Skin Smoothing + Liquify + The Truth About Why I Hate Photoshopping

I decided to skip today’s Funny Friday to write about something a bit more important to me. Earlier this week, I shared a screenshot of a (non-photographer) friend’s post on Instagram. A new retouching app was being promoted on her Facebook newsfeed, and it pissed her off. I posted some of my thoughts along with hers, but I thought I should address this issue a bit deeper.

Disclaimer #1:

There are quite a few local photographers in my area who utilize skin smoothing techniques and liquify their clients on a regular basis. I’ve been very outspoken about this topic in the past and have made some of them mad, but I’ve never really addressed why I’m so passionately against it. Now I am, and I truly, sincerely hope they read this because I want them to know where I’m coming from and how close this is to my heart.

Disclaimer #2:

I realize that every photographer has artistic freedom to do what he or she wants to do. However, we’re not talking about tilting images or selective color. Skin smoothing and liquifying is different. It goes deeper. It hits the emotions. Also, we’re not talking about removing a few pimples with the spot healing brush. We’re talking full on hands/arms/neck/face smoothing and unnecessary (read: all) liquifying.

So, there are two reasons why I despise skin smoothing. One is personal preference and the other? Well, we’ll get to it.

Reason #1: Most photographers aren’t doing it right.

Yes. I said it. I think most photographers are trying to mimic the flawless look they see in magazines. Except if you look closely at a fashion ad, the model’s skin still has texture and shadow to it. The process that most photographers use to mimic these images actually destroys all the texture and shadow in the skin so that the person now looks like a plastic blob with two eyes, two nostrils, and a mouth. It looks fake, and quite frankly, I think it looks horrible. And when it is done on men… seriously?! They are supposed to be rugged and hairy.

A non-photographer friend once showed me a photo of her parents that had been photoshopped like this and do you know what she said? She said it looked like her father was dead and embalmed. Uhhhmm, yea, I’m pretty sure that’s not the look you want to go for.

Check out this family photo of myself and my husband. The first one is not processed and the second one is. Which do you prefer? If you prefer the first one, YAY! Sure, I have circles under my eyes, but that’s ME and they’re always there. In real life I don’t look like the girl in the second one. And let’s be honest, my husband looks weeeeird in the second one.

There’s a reason professional retouchers get paid a boatload of money. It’s not easy to make it look real.

Reason #2: Whether you realize it or not, you are telling a lie. You’re telling your clients that they are not good enough the way they are.

This is where it gets personal for me. I recently read an article about how a photograph is meant to tell the truth:

You may be thinking that it can’t be easy making a living while telling the truth visually. Maybe you are asking, “Why not just photoshop out the double chin, take the photos she asked about down, or remove the father with a fear of his own portliness from the blog? Wouldn’t that be easier?” It might be easier in the short term, but no one said that telling the truth would be easy, and a photograph is meant to tell the truth.

When you liquify your client to make them look thinner or you smooth their skin to make them look “flawless,” you are not telling the truth. In fact, you are telling one of the worst lies that exists in our culture: “You aren’t good enough.”

See, our culture has this twisted fascination with perfection. The media is telling us that if we really want to be beautiful, we have to be 5’10” and 100lbs with perfect skin and big boobs. People get outraged when they find out how much celebrities and models are photoshopped before they can appear on the cover of a magazine. Just look at this before and after of Faith Hill! We’re all striving for a level of perfection that even celebrities can’t reach! And whether you mean to or not, you are telling this same lie to your clients by photoshopping them.

THIS IS NOT OKAY.

My sweet baby sister has been battling an eating disorder for quite some time now. She starves herself until she’s ready to pass out and then goes to the gym and obsessively works off all the calories she did eat. All in the name of buying into a lie and trying to achieve a perfection that doesn’t exist. (By the way, she is more beautiful than words could ever say, but our culture has distorted her thinking so much that she can’t see truth!)

You never know the harm you may be doing to someone who is so incredibly vulnerable. And to someone who already thinks like that, getting their photos back to find them heavily altered just confirms the thoughts in her head. And after seeing how much my sister struggles with this, how much pain is inside her heart, damn right I’m going to speak out against this.

You may be thinking: But my clients know that I do this and hire me because they like that I do this.

