Portrait Retouching

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by browncam, Dec 27, 2018.

  1. I was a wedding and portrait photographer in the film days. A friend asked me for some family portraits. I know how to retouch faces in Photoshop. Here is the question. Do you soften wrinkles and blemishes on men?.

    View attachment 1A9A9892.jpg
    jean_claude_watry likes this.
  2. On this photo, yes I would. Just don’t overdo it. It shouldn’t make a difference if it’s a man or woman we’re talking about. Aim for a pleasing but natural look. I consider wrinkles and blemishes, to some extent, part of identity and character, so softening their presence in post is preferable to the kind of accentuation lighting often does. And softening is preferable to getting rid of them completely, which would look fake and often ruin the character of a face.
    jean_claude_watry likes this.
  3. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your help. I will take it easy.
  4. I agree with The shadow!
    IMHO, the best face retouching is frequency separation, see google. But still, piano piano;)
  5. This Cyprus pope is 97 years old. I wouldn't do any retouching, no way! Cyprus pope.jpg
  6. SCL


    Depending on the "character" of the face and preference of the subject, I might very lightly soften a man's face to produce a pleasing portrait. If the subject likes a rough & tumble look, no softening.
  7. The case with all make-up and retouching:

    If it's obvious that it's been done, then it's been done too much.
  8. IMHO, retouching raises techical, commercial and ethical questions.
    • Technical: There may be color/wb issues that you wish to address through retouching
    • Commercial: The client might want to have a 'softer' photo in some areas (or a more ''perfect foto) than the original
    • Ethical: Given the technical and commercial considerations, why would you 're-touch'' a photo?
  9. Can you specify what you think are ethical considerations when it comes to retouching a portrait like the one the OP is asking about? I’ve certainly retouched portraits for aesthetic reasons. I can imagine the ethics of making oneself look 20 years younger for a dating app or some such thing, but not sure what you’re getting at.

    You ask, “Why would you retouch a photo?” I gave an answer above, for this particular photo. The man in question was the most prominent and the lighting on him is not particularly flattering. I think softening the light and lightly evening out some of the skin blemishes would make for a more pleasing appearance for him. I would do it in such a way that I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t even realize it had been done and would just think it was a flattering pic. I do it all the time for different portraits. Sometimes, I actually enhance wrinkles, depending on the context and purpose of the portrait, especially when it’s more a character study or creation than something to be framed to be put on the subject’s desk. With the type of portrait in the OP, I mostly want people to like the way they look and a little touch up can do the trick.
  10. Maybe I should have been clearer. I agree about the lighting on the man's face and I too would probably retouch for that. I referred to this as 'technical' retouching to get a good tonal and color balance. Adjusting shadows, highlights, contrast, WB, etc. falls into this category. Without any experience of this, I think 'cosmetic retouching' is less clear cut. I understand that photographers want their clients to like their photos and I have no problems with retouching that shows their clients at their best. The main ethical question for me is how far you go in retouching facial features (wrinkles, blemishes, skin texture, etc). I make this point generally and not on this specific pic. On the one hand you want the photo to be attractive. On the other there's also something to be said for 'keeping it real'.

