Before & After Photos Examine the Ethics of Photoshop in Portraiture

In the above video, Karl Taylor walks you through a four-step process that shows the before-and-after results of three variables when it comes to portraiture: studio lighting, make-up, and Photoshop.

Breaking down each step and comparing them to one another, he takes a detailed look at how much of a difference each individual step makes to the final image.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 12.12.36 PM

His goal, in the end, isn’t to say where the line should be drawn or what is or isn’t ethical. It’s to provide a resource that will provoke some thought and bring up the conversation in the proper context: with a collection of results to examine, limited though they may be.

(via ISO 1200)

  • Stefan Nilsson

    Is it just me or do all comparisons look extremely “overdone”?

  • OtterMatt

    I don’t think it looks overdone at all. Compared to past magazine shots, the editing seems downright restrained to me.

  • ReinoldFZ .

    That’s a reason why I dislike and distrust magazines and I prefer Terry Richardson’s photographs. I think if I would like a lie so I would see better a 3d fantasy.

  • Martin Francis

    The eyes are a touch… “glowy” in the retouched version. Other than that, solid job.

  • David Fraser

    I’m not sure how all three could be considered “overdone” when the first has no makeup or retouching at all. That’s how she looks. Unless you are suggesting nature “overdid” her some way. Before the advent of digital photographer on a wide scale level, dark room experts did their share of retouching as well. So magazines have always done this. We can decry the extremes to which some commercial photography go, but I think it is almost an evolution of something that has been going on for some time.

  • April Vest

    I distrust anyone that thinks Terry Richardson is a good photographer.

  • Scott

    So this is why my lighting never looks quite as nice/consistent as the photos I see other take…

    I never do any advanced post processing beyond exposure/contrast/WB/shadows.

    I thought I was doing something wrong with my lights or my lights just sucked :/

  • William Wolffe

    They make up is horrible. Especially on the eyes, It makes them all beady and small.

  • William Wolffe

    The retouching job is a good one, except the white of the eyes, a littler bit too flat.

  • Scott

    Looks like pretty standard everyday eye makeup to me. It’s not crazy dramatic fashion makeup though.

  • Mr Hogwallop

    Peta Pixel’s click bait headline contradicted by the video.

    Before & After Photos Examine the Ethics of Photoshop in Portraiture and the next statement “His goal, in the end, isn’t to say where the line should be drawn or what is or isn’t ethical” , in fact I didn’t hear Karl say anything about ethics. The difference was pretty girl looking like a good DMV photo to model made up and photoshopped…FWIW is this “portraiture” or a commercial beauty photo, two vastly different things.
    What a mess of a topic but it;s the holiday!

    I admit it, I clicked to see the discussion on ethics…

  • Mr Hogwallop

    With some experience and practice you can get 70% of the way with lighting and then with makeup another 20% will take the photo further, the final 10% is the frosting on the cake and that’s the skillful use of Photoshop or darkroom technique.

  • ReinoldFZ .

    haha, I never said he is a good photographer. I said I trust more his photographs than the heavy editings that magazines try to pass as “photographs”

  • sean lancaster

    PP can easily be overdone, but it is almost a requisite to a fantastic shot of people. My own experience is that my photography improved greatly once I learned more advanced PP.

  • Karl Taylor

    Hi the topic on ethics is on my blog, the problem when these articles get picked up by other blogs is that they don’t always give you links to the original content.

  • Stefan Nilsson

    I obviously didn’t mean the before photo but comparisons in general.

  • James

    Yeah I think that’s kinda the idea here, I was watching this with my girlfriend, and she agreed the makeup could have been a lot better done.

  • James

    But really though you should look at some of his actual work rather than the hard flash against the wall crap.

  • pgb0517

    stop it stop it stop it stop it stop it

  • pgb0517

    Taylor says: “I strongly believe we should adopt the policy the French are considering, where any altered images need to clearly state that is the case. I think it is perfectly reasonable for any image that appears in mainstream media to state if it has been digitally or artistically manipulated.”


