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  • How Much to Retouch Without Going to the Extreme

    Is what you see what really is? Probably not.

    Smash, crumble, pop… sorry to break the illusion of perceived perfection but you gotta know, what you gotta know. Photos in magazines and ads get retouched– we know that. Every time a celebrity photo gets overdone, the blogosphere goes mad with Photoshop rage. And rightly so.

    But a little helpful "cleaning up" only enhances the image. Master retoucher and former Ford model Sharon Daniels unveils what really is behind the photo that you see and why. –S.H.

    It’s no secret that photo retouching is essential to all media platforms. It can lure us in emotionally to a given product or subject and in turn serves to increase sales for advertisers. We see this phenomena at work everyday and everywhere, including in fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle.

    Why does the media retouch and to what extent may retouching be necessary?

    The answer lies in several areas, including the context in which the image will exist, the advertising client’s branding, and an art director’s personal vision.

    Time and economic factors may also help to dictate when and how much to retouch. You may be surprised to know that it is not uncommon for a model’s face to be swapped out from one image and placed in another to avoid reshooting, saving time and money.

    High end companies such as Burberry, Escada, and Prada realize that retouching is necessary not only to enhance the model in their advertisements, but also to add to the worth, beauty, or other desirable quality of the garment that the model is wearing. I may be retouching a model’s face and hands and later retouch the particular garment she is modeling by reshaping, removing bulging, and softening wrinkles.

    For women’s health and fitness magazines your goal is to enhance the model’s features and body without making them look contrived or overdone.

    Good publicity or a better photo? British retailer Debenhams decided to not use digitally enhanced photos in its windows to launch new swimwear lines, The Daily Mail, UK reports.

    Good publicity or a better photo? British retailer Debenhams decided to not use digitally enhanced photos in its windows to launch new swimwear lines, The Daily Mail, UK reports.

    Men’s magazines such as Maxim, FHM and Playboy sell fantasy. The cover model’s gracing these magazines often look like the girl next door; only with perfectly retouched faces and bodies. The little clothing being worn may also have undergone some retouching.

    Magazines prefer a natural look for men. However, I would retouch the rock star Adam Lambert differently than a professional athlete such as David Beckham. A soft beauty retouch is complimentary to Adam Lambert, who sports makeup and outrageous clothing. It fits his persona and brand. I would retouch David Beckham natural, unaffected, sporty and healthy.

    Cosmetic giants Estee Lauder, Lanc˘me, L’OrÚal and Revlon sell beauty, youth and perfection. The models and celebrities featured in their ads look flawless, yet attainable. Hours of meticulous photo retouching on people who already have great genes helps to create an image of perfection.

    This is how I retouch a photograph:

    • I utilize an artistic approach that combines the creative eye and various Adobe Photoshop tools to enhance the beauty of the subject.
    • To create a perfect image I first focus on creating symmetry and a clean canvas.
    • Next on my list of many things to do, I might enlarge the subject’s eyes, making the image more interesting to the viewer.
    • After that I create creamy skin, resulting in a look that appears naturally flawless.

    It is important to maintain the one or two features that define a particular celebrity so that you don’t take away from their character or branding.

    Just imagine removing Cindy Crawford‘s trademark mole, or reducing Angelina Jolie‘s lips. When teaching celebrity retouching to my students I always stress that ôone size does not fit allö… what to retouch… and why.

    What do you think? — Sharon Daniels, The Skin Perfector



    Photo of 1/2 face: Britta Leuerman, via Sharon Daniels
    Debenhams photo via

    Published on July 13, 2010

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