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Is That Photoshopped?

photo of a young man in a portrait studio emphasising the choice to not use harsh face editing techniques. - is that photoshopped?

Is that Photoshopped?

The debate rages on all over social media. Commenters asking, or more stating that an image isn’t real and their hands, waist or face doesn’t actually look like that. An unrelenting barrage of who knows who calling people out and judging strangers on the internet. I don’t know the origin story of when photoshopping and retouching images became the normal thing to do but for as long as I’ve been a photographer, I’ve been witness to the debate; is that photoshopped? 

The most common thing, and the main point of this brief blog post, is skin. Setting unrealistic, unreachable standards of absolute perfection. It’s pretty much a given that the images we see in fashion magazines are dramatically ‘fixed’ in post. Highly paid models with seemingly flawless skin, hair, figure and entire presence. And I suppose that makes sense in some ways; brands don’t want to distract from the products they’re selling. But does that make it more right? More acceptable? They’re selling something; a product, a lifestyle, a beauty standard. Billions of dollars each year to make people, unreasonably aimed towards women, feel ugly and unworthy.

And then there’s the filters on social media that allow everyday people to post selfies and share videos of themselves with a pure & blemish free appearance. As many people have mentioned, it’s an unattainable beauty standard that we can never reach. Social media forces us to watch millions of people from around the world and entices us to compare ourselves to the impossible standards created. It runs far deeper than the previous beauty standards of fashion magazines. Social media is a far larger part of our lives and affects our mental health & self-worth on levels not seen before.

My own experience

My life experiences have long dictated my actions. The feeling of exclusion in my younger years meant that since leaving school I’ve tirelessly worked to host events that are as inclusive as they can be. Or how being ripped off by far too many motor mechanics helped me develop my award-winning quoting method for my bicycle workshop a few years back. Much the same as how I’ve always felt harshly judged, ridiculed and critiqued about my appearance.

It started early, too. Swift, snarky comments from those closest to me about my appearance set the standard. I heard, “you should take more pride in the way you look” far more often than anyone should. It was confusing to me though because I thought I already did. In my first week of high school, a girl stood in front of me, looked down at me and said, “You’re really small!” Since then my look and appearances have been compared to just about everything. Forrest Gump, Jesus, homeless, a tree, or just simply weird or not right. The most recent comparison has been to an Amish man.

Later it became apparent that it was more that I didn’t fit the societal standard of what a bloke should look like. Not big enough, not into sports, too hairy, not hairy enough, too punk, not punk enough, too much black. I couldn’t be put in a pigeon hole and it seemed to frustrate people.

A while ago I mentioned how self portraits were helping me with my mental health. Looking at those portraits and seeing every single truth-telling ‘blemish’ helped prove to myself that I was real, unapologetic and worthy. Despite feeling like the world was against me, those unaltered, precisely lit self portraits told the story of who I am. It was incredibly powerful and something I hope to recreate & relive as often as I can.

I now live knowing, and being at peace with the fact that I am uniquely ‘Steve’. I will always be judged, called names, compared to random people and stereotypes and there’s nothing I can do to stop that. Every time is an opportunity to share a story. It’s taken a lot of mental work to get here but it was worth it. Each wrinkle, grey hair, bald spot is a chance to tell a story. Like the fact that I’m not going bald, I’m just growing too tall for my hair!

What’s this got to do with my headshots?

It has everything to do with my work! As I mentioned, my experiences dictate my actions so with that, I don’t want to be the reason someone feels anything less than amazing. Never wanting to say to someone, “Your face is not good enough, I’ll just fix it in post,” means that I currently don’t include or offer any sort of extensive portrait retouching or manipulation.

I whole-heartedly throw myself into ensuring each and every person I make portraits with is shown in stunning, beautiful and real light. Over & over again I practice my lighting setups, chat and learn new techniques with other photographers and study how to best approach the portrait session. For years I’ve worked with strobe or studio lighting to highlight different parts of a scene and tell stronger stories. In the past couple of years I’ve jumped all in and spend arguably too much time deciphering and studying light modifiers, mixed lighting methods & more. 

My portraits, every single one here on this very website and over my social media pages, are not altered beyond the standard exposure, contrast and colour grading. This I’m very proud of.  

In ensuring I’m completely honest I think the following needs to be said; some of my film photographs have had dust removed from scans and on occasion I’ll check stray hairs on heads and faces that otherwise wouldn’t be there. If my backdrop has a distracting crease or doesn’t quite reach the edge of the frame, I’ll crop or edit the background. Beyond that, you see what I see. 

Is this final?

Absolutely not. I’m always open to be proven wrong. My goal is to be forever learning, despite what my school report card may have said. Will I ever provide or offer an additional a retouching service? I don’t know. Maybe. Even in researching for this blog post, I learned that some people see it as softening of the crispness of modern lenses. Details that are almost highlighted with the high resolution, meticulously crafted camera and lens combinations that otherwise would go unnoticed. 

And if you choose to use a photographer that offers retouching, there’s no judgement here. Thats totally your choice, and I’m ok with that. (But please ask me before attempting to alter my portraits)

But I’m curious to know what you think. Am I being dumb? Should I be smoothing skin and removing freckles, spots and wrinkles? Or do you appreciate my unapologetically real portraits full of story and character?

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