    No, no, no.

    No to more laws, more regulations, more “voluntary guidelines,” and other garbage. No no no, Mr. Taylor, we don’t need more “truth in advertising” on this. We need people to grow up and recognize that people need to view portraits of models, as well as many, many other things in mass media, with skepticism and intelligence.

    It is up to parents to train their kids about their bodies and healthy living.

    Besides, every single photo from a digital camera IS processed. It is impossible to have a digital camera take a photo without processing it in some way. It is impossible to take a film photo without processing it in some way. Where would you draw the line as to what should require “labeling”?

    You can’t. You really just can’t. So stop it, stop it, stop it.

  • Jon Peckham

    There should never be an ethics issue when it comes to art, period! Ignorant unintelligent people with no understanding of art are usually the complainers. . .

  • Jim Macias

    If they all had studio lighting why bother listing it?

  • Omar Salgado

    “We need people to grow up and recognize that people need to view
    portraits of models, as well as many, many other things in mass media,
    with skepticism and intelligence.”

    Unfortunately, those who say that every photo is manipulated in some extent, oftent forget that now it has been taken to the extreme. Photography has always been an illusion, but now more than ever is just a starting point to creating illusions that cannot be easily deluded, and even worst, that carry the aura of validation because everyone does.

    Many can’t see that what is at stake is not the purity or the “creative” side through manipulation, but how we perceive, conceive and then project what we believe is true, and that with digital it has been taken to the extreme, because it has always existed since the dawn of the medium.

    Besides, many people talk about art, but they generally think it is the aesthetic aspect of a work, at best; they don’t really have any clue of what art is, really.

    The kind of comment you made is what we need to start seeing critically, because nowadays that seems to be a heresy, nowadays we like to be totally fooled. 2 + 2 = 5

  • Omar Salgado

    What is art then? What are your invented definitions of it? Only aesthetics for the sake of asthetics?

  • Scott

    I agree that I should learn more about PP in general but I’m not sure I’ll ever go to the point of learning all the skin smoothing and perfecting techniques most people use. The only portraits of this type that I take are my wife and I don’t want to misrepresent her beyond removing a pimple or something.

    I never want anyone saying she’s not as beautiful as she appears cause I just photoshop away all her flaws.

    Good camera technique, lighting, makeup and light editing are as far as I want to take it.

  • Scott

    Yeah it’s just I thought I was doing something wrong cause I don’t do that last 10% so my lighting looks inadequate. But now I realize it looks pretty much just like this pros lighting. And I use far cheaper gear HAHA.

  • Dustin Dowell

    The only thing I really didn’t like was how much he photoshopped her lips. It took away from her expression and they looked too sharp. Otherwise, I thought the rest was alright. If anything, the skin was only slightly too smooth – that’s just me.

  • Karl Taylor

    Hello Mr pgb0517, I see your point. I also don’t like over regulation or a world full of unnecessary labels or enforcements. I was in the USA a couple of years ago and was very surprised that I needed a permit to take photos on a mostly empty beach just because I had three people with me? I then needed a permit to take photographs in a national park, a place that was created for the benefit of the public to enjoy the natural beauty? It seemed very odd that in the land of the free everywhere I went I needed another permit to move around. It didn’t feel very free at all. I actually had the ability to move more freely when I was in Indonesia photographing more controversial subjects? Anyway I digress but I guess my point is, yes unnecessary and pointless regulation is very frustrating.

    So in many ways I see your point and agree with you. Before I had kids I would have probably stood more firmly on your side. Since having young kids my opinion has changed. My wife and I do talk to our kids and explain the realities of life as clearly as we can and before I had kids I probably believed they could simply be ‘trained’ as you mentioned. But I soon came to realise that it isn’t that simple. Young kids are being ‘trained’ by the powers of advertising for an increasingly more impactful period too. Kids believe in the tooth fairy, Father Christmas and will readily accept an image and take it at face value. In their eyes ‘seeing is believing’ and before they are old enough to know better the damage could already be done.

