Monday, June 21, 2010

Photo Editing: For Better or For Worse

Flip through a fashion magazine. Look at a billboard. Go to a photography exhibit or flip through a cookbook. Everywhere you see a photograph, I guarantee you see at least a little photo editing. never noticed? Good. Then these professional photo editors are doing their job.

But professionals aren't the only ones who do it these days. Whether it's Photoshop or any of the other software available for home use these days, it's becoming more and more common for people to edit their photos, even if they're just for personal use. Fashion photo communities are some of the most common places to find photoshop, because, when you're posting pictures of yourself for others to see, you want to look your best, don't you? It's also a fact of life that cameras can capture blemishes and other imperfections that, while completely unnoticeable in real life, are impossible to ignore in photos. You'd cover them up with make-up if they showed on your skin, wouldn't you?

That's what I think of Photoshop as: make-up for the Internet. There's nothing wrong with fixing your complexion or removing stray hairs, maybe enhancing certain features that stand out in real life but become matte in photos. I think that any time you're putting photos of yourself on the internet, you're giving yourself the opportunity to put your best face forward, knowing that people will see it.

However, there's a bit more to it than that. How many times have we heard about print models (for photography like advertisements or fashion spreads) being sighted in real life, completely unrecognizable? That's a rude awakening for the avid fan, but it makes sense: in order to sell a product, an advertising firm needs to idealize the model and make the perfect even more perfect. It's a fact of life in the marketing world, and no fault of the model him or herself. This practice, however, is not limited to advertisements. Have you ever been to a meet-up and sat chatting with an assumed stranger for twenty minutes before you realize that you're actually active friends online? You can't even recognize her because whenever she posts pictures of herself, she has lightened her skin and widened her eyes and pinched in her waist and highlighted her hair and performed plastic surgery to her jawline and a laundry list of other adjustments. The pictures were perfect, sure, but at that point, is the model even herself? And if she IS a model, so be it, but if she's submitting these pictures as accurate representations of herself and outfits she's worn or looks she's created, what are we supposed to think? If I ever met someone in real life who looked nothing like her photos, I'd feel lied to. Luckily this has never happened to me, but it's not a rarity in lolita for girls to edit themselves into perfect porcelain dolls in photographs. So is it right?

Here's my opinion: in art photography, go crazy. Gaussian Blur the hell out of it, use crazy fill colors to tint the air, enhance the colors or add prints and details to her dress. The idea here is what's important: you're taking an art photograph because it's art. It doesn't have to be accurate to real life as long as it gets its intended image across. There's definitely a charm and beauty to realism, but if that's not your aim then don't let fear of "overshopping" taint your idea. In the case of fashion photos, if you're doing a promotional shoot for your favorite indies brand, you're kind of expected to photoshop because the model in these need to sell their product and therefore need to be an idealized image of perfection. I even give more leeway to personal blogs; in a way, if you're a blogger you ARE your own product and need to sell yourself to your viewers. However, if your photos are for a fashion photo-sharing community like daily_lolita, making the pictures look "presentable" is fine but completely changing your appearance is not only providing friends with a false idea of who you are, it's flat-out lying. I love Photoshopping, yes, and everyone goes overboard sometimes; I'm no exception. However, there are times when I spend hours on a single image, just to sigh and close it without saving because it just doesn't look like me anymore. Other times, I've spent so long on it at that point that I just can't bear not to use it, at which point I'll post it here, but no where else. I figured, my viewers know what I look like already; it's not like I'm trying to recruit new readers from my existing readers (as opposed to on daily_lolita, where I sometimes link to my blog as publicity).

In short, in my opinion, photoshopping is not a negative thing in the lolita community like it is in mainstream media, where it can skew female perceptions of beauty expectations. There is nothing wrong with skewing your own image into the proper version of yourself that you would like to show to the world; however, if in the end that person doesn't even look like you anymore, who is it that you're showing off, and by then what's the point?


  1. i like your posts :) I think ppl photo shop too much, i guess there isn't anything wrong in wanting to look 'pretty' and 'perfect', but the media butcher the image of 'beauty' sometimes to me.

    Sometimes I wonder y ppl can't accept spots and freckles, or bumpy skin.

  2. I pretty much have the same opinion on the subject. The only part of when I feel it can get unhealthy is if you obsess or take it too seriously. We need to have a healthy mindset about it and it is hard when our lives are saturated with false images day in and day out. It gives us a very warped perception of reality. As long as one can accept that it’s fake and appreciate ones own body for what it is, then that’s fine. But when you get to the point of photoshopping out of hatred for your appearance then it’s not healthy.

    I'm really loving your topics lately, Aly! (I always do, but your most recent ones have really engaged me even more). You're touching on some great subjects.

  3. Dear god, that poor lady doesn't have enough room for her vital organs!
    I saw an advertisement photo once in which a model was standing by a mirror, and they'd forgotten to 'shop her reflection. Oops.

    I agree with all of what you said. Editing out some spots or a flyaway, adding a bit of shine to just-dyed hair, even widening an eye or shrinking a nose a little bit if it was just a really unflattering shot, and your eye doesn't really look that beady/your nose isn't really that protrudent. But I feel sorry for the girls who are so insecure that they can't feel good about themselves unless they aren't themselves any more.

  4. There isn't anything wrong with a LITTLE editing! To get the colours look more realistic, or the picture a bit sharper, no worries!

    For me photoshopping is very easily; you want me to make you cry? Put make up on? Place you in another photo? But everthing in black and white except your eyes or something? Lose the freckles? ETc.. etc.. It's no problem for me!

    I can recall my first banner for my blog, I was looking at it and I was close to tuck my tummy in a bit.. However, when I did so, I felt like I was telling a lie. That's not me! I would never edit a photo of myself (not that there are any) other than a little touch up of colours and sharper. I even think removing freckless of yourself is cheating.

    I think once again, the media creates an unreal image and we all support the image as well, thinking the models are real!

  5. I wonder if the general public would realize that the entire length of that woman's intestines, along with her liver, would have to be removed in order for her to look like that in real life. Yuck.

    I agree, I've definitely photoshopped myself before (I was an emo kid once, the ridiculous stars and lightening bolts on my face were necessary), but I feel as though totally changing the way you look in a picture is almost lying. One way to fight how the media portrays their unrealistic ideals is to make sure we don't fall into the same trap when we photo edit.

    Also, if anyone wants to check out other ridiculous edits in media that get out to the public, look here: it's good to know that we're not the only ones laughing.



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