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A modern day renaissance woman

Inside the Industry: Behind The Photoshop Curtain

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By lesleykat · December 21, 2011

I work at an advertising/marketing agency that specializes in fashion retail, and I have a few thoughts on Photoshop and the industry that I'd like to share. I spend a lot of hours out of my day cleaning up photographs of super beautiful models both male and female. We enhance our images by booking photographers that specialize in fashion. We bring out certain features, mood, and emotions using makeup, lighting, composition and styling. Photoshop is just another one of those of tools used to make a photo more appealing to the eye. Photoshop is not the enemy folks, it's the abuse of photoshop that is.

Banning Photoshop in ads will NOT make much difference because the beauty world will still find a way around it. Whether it's lash extensions or just finding models who are naturally blessed with long, lush lashes they will book THOSE girls for mascara ads. I can't imagine what will be done for foundation ads.

We are used to looking at idealized representations of human form. Before the days of photoshop, images were literally airbrushed, recolored, cut apart and put back together to do some of the same things I do in photohop every day. It took a lot longer, but the results were still pretty good. In the world before photography, artists and illustrators often idealized human forms. If you were to open up an old Sears catalog you'd see a lot of long-legged women with tiny waists and perfect-looking hair and features. Human beings like to look at beautiful things. Our eyes/brains are naturally attracted to them.  Do you think Mona Lisa never had a zit on her face? I betcha she did but it certainly wasn't added into her famous portrait.

My point is that advertising is a fantasy. Its about making you feel that if you buy product X then you will look/feel/be like the people in the ads. I guess what's making people so upset is when product X doesn't live up to the expectations.


We start with a RAW image. On set a style is applied that enhances the photo right away. These can range from color correction, brightness, contrast, even pushing colors into blacks and whites. This stylizes the photo right away. Many photographers have certain "curves" that they apply that define their style. A few specific examples are photographers who have very specific styles include Guy Aroch and Mary Ellen Mathews. Then the images are marked up for retouching. The usual stuff includes cleaning up skin, delete dark circles, enhance clothes and makeup (on women) and even cleaning up hair. Further color shifts are made to enhance style and product.

For beauty retouching the general process goes a little something like this: general cleanup followed by more detail work like deleting wrinkles, enhancing color of skin and even tweaking facial features. As you can see in the above GIF I have arched the brows more, slimmed the nose and enhanced the chin by pushing it out slightly. The skin has been stripped of all freckles and pores/natural texture. Additional "light" has been added by darkening shadows and lightening high planes of the face where the light is naturally reflecting. If the model is wearing lipstick the lips are cleaned up and often reshaped. (Not the case in this photo) The backgrounds was finessed to POP the face. The hairline was filled and cleaned up. Oh, did I mention the eyelashes? You see the makeup was enhanced dramatically by cleaning up the edges and darkening the rims of the eyes. Also lightening of the eyes and reducing the redness of the inner tear duct pops the eyes.

This type of retouching happens to just about every ad you see. Sometimes less and sometimes WAY more.

PS. Just so you all know, I do not do this extent of retouching to my own photos for this site. I will clean a spot or two if necessary but NOTHING to the degree demonstrated in the above GIF.


Filed in: digital, personal, Beauty, Fashion
Tagged with: retouching, photoshop
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