    For many young people and some adults they don’t realise that the ‘normal’ looking celebrity ‘snapshot’ in the gossip magazine is actually a very cleverly altered image that had to be signed off and approved by the celebrity before release. I know because I’ve worked on these images myself. With that in mind my views have changed and I just think that the truth is a better option than deception. Stating a fact on top of a deception in my opinion just seems the simplest way to balance the scales.

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  • Doc Pixel

    Sorry Karl… but I’m not buying that last paragraph. Are you claiming that we have all become more naive? Because glossy glamour magazines since the 40’s and 50’s, as well as Life magazine itself, published signed-off, airbrushed and creative darkroom magic photos of celebrities and fashion. There must be a reasonable flaw somewhere, in addition to the influence of advertising, that causes children as well as young adults to be affected by imagery.

    Also to consider is the advance of printing itself, where today you can pick out a dead pixel in a magazine spread, where as with a 60-90 line screen it was a bit difficult to see around the dots.

    BTW: and what about the court painters centuries ago? You don’t truly believe that all of those pictures hanging in museums world wide are actually true-to-life portraits of their subjects, do you? Who was thinking of the bad influence painters were having on the children then? And yet… we all survived, and without the painters or darkroom genie sorcerers being stoned to death and offered up as martyrs to the “reality cause” of the day.

    Hollywood and magazines used to be an escape from said reality for many a child “in the old days” and to inspire their dreams. What’s changed, other than that they are seeing these images on pixel-based displays rather than in paper and ink or the big screen?

    I say it’s a far larger and deeper problem and should be looked at sociologically and scientifically, rather than making it easy by scapegoating Photoshop and photographers. That’s IMHO anyway.

  • Jacob

    Same here… In fact on a “communication” level, this kind of baiting is exactly on the same level of over-retouching to a “photography” level. Does that make sense?

    Ironic really

  • Jacob

    Can Petepixel stop with the kind of baiting that they do with their titles? If their title is about baiting so should the article. Otherwise you are doing exactly the same kind of ethical error as over-retouching. Baiting to communications is like extreme-photoshopping to photography

  • Karl Taylor

    Hi Doc pixel, I agree in many ways, i’m after all one of the perpetrators. I just think that it is now more difficult than ever for young people to discern the difference and I’m not saying we should stop it, i like photoshopped images, i’m just saying we should label it accordingly. With regards painted images, kids begin painting at the age of 1 and grow up knowing that painting does not record a life like impression. Their perception of photographs is somewhat different if they are not educated about it and so many of their idols are, re-cut, re-shaped and made perfect in what looks like ordinary ‘snap shots’, the type of picture that people trust the most.

  • Karl Taylor

    Hi Jacob, I think it appears like baiting because their post doesn’t lead you to the actual article on my blog that does look at the ethics. I wrote the article but they have only linked to the video. If you go to the video above on youtube you can find the link to the article below the video.

  • pgb0517

    Nevertheless, they should make the headline reflect what readers actually see in their version of the report.

  • pgb0517

    Mr. Taylor, I certainly sympathize with your concerns about excessive permits. We are not the “land of the free” as we once were. Our nation has gone crazy requiring permits for almost anything besides breathing. And if our EPA gets its way …

    But anyway, I’m not saying the concerns are invalid. I think they are overblown. I think that we have not done nearly enough thought about this situation as an industry or society to decide it’s time for truth-in-photoshopping regulations or advisories. Now if a certain magazine wants to give that a go, that’s the publisher’s right, and let’s see what results.

    Meanwhile, do as the French do? Mais non.

  • pgb0517

    There are many more factors influencing kids’ self image than just airbrushed models in magazines. For example, our First Lady who is on a wild crusade to control kids’ diets at schools, and local officials who go along with that.