I disagree. Most clients are not photography experts and can’t really pinpoint what makes one photographer’s images look different from another’s. They may notice that there is a different feel to the image, or that one photographer has more posed photographs and one has more lifestyle, but in reality, they generally can’t tell if you’re smoothing skin unless they know what they’re looking for.

Until they see it on themselves.

Think about it this way: you look at yourself in the mirror every day. You have every bit of your body memorized. Now imagine getting your photographs back that have your skin photoshopped when you weren’t expecting it. What are the first thoughts that are going to run through your head? Why did our photographer do this? Does my skin naturally look horrible? Am I not up to my photographer’s standards so he/she had to fix me?

How horrible, right? These are exactly the thoughts I would have! And they may never actually ask you about it because they are scared or embarrassed, or because these questions are all on a sub-conscious level.

Basically, the point of this whole post is to say FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE STOP. I cannot sit back and watch people contribute to the lies society is shoving down our throats. Learn to make people look fabulous without altering them on a computer. Use lighting to enhance your subject’s features. Show their TRUE beauty, not fake beauty.

Tell the truth.

Non-photographers: What do you think about this? Would you want to see your true beauty or would you rather be photoshopped?

Photographers: What about you? Do you liquify and smooth skin on your clients?

PS – The Mister and I are having a full, real-deal photo shoot with La Brisa Photography in April, and yep. I’m nervous about it. We all have things we’re self conscious-about. But seriously. LOVE YOUR SELF. Celebrate you. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH.

  • “So God created mankind in His own image…” (Genesis 1:27)
  • “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13)
  • “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (Song of Songs 4:7)

PPS – It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness week. Someone doesn’t have to look “starved” to have an eating disorder. In fact, those with eating disorders often are hiding symptoms and are of normal weight. Say a prayer. Get in the know. Talk to someone if you’re struggling, and talk to someone if you think they might be struggling.

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  • Marcy Stewart - Excellent post! I hate pictures of myself but when you have a great photographer who can bring out that inner beauty without the fakeness it so worth it! Rachel gave us that a few years back and are my treasures today.ReplyCancel

    • Rachel Ruffer - I ♥ you so much, Marcy!! XOXOReplyCancel

  • Nicole Harnois - Wonderful post, as usual Rachel. I usually leave my ‘skin smoothing’ to blemishes and what not using the healing tool , though I did play with some clone stamping on lighten to remove some dry skin on a newborn recently and I felt really uncomfortable doing it. I actually watched a video the other day on creative live about frequency separation which was really interesting. I also love the verses you featured :)
    ReplyCancel

  • Anna Jackson - I’m right there with you Rachel. As a fellow photographer, I do not and will not smooth and liquify my clients. I occasionally remove “baby acne” and smooth dry skin on newborns but most of the time, I don’t. And as a client of La Brisa, I love that they share the same values. You are beautiful the way you are and this is exactly what I tell my clients. You don’t want your kids looking back thinking “who is that?, that doesn’t look like my mother as I remember her”. ReplyCancel

  • Jessica Kaiser - I am always shocked by the amount of manipulation has been done in photographs of celebrities. You can Google Photoshopped celebrities and the before and after photos are just ridiculous! The normal population is not aware that the beauties that they see in their magazines are no where near as perfect as they seem. We are human beings, we have flaws, it should be illegal for ad agencies and magazines to modify someones image to that degree. ReplyCancel

  • Emilee Fuss - Excellent post, Rachel, I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for sharing! ReplyCancel

  • Shauna Zimmerman - When my sister-in-law took our family photos, I asked to her make sure my belly was hanging weird in a couple of the photos. Frankly, I’m glad she fixed it. I have to look at the pictures every day and I don’t want to be reminded how fat I am!! Hahaha. I see exactly what you’re saying, though. I was shocked about the Faith Hill photo. There was a lot of unnecessary work done there. My belly fix… necessary. ; )ReplyCancel

  • Shauna Zimmerman - Wasn’t! ***** Haha! ReplyCancel

  • Lena Messana - You are right. I do not liquify unless it is a smidge on a newborn wrap or hat that is off – and I only touch newborns faces with a light natural skin smoother – 20% or so becuz I want that texture there. I want to see the hair and flaky skin. I know photogs that do it heavily – same with the eyes. Why?! Eyes don’t look this way!ReplyCancel

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