A Wider Angle. December 2011 — See – December Aperture Newsletter
If you are a digital photographer you probably use Photoshop or something similar. Contrast, cropping, sharpening and colour balance are standard practice. You may even remove dust specks. How about the portrait where you remove a blemish from the person’s face? Not unusual. You can easily zap zits, whiten teeth, wipe out wrinkles, remove fat, ditch scars, and well, just about anything. The ability to misrepresent yourself and others in photos is a real possibility.
So where do you draw the line, so to speak? In August this year, Grazia, a UK magazine, ran a story on the Royal Wedding. They wanted a solo cover picture of the Duchess of Cambridge coming out of Westminster Abbey. Trouble was the only photos they had also featured the Duke. But of course they did. The photo editors came up with a cunning plan. Airbrush the Duke out. So far so good. Maybe. Ah, but what about the fact that they were arm in arm and the Duchess’ right arm, entwined in the Duke’s left, was still sticking out at an unnatural angle. No problem, let’s copy the left arm, flip it over and paste it on the right hand side and balance everything up. Brilliant. Job well done. Bonuses all round.
Not so fast said the Press Complaints Commission in response to a complaint. A complaint? About the British press? How unusual. Anyway, the PCC found that the cunning folks at Grazia had made the Duchess look not just slim round the waist but impossibly so. This would give a false impression of her vital statistics which could easily mislead their many readers into believing that if only they went on diet X they too could aspire to meet an heir to the British Throne, fall in love and marry him in a ceremony which would be watched by millions across the world and then walk out onto the Abbey steps and look just like her.
So what, you may ask, has this to do with photography at the level of we commoners?
Well, we take pictures of people for people so that over the years they and we can look at them and think back to that time fondly. Many people hate seeing themselves in photos, and anything we can do to make that process a little easier is worth it. Some people are self conscious of their crow’s feet. Others their eye bags. Some have large scars that they would rather not print onto 11×14 paper. They see these things as defects, but they are what makes that person unique. So what do you do? Do you retouch defects out completely?
A good rule of thumb is to remove any temporary blemishes such as pimples since they don’t define the person. Then maybe soften other defects to make them less obvious. Wrinkles stay put, but they’re softer and less noticeable. Eye bags: softer. Teeth a bit whiter. Sparkle in the eye. Above all respect and don’t try to put one over on the subject, you’ll not get away with it.
See you next year.