Photo Editing – A required necessity or false advertisement?

In the make-up world, there is a collection of issues that tend to work on a rotation, such as unqualified make-up artists charging high end rates and failing to deliver safe working practices… Or make-up artists undercutting the industry by charging far less than the industry standard!

But lately, I’ve been noticing something coming up a lot more often in this Rolodex of issues within our industry, with some people sitting on one side of the proverbial fence and a majority of us on the other. And that issue is photo editing. Or correcting make-up applications to be more precise. But I can hear you asking now, “Alistair! What’s the difference between someone Face Tuning their make-up work and a photographer editing the photograph?”…. And that’s a completely fair question, because it seems a lot of people don’t understand the difference. I thought I would break it down and put my two cents on the situation. But first, let’s go back to where the photo editing craze began.

When computers became more powerful and tools such as Photoshop were being used, photographers began to manipulate and adjust their photographs. Photoshop was first released back in 1990 and it was originally used to adjust the colours and saturation of images, so a lot of landscape photographers would use the software to adjust and deepen the tones of their photographs.

Image courtesy of Creative Overflow.

Between 1998 and 2002, we began seeing more and more tools and filters that allowed further photographic manipulation within Photoshop. Tools such as ‘Liquify’, ‘Magnetic Lasso’ and the famous ‘Healing Brush’ were released and Portrait Photography had a field day! The Healing Brush made it possible to ‘heal’ things such as blemishes on the skin, while the Magnetic Lasso and the Liquify tools allowed the face and body to be cut and manipulated into proportions that we now know as “High End Supermodel”. And this is when the term Photoshopping began to become a colloquialism for what we now see on magazine covers, posters or adverts. An image of a model having been photographically manipulated to fit within a structured perception of beauty set by expectations within the Fashion and Hollywood industries.

Fast forward to 2014 and software such as Face Tune are now readily available on mobile smart phones – no longer requiring the processing power of a desktop or laptop computer. Now that high quality, professional results are available to the average consumer for free, we began to see widespread use of these tools on social media. These tools are often under fire for perpetuating issues such as body confidence and realistic expectations of models and the average person, while others argue that these tools give their users the confidence they lack in their own selves. Personally, I don’t have an issue with Face Tuning a selfie to make yourself look as lit as possible (I’m trying to stay hip, just bear with me). Even I’m guilty of editing a selfie or two before putting it up on the ‘gram (I promise I’ll stop), because of my own body confidence issues.

Image result for before and after photoshop celebs

Image courtesy of Board Panda.

However, now that these tools are more widely available, this means that the average consumer can use them for their own businesses as well. And in our line of work, editing a photo of your make-up application can be a big deal. I have always been told by multiple mentors that you should pride yourself on producing the highest quality product you can. The least amount of work a photographer has to do to ‘correct’ any mistakes, the better. A few touch ups here or there on a massive campaign isn’t a drama, because that’s what’s now expected of this industry and sometimes we can’t get that eyeliner absolutely perfect. It may look perfect to the human eye, but when blown up onto a billboard in the middle of Yagan Square, you might notice a few wiggly lines. While this is acceptable in my opinion, a lot of people use this reasoning to now correct, adjust and completely manipulate the photographs of their work. I can hear you asking again “But, Alistair! What is the difference between me making my make-up photo look amazing and what they do on those adverts and posters?”

The reason why this is such a big no-no (and again, this is my opinion and one I believe I share with a majority of those within the make-up industry), is that by doing this, the artist is creating an unrealistic expectation for potential future clients. Photoshopping a poster or magazine cover is an end product used to promote a product or other professional service. It’s a product that is not being used to gain the patronage of clients looking to book a make-up artist. This is where the difference lies. An image that has been manipulated and used on a make-up artist’s social media is effectively being used to draw in potential clients and customers who are now under the assumption that what is within the images are the skills that you are able to produce. Whether the intention is to book clients or not, this will always be the outcome. This is effectively a type of false advertisement. For example, it is in line with a product that advertises to reduce or eliminate stretch marks and in the after photo they Photoshop the stretch marks out of the photo completely.

This issue has caused countless discussions, both relaxed and heated, on the internet with myself having participated in a few of them. With any discussion, I try to see it from both sides of the fence. I understand that the less experienced make-up artists can be quite self-conscious of posting their work on social media without a filter or using some kind of editing. But on the flip side, I understand the experienced make-up artists frustrations as it is an affront to the time and effort that is spent on perfecting their artistry to be able to promote their skills without the use of correction. But as is with all discussions, I do find myself favouring one side of the coin. I believe that an artist should take pride in their work, no matter the faults within it. A few little touch ups here or there will not rock the boat, but completely adjusting and manipulating your work of all faults negates your skills as an artist. You cannot better your skills without properly identifying them and viewing your progress and growth as an artist.

At the end of the day, we have all been guilty of editing our photos to make them look as perfect as we can, but with this should come growth. The desire to be able to produce work that no longer needs correcting and that the clients will be able to safely expect from their artist. Post your unedited work and point out your faults. Be proud of the faults in your work, because with each application, you will notice the amount of faults in your work will lessen. If you notice a fault appearing in your work multiple times, ask for help. Reach out to the other artists in your field and ask them what they do to help combat the issue. When you are posting your work and trying to build up a rapport with your audience or your client base, transparency is key. In this modern age of photographic content, people prefer you to be up front and honest about the faults and “failures” you face, because it then gives you an opportunity to triumph against them!

But again, this is just my opinion.

What are your opinions on this subject? Do they align with mine or do you hold a different belief? I’d love to encourage friendly discussion in our comments thread!

Author / Alistair Arkwright

Senior Lecturer / Australian College of Specialist Make-Up.

Alistair has been in the film and prosthetics industry for 6 years and has worked on multiple feature films and stage productions. His speciality in special effects and prosthetics provides outstanding training and industry knowledge to our ACSM students. To find out more about Alistair, check out Alistair’s “Meet The Lecturer’s” interview. Interested in Life Casting and the world of Specialised Make-Up? Have a look at our Diploma of Screen and Media!