, Josh Goot and Zimmermann swimwear.
What programs do you use?
Just Photoshop — it pretty much has every tool I need for the kind of work that I do.
What’s the most common thing that needs to be retouched on fashion images?
It’s usually evening out skin tones. Depending on lighting, the hands, elbows, knees and feet can all take on a noticeably darker, more magenta color cast in digital shots, especially with pale skin tones.
What do you have in mind when you Photoshop an image?
You want people to say ‘that’s a great shot’, not ‘that’s great retouching’. A writer friend of mine compared it rather aptly to good copyediting: you don’t even notice it’s there when it’s done well, but it’s glaringly obvious when it’s not.
And the future of retouching?
The same as it’s always been: making the best use of the technology available at the time, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.