May 6, 2022
The Ethical Side of Photo Retouching: A Photographer's Guide

Each of you has examined and discussed a photo and considered a few tweaks here and there to make it better. Retouching photos is essential for photographers. They rely on it for their livelihood. The approaches to retouching photos have recently divided opinions. Retouched images do not seem to cause any problems to some people if correctly, but most people believe that photo retouching has no place in modern society. I wonder which side will ultimately prevail? What are the strongest arguments? Perhaps a middle ground exists that allows brands to express their aesthetic without upsetting sensitive consumers?

To give you a better idea of what photo retouching entails and give you a sense of what the subject is all about, let’s examine some of the valid reasons for and against it.

The Difference Between Editing And Retouching

The definition of photo retouching as a concept still needs explanation, even though it has recently become a hot topic of discussion. People who are just getting started in photography or do not need to retouch photos might assume that editing and retouching are synonymous. These two concepts are both parts of post-processing, but they don’t share much in common.

The first stage of post-processing involves editing, which includes enhancing or modifying the original image. Brightness and contrast are adjusted, cropped, and resized, the warmth of the image is increased or reduced, white balance is adjusted, and other color adjustments occur. Depending on the photographer’s goal, they will edit the image to various degrees.

Post-processing ends with photo retouching. It involves cleaning up an image before it is presented to clients, published, or printed. A standard adjustment removes fingerprints or scratches that a product acquired during the shooting. Retouching photos can also highlight and communicate object qualities that cameras cannot capture, such as glitter or color saturation.

In theory, these changes should be so subtle that you won’t notice them until you’re specifically searching for the differences between the original and the retouched photo. It is typical for photographers to overdo the editing, causing disagreements between clients and controversy in the field.

Why Photographers Use Slight And Extreme Editing?

Remove Random Or Temporary Defects.

How can you tell a good photo retouching from a bad one? Using the first technique, you can remove random and temporary imperfections that were not present in the photo but became too noticeable due to the camera or lens settings. But using the second technique will add additional defects you must deal with later on.

Consider this scenario. We have scheduled a photo shoot for a stock photography platform, rented a studio, and received payment for the rent. Several days have passed since one of the models was covered in spots, nearing the end of the shoot. The only choice is to shoot unless you have an immediate opportunity to find a new way before you delay everything. If this is the case, retouching can be applied to remedy these temporary and unnecessary defects.

Good retouching usually fades into the background. There would not be a frequent request to ban it if photographers or editors didn’t become overly obsessed with it.

Building Confidence.

Retouching photos is an effective way to boost self-esteem. The use of apps such as Facetune, which are affordable and accessible to those without a camera, is quite common in social media today.

Retouched photos can have negative consequences, yet if a person feels more comfortable with themselves through them, then it is okay. A similar procedure can help conceal temporary imperfections in makeup and hair or even give clothes a better look by ironing them. Why is photo retouching so wrong if cosmetic and other real-life adjustments are correct?

What’s wrong is the amount of photo retouching. Celebs and influencers who retouch their images should notify their audiences about this issue. Since it is more of a moral and ethical issue. Overly polished images give the wrong impressions. For example, teenagers who look at these photos start to doubt their natural beauty, become depressed when they don’t see the results, and turn to drastic measures like dieting or even surgery to improve their appearance.

Expression Through Art.

For photographers or editors with the desire to experiment or simply for those who enjoy Photoshop, retouching provides an opportunity to express themselves. Even a vastly retouched photo may or may not be relevant depending on the outlet. Retail and media aren’t the best spaces to experiment with retouching, so you should focus on stock photography platforms, your portfolio, or creative portfolios.

These hundreds of millions of images on the Internet have already changed the traditional economic formula. The new strategy is this: there will be a demand if there is an appealing offer.

Reasons Not To Retouch Photos.

Be Authentic.

One of the biggest photography trends of the last few years has been authenticity. The concept allows not only to win over and sell more stock images but also to conquer the hearts of a contemporary audience. A perfect image no longer guarantees success. Influencers and celebrities refuse to retouch or edit their photos, as people have become more adept at spotting retouched photos. They want to experience the quirks and imperfections of real life.

Unrealistic and over-retouched photographs have resulted in boycotts in the fashion industry. There is even a photoshop section said to be a feminist site called “Photoshop of Horrors. The section highlights photo retouching failures. Kate Moss’s fingerless daughter appeared in Vogue, a copy of Moschino’s “amputation” of models’ legs, and a $10k offer for an unretouched photoshoot with Lena Dunham for Vogue.

The authors demonstrate the importance of authenticity and provide valid reasons to avoid photo retouching. Since even the tiniest details involved as editing can drastically alter an image.

Honesty is important.

Several ethical and moral issues arise with photo retouching, and one of them relates to the honesty of a brand in front of a client. Retouched photos can communicate a false message, appearing as if an organization or individual is lying to its audience. Here’s a situation to help explain the above statement.

A few clothes you ordered online are on their way to you. When the package arrived, disappoints you with ugly look. It was of poor quality, and the fit was not as I expected. As a result, you (as a customer) were very disappointed because your expectations were too high. Although the sediment remained, you returned the piece and got your money back.

Brands should refuse to retouch photos in these situations since they occur frequently. It might also hurt their reputation if they fail to comply with all marketing efforts and fail to deliver.

Responsible Behavior.

Photographers’ responsibility before an audience is a compelling argument against photo retouching. Irrespective of how many subscribers your brand has, the message you communicate remains your responsibility.

Teenagers’ depression and anxiety are the most revealing examples. There is a sense that something is wrong among young people when they receive incorrect messages from influencers, media, and brands.

The diets followed by Victoria’s Secret models and other brands promoting similar messages exhaust girls. Furthermore, no one is telling them that wrinkles, spots, and curves are natural and beautiful because they are part of who you are. When you fail to lose weight or meet an unrealistic body standard, you may experience apathy, frustration, and anxiety.

That is why retouchers and brands should be aware of their responsibilities. Often, there will be outrage if the retouching is not thoughtful and does not convey its message. At the very least, if more obvious retouching is needed, people should be aware that some images have changed, does not represent the reality, and must consider as art.

Even though photo retouching seems like a heated topic, young people are more likely to be affected by it. Since they’re more prone to social media influence. It’s up to you how you feel about photo retouching. We can safely conclude that photo retouching is food for thought for brands, audiences, and professional photographers.



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