Faking It: The Difference Between Reality and an Airbrushed Finish

We hear it all the time: magazine covers aren’t real. These models and celebrities are made up, photographed by professionals and, most infamously, airbrushed to perfection. But there’s a big difference between hearing about it, and watching it happen with your own two eyes.

In this video, UK DJ Goldierocks plays guinea pig to show you what all goes into creating a magazine-worthy model shot — from hair and makeup to an artificially constructed waistline.


The before and after is striking, as is the sped up video showing how it was done. For those of us familiar with Photoshop and the world of digital image editing it’s anything but surprising; but most people don’t understand the time it takes to quite literally “create” a shot like this.

To the average teenager flipping through the most recent issue of a popular magazine, the idea that you could make someone look that different digitally is a foreign one. But by Goldierocks count we all see over 700 digitally altered images every day, images that we’ve seen can mess with our perception of reality. Hopefully videos like this help to shift the credit for those shots from the celebrity’s diet, to the photographer’s skill.

(via ISO 1200)

  • chris

    shes stunning without the airbrushing

  • Ralph Hightower

    DJ Goldierocks looks hot naturally without Photoshopping!

  • geeves

    I’m a DJ and as artificial as the DJ scene can now be, leave it to a DJ to go against the disingenuous. Cognitive Dissonance at its best.

  • Stephan Zielinski

    The “average teenager” GREW UP in a world with routine radical digital image manipulation. It’s we old people who are more likely to conflate “photograph” with “reality”.

  • Rob S

    So Im a bit surprised at how many hot lights he used. I had kinda thought of hot lights as a poor mans substitute for flash heads.

    I will have to admit that I am in favor of SOME skin smoothing and removing random hairs. Still images give us the ability to see skin details we never see in “real life” because life moves. I draw the line at the plastic look. Changing the sizes of eyes, boobs, fingers and noses is out too IMHO.

  • harumph

    That’s exactly what I was just going to post. I’d say the average teenager is well aware of the process of beauty shots being photoshopped.

    It’s also kind of ironic that the author of this article uses the term “airbrushed,” since that’s exactly what old people think of when they think of altered photos.

  • Goofball Jones

    The problem is with art directors, not the people actually doing the retouching. No one hands a photo off and just says “do your magic” to it. Proofs are made and marked over with what the art director wants done…smoothing, hair removal, tighten this, erase that, make this a different color etc. Then the retoucher goes to work and they make another proof (or forward a jpeg to the AD, however they work internally), which gets marked up again and sent back and that’s it. AD’s are their own worse enemy as they don’t know when to stop.

    Back in the 70’s and early 80’s, before digital manipulations came to the industry (digital retouching far predates Photoshop btw), it was very hard to “airbrush” anything and it was mainly used to take out a blemish here or there. Nothing like what we can do today. Even back in the 70’s I’d hear people comment on a magazine cover something like “oh, she’s so airbrushed”, when in fact, that wasn’t the case at all. Back then they had to rely so much more on getting everything right in camera before it ever made it to press. Now the mantra is “well fix it in post”.

  • Jeremy Madore

    Processing destroyed her left hand… horribly.

  • DEE

    Bad model, bad make-up, bad photography, bad photoshop and a ridiculous outfit.
    Keep up the good work!

  • foggy flute

    It’s a bad photoshop job…

  • kyoshinikon

    You’d be surprised. I was one of the local Barnes and nobles (Pasedena Ca) and these 2 young girls walked in (12-13ish) they went straight for the fashion photobooks and I could hear them comparing themselves to the models in them. It was kinda sad just how much they put themselves down. They were both beautiful and still so young and they didn’t get it. It still didn’t seem to hit them after I told them that I do photoshopping for a living (at the time I was a retoucher) Maybe it is location as LA is steeped in fashion images but I don’t think as many youth have caught on as some do. Of course companies expect this because if that look was reachable people wouldnt keep buying other products to chase after this look but be happy with who they are…

  • kyoshinikon

    However as hard as it was, photoshop was based on something. I still work in the darkroom and if you are working with a 120 format or larger neg you can do all sorts of trickery. It is much harder but it is possible. Back then what they did for some of the stuff is cover the already malnourished model in gaffers tape… So there was more pre production and less post… times have changed.

  • Rob S

    Yeah I have to say that is not a dress I would put her in. The “tightening” of her waist is so obvious its almost like they wanted it to look bad. Her hair on the left (right facing) is blown out on the PS version. Half of what they did to make her look “better” could have been achieved with wardrobe and posing.

  • Marry

    She’s a fatty.

  • Admiral Kackbar

    Oh the humanity…

    These fake images will only stop being made when the public says so. If people want “real” photos in magazines, they should wither write to the publishers, complain on their facebook pages, and NOT BUY THE MAGAZINES.

    The problem is, people have com to expect “perfection” when they buy fashion and “youth” magazines, so things like zits, wrinkles, blemishes, and “fat” stand out.

    Hooray for Seventeen magazine who recently vowed to stop digitally altering models. More magazines should follow.

    How much is too much fakery? Should we draw the line at Photoshop? Many celebrities look like crap when they don’t use makeup… HD TV has let us see celebs like never before and they have learned to cake on the makeup they use at live events… I say, live as naturally as possible with the least amount of makeup, and avoid the whole mess that is “living up to a public image that is unreal”.

  • Stephan Zielinski

    I’d argue that’s more straight-up low self esteem. Women compare themselves to The Ideal™ regardless of whether The Ideal™ even exists. (For real reasons: women who look more like The Ideal™ have an easier time of it in this life, and so taking steps to look more like The Ideal™ can be a good investment of time and effort.) If we were still using oil paintings instead of photographs, they’d be comparing themselves to fantasies of Venus.

  • Slobarn

    One glaring ommission from the video – that is also an ommission from serious article on digital manipulation: PHOTOGRAPHS ARE NOT REAL. No photograph ever is. A photograph can be honest, a bland journalistic depiction of reality, but even that is not real. Everything we do as photographers separates photo from reality: Framing, lense perspective, lighting – these are elements that can tell entire stories on their own, and that is before the light even hits the sensor.

    I hate it when ‘digital’ comes to mean ‘fake’. I hate it when people are led to believe that film was ‘real’. I hate it when people or indeed articles talk about “unmanipulated photos” without proper context, as if they are an objective depiction of reality. It is always up to the intentions of the photographer whether the photo will SEEM real or not – in exactly the same way as a painting can depict reality or a fantasy.

    If we want to educate teenage girls with body image issues, boys with unrealistic expectations, and everyone else, we should be doing this properly. Promote photography as the art that it has always been and educate everyone about the potential and pitfalls of the medium. Let’s not selectively focus on one detail out of the big picture. As photographers, we should know better.

  • Slobarn

    “cover the model with gaffer tape”

    Really interesting. We really don’t know enough today about the old school tricks. Know any links, of even books about this?