    My daughter was harmed more by her pediatrician than anything else, when this well-meaning doctor told her, as the girl was entering puberty, that she needed to lose a few pounds. She most certainly did not need to lose a few pounds. She was muscular, athletic and healthy, until that doctor opened her fat mouth. I wanted to slap the doctor silly over that. And my daughter suffers from that one comment ten years later.

  • Rob Elliott

    I looked at images from the 40s and 50s even into the 60s when they still wanted the photograph to blend with the old school paintings. Particularly in the 40s and 50s you still had occasional painted covers.

    But that is where the line is.. in that era the norm was painted advertisements and so you see an image and you think fantasy.

    in the late 60s, 70s and early 80s there was move for realistic looking photos, and you had an entire generation growing up on these perfect skinned models in the age of the super model. Even then many ads were painted images Movie posters etc.

    By the late 80s and certainly through the 90s image Manipulation was getting much more sophisticated, and Photoshopping started, the line started to blur a bit.

    Today a model can look totally different in a magazine with the power of modern photoshop, and it can be done on every image faster then it could ever before. It’s not just a cover and a magazine ad, it’s every image in a gossip rag. Every story, every publicity still. More so it is very tough to tell (if you don’t know) even as an adult.

    A Child would have a much harder time today then they would have in the 60s.

    I do think that some of the scapegoating is on Photographer, as this type of things has been going on for years, and i think laws banning photoshop are idiocy.

    however putting a small print disclosure on the image isn’t a bad idea, it might shame celebs (like Madonna) to stop photoshoping every image.

    We do it for Car Commercials showing stunt driving, why not heavily photoshopped images.

    There would have to be a guide line as to what needs it and what doesn’t, and that is where it become difficult.

    If I reduce the wrinkles but not remove them? Is that too much?

    If I even out the skin tone is that too much?

    If I brighten the eyes? is that too much?

    If I can do it on set with 20 lights, is it ok?

    Is Contouring ok?

    Is removing a pimple ok but a mole not?

    Is image masking the arm from one shot into another to make better composition ok?

    there are a lot of questions and it is a slippery slope.

    Should there be some regulation of it… I think so (I think the moment weight, or physical dimensions of a model are changes it’s too much. (it’s one thing to use puppet tool to reposition the model a bit but another to take 20lbs off)

  • Kathryn Stabile

    If you think Terry’s images aren’t retouched you are sadly mistaken.

  • ReinoldFZ .

    I didn’t say they aren’t retouched. Even more I said “you can use photoshop without do it overdone”
    Thanks and have a nice day.

  • Polisonico

    Terry Richardson is to photography what a dog is to a Zoo.

  • introvert

    Who the hell is Terry Richardson?

  • introvert

    It’s just you!

  • Doc Pixel

    “There would have to be a guide line as to what needs it and what doesn’t, and that is where it become difficult.”

    As censorship or consumer warnings always are, and why IMHO should be avoided.

    The only (also rather silly) possibility is a huge disclaimer on all covers (table of contents? Article? Ad? Pictorial?) stating:

    The majority of image content herein contains digitally manipulated, visually enhanced AKA Photoshopped photography. (period)

    Or why not just go total silly and force publishers to post a thumbnail page(s) of the “before shots” /s.

    Caveat: it has been scientifically proven that warnings that are overused become less effective over time and are little more than visual noise to be ignored.

    And who’s thinking about the poor mentally unstable photographers? I ran across a post recently where a young photog was seriously distressed that he/she couldn’t get the same color and smoothness out of their equipment as a favorite landscape/sunset photographer. I believe the poster was just shy of giving up and in their depression, very libel to do something harmful to him/herself. So let’s not forget to protect misconception of “overly processed HDR, Sat +100 sunsets” either.

    Don’t forget animal portraits either, for fear that some unstable person will pitch their 4-legged friend in the dumpster if it’s not as sweet and hair-perfect as a pro-tog’s photoshopped portrait hanging at their friends house.