  11. Thanks for the clarification. For me, this would be an aesthetic and not an ethical consideration. To what extent a photo represents reality is likely more an ethical question when it comes to journalism or documentary work. Representing reality in portraits, street work, still lifes, landscapes, etc. is usually more a matter of creative choice and aesthetics. Salgado would be a case which would straddle the line, just as some other landscape or nature photographers might, in that his landscapes come with a message of environmentalism, so his ethical obligations may be stronger. Nevertheless, a lot of his landscapes look more hyper-real than real and I don't find them ethically lacking. Some street photographers likely also face ethical considerations in their work and might not want to retouch some stuff they do. Others may retouch with abandon and it won't be a problem. I'd take it on a case by case basis, but don't necessarily find it better to keep it real. Sometimes, fiction tells a deeper or more significant kind of truth than reality! :)
  12. Getting back to portraits for a moment, and some extreme examples, consider the great Hollywood portraits of the 30s and 40s, the work of those like George Hurrell and Milton Greene. The used gauze, makeup, lighting, and post processing effects to get a certain look, get rid of blemishes, smooth out skin, etc., sometimes to a degree that had a less than "real" look, or at least a very cleansed look. Yet, in many cases, that was simply part of their art and craft. These are some of the most dazzling portraits created and I don't think the extent of their special effects compromises their ethics as photographers. That is being done today as well. When that kind of thing is overdone or done badly, I may not like it but don't usually hold the photographer or retoucher as having crossed an ethical boundary.
    Wilmarco Imaging and mikemorrell like this.
  13. use the healing tool at 40-50%
  14. My take on retouching is we all want to look our best and most want to look 10 years younger. Every portrait I have done needed some form of retouching even if it is to remove one zit or minimize bags or dark spots on the face. No one wants to look like they are 100 years old with sun cancer. The real talent in retouching is knowing just how much to do. I don't just open up a software plug in and push the button. I always start off retouching by hand in PS like hjosepj7 sugested to use the healing tool or the clone stamp. I would do as much as I can with that and most times for guys that is all I need to do. For women they all like the skin smoothing but just go easy with it you don't want it to look like an iPhone app photo that you see n instagram.
  15. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    I've done this for folks - probably not as expertly as those more practiced, but natural and within Michael M's 10 year concept. The difficulty is that the person and the retouch exist in the same continuum. Seems a little like the old Science Fiction concept of a time traveler meeting an earlier self - results not good. Possibly this is something best reserved for special situations and dear deceased? Just a thought.
  16. Hi there
    As for me, this information looks very useful.
    Thank you so much for sharing.
    Good luck
  17. Someone above mentioned dating apps, but how about job applications?
    (Even if they don't require a photo, sending one anyway?)

    If you retouch to look 10 or 20 or more years younger?
  18. Well, someone who sends a retouched photo of themselves making them look 10-20 years younger may not cross a terrible ethical boundary but they are putting themselves at practical risk.

    Someone sending a picture that looks 20 years younger than themselves is setting their potential date up for disappointment, so most likely being counterproductive to their own ends. On the other hand, I’m sure some figure that if they can just get their foot in the door, their charm and personality will take over and make the date fall immediately, no matter the age or deception.

    As to employment, I think it would be unethical of most potential employers to ask for a picture unless looks is a very specific part of the job, such as with actors or models. Unless I were seeking a job of that kind, I’d likely pass up on applying to an employer who asked for a picture. I guess sending an employer who has no business asking for a pic in the first place a deceptive picture that looks 20 years younger would fall into the category of the employer getting their just desserts. Of course, the deceptive person looking for the job likely won’t get it. Lose lose.
  19. Not talking about resumes or dating/job apps, but general photography, at what point is it "too much?"
    If on casual glance it is not noticeable, or even considered to have been done? If invisible on a 4x6, but visible on an 11x14?
    Or, if pixel peeping looking for the cloning tool's edge or spot decreases in clarity or sharpness? Or looking like a plastic sheen?
    I am asking seriously, as I often soften skin on ladies of a certain age I shoot on Mardi Gras, or even family snaps. I generally do nothing with the males, preferring to show their age and life experiences written on their faces.
    My thinking is that I do not want to have documented that which makes someone feel uncomfortably old or less attractive, I want to make them look as good as they feel on a good day.
    All very fuzzy, I understand, but are there technical "measures" that say to you there is too much retouching/processing, and that is to the detriment of the photo?
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2019 at 9:55 AM
  20. At the point you determine.
    This is probably not unusual but still worth rethinking.

    As gender stereotypes conform less and less to old paradigms, I’m not sure most men or women would want to be treated with such pre-determined differences as much as they’d want to be dealt with as individuals. I suspect there’s a coming together of sensibilities in this realm where you’re likely to find women not adverse to being seen for the character and life experience written on their faces and likely to find men with the desire to soften that.
    i think it’s as much about the kind of photo I’m looking at or making.. I’ve done photos that lend themselves to a lot more softening and processing, photos that emulate more of a Hollywood glamour style. They’re personal portraits that can still bring out character but not by intervening less but rather by intervening more. I’ve done weddings where I’ve felt obliged and also more naturally-inclined to flatter the subjects, make and female. Street portraits I’ve done tend to get little touch-up.

    As far as touch-up being noticed, probably a good start is toward refinement and subtlety as long as you keep in mind that sometimes more obviousness can be expressive and may be just the ticket for a given shot.

    Bruce Gilden and even Avedon in some instances exaggerated what some might call flaws. Others went to great lengths to mask them. There’s room for both approaches, especially in different circumstances.

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