It seems like every week we read about new examples of botched photoshop work. This week I read an article about Rumer Willis taking to social media to complain that a photographer altered her face in an unnatural way. A member of the girl group Fifth Harmony was photoshopped to have two right feet. And famed National Geographic and Magnum photographer Steve McMurry was “caught” removing unwanted elements from his photos.
The latter story was referred to as a scandal because of his photojournalistic background. The images in question were on his website, not photojournalistic images. The first two are examples of a lack of attention to detail and poor judgement. But a photographer that removes unwanted items from photos, that are not presented in a photojournalistic manner, isn’t scandalous. Photographers have been changing images since the days of the darkroom. I always love seeing the example of Dennis Stock’s photo of James Dean in Times Square. The camera has its limitations and those limitations can be pushed in the darkroom or Photoshop.
Photoshop is one of the most important tools in my photo bag. There’s not a photo I show publicly that hasn’t seen a little editing in some way. It could be as simple as a new crop or a bump in contrast or as much as swapping a body part from an entirely different image. Like McMurry I had one image on my site that was a mistake. I had noticed it a handful of times but never made the time to correct the issue. Sometimes in our haste things slip through the cracks.
The bad photoshop on my site was an image I shot of Allison Paigen in her pool. My goof was that I had an adjustment layer that included the ladder so a ghostly remnant of the ladder remained. The first frame below is exactly how the camera shot the image. With the color balance set to daylight the color underwater is horrendous. The contrast is bad and there are elements in the photo that take my eye away from Allison. The ladder, the cable, the tile and the dirt on the floor are all items I wanted to remove. I have no qualms removing these items; these edits, IMHO, improve the image. This morning I finally took the time to edit the photo and opted to clone the left area of the pool and use it to clean up the top right area completely.
This is the reality of professional photography. My goal when retouching images if for the viewer, and more importantly the client, not be able to notice where the work was done. The final image is presented as an artistic take on what I shot. As a standalone image most people wouldn’t notice the changes I made in the final image. If you can see the photoshop then it’s been taken too far.