    Let’s not even go to Printerest and wedding photos, where I’m sure their are countless brides that didn’t get the pictures that they were expecting and either refuse to pay the photog (also causing hardship, distress, possible consideration of jumping off of the next bridge because of “failure and disappointment to live up to the bride’s expectations”)… or causing the same emotions and conclusive actions in the bride herself. Should the photog not be held responsible here also, and in extension Photoshop and Printerest? This is also not too far from the troll-post regarding the girl that was suing Instagram…. so don’t think it’s that unfeasible.

    So let’s try to save everyone from themselves via censorship and warning and see how far that get’s any of us. Considering the advancement of tech over the last 2 decades, our collective psychological mindset is still in the Dark Ages.

    Just wait until CGI get’s to the point in the not-too-distant future where we won’t even need actors or actresses any longer. What will parents do when their kid’s favorite actress, singer or “Lassie” is not even real, let alone Photoshopped. Do you see Lemming Cliffs brimming with children in that future if there are no warnings?

    It seems to me that the majority of this hand-wringing has to do with the weight and physical proportions of many a fashion/lingerie/swimsuit model and the further manipulation in Photoshop. How many are old enough to remember the “reverse barrel distortion” trick with repro cameras to slim a model in the darkroom?

    Also if we’re talking models, for every guy that thinks Gisele Bundgen or Adriana Lima have the perfect figure, I believe there’s 10 (or more) that prefer Kate Upton or Christina Hendricks. Or what about that lovely actress in Fargo, Allison Tolman?

    There’s an idol or role model type for every person on the planet. It’s your job as a parent to point that out and expose your kids to that reality. Warnings… no matter how noble they may be in thought… can NOT take the place of proper parenting and instilling self confidence in children or teens.

    Sorry for the long reply… but as you said, this is not an easy subject. So many anecdotes, history lessons and variables…(sigh).

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  • Rob Elliott

    It is a difficult issue.

    To the question of Photogs… when you pick up a camera you have the choice to educate yourself, take classes, or be dumb.

    The Cook how doesn’t pay attention or follow instructions or take time to learn, rarely gets better and just orders in, worse they under cook chicken and die. The Carpenter that doesn’t learn, and take safety percussions builds uneven tables and may lose a thumb. In those cases it is a choice. Just as picking up a camera is. Anyone wanting to get better can.

    Advertising is forced, magazines are really forced on you to (covers anyway) So there is more to be said about something that isn’t easily avoidable living in a city. Or even starting a new job where the promotional material shows models with unnaturally white teeth smiling unnaturally largely.

    We have to know where the line we want to draw is before we can talk about regulation.

    A great example is Model weight. Adult Models in some places now must have a specific Body weight. Some people are naturally light, just as some are naturally heavy. Many women can’t model because they can’t gain enough weight. (I speak from personal experience it can be hard for people who have a naturally high metabolism to can weight) Which suggests even when you know the line you don’t always get it right. In this case saying a BMI of 17.5 instead of 18.5 will be vilified by groups saying it sends the wrong message. But at 18.5 it is too heavy for many experienced models to achieve.

    Photoshop has the same issue. Where do you draw the line. What is the measure? What is the enforcement? If that can be figured out, then it is good to do. If not then it isn’t.

    a Table of Contents warning might not be a bad thing, with a small one (like in car commercials) on the cover, might not be bad. That means parents can educate children more easily.

    If a little girl walks up to you and says “will I look like this one day mommy?” and you can have the right discussion and use any of the hundreds of resources that are out there.

  • Arif Kaser

    There is a place for everything. In beauty potraiture, fashion, photoshop is a must. In street photography usually no photoshop. In photojournalism no photoshop at all is allowed.

  • jr456

    This is a lovely photo and one that is perfectly done for a very natural look IMO. Certainly you could make your wife look 30 again but lacks reality for a picture of your wife such as this. For family pictures I generally just soften wrinkles/pores and even out tone but I don’t completely remove those wrinkles and that’s a big difference IMO.

    But this is a great shot though IMO…nice work!!