The Great Retouching Debate

March 11, 2015  •  1 Comment

My name is Terri Lee-Shield and I am a professional retoucher!


It seems retouching seems to be a bad word in the photography world at the moment. There is a lot of talk about SOC (straight off camera) images and it seems the consensus is that being able to present a client an image unedited makes you a better photographer. Since I have just confessed, openly to you all, that I am also a professional retoucher, obviously I don't agree. But I do get the point! so I have decided to explore the topic, with you via my blog and offer my opinion on the matter. 


Firstly I think it's important to point out that the digital age has literally made anything possible with regards to imagery, and I think the world is just about starting to grasp the concept, and some people have even gotten angry about it.

OMG you mean the perfect pictures of celebrities and models aren't real?! Shock horror! I mean they are advertising images designed to make you want to buy something usually, of course they aren't 100% real, they are an artistic interpretation of a subject, just like when painters used to paint advertisements... they are hardly ever real life depictions.  

Example of Maybeline makeup advertising in 1920'sWas this model painted with all her imperfections? Modern day Maybelline advertisementShould advertisers be allowed to remove imperfections in images and claim it was the makeup?


My opinion about this is still split however, since I have experience as a consumer, a seller and as an designer. As a consumer it is annoying that advertisers embellish the truth of their product capabilities or appearance, because it seems like a lie, you want to see what you are buying, but as an advertiser it's only natural that you want your product or service to look as appealing as possible and as a designer it's your job to do that! This is where the problem lies. Where is the line? 

Personally I think it is wrong to use a graphically altered image of a mascara and say it was the mascara that caused these beautiful lashes, when it in fact was not. Or editing lines and wrinkles out of a anti-aging cream and and claiming it was the cream when in fact it was bob the retoucher who took away the 20 years!  

But why not make a model's skin look clearer in a fashion advert for a dress? The dress still looks the same, it's the dress being sold, even if the models figure is retouched beyond recognition as long as the dress looks like the dress being sold it isn't a lie, the dress you buy in the shop might not look the same on you as on the model in the advertisement but thats because everyone looks different in all clothes.

I think it's important then that people understand that the image isn't SOC and if kids were taught these basic rules of our society at a young age they it might prevent some of the problems our society has, creating an impossible standard of self image that we have today. 


But what about in the Portrait Photography world...

Is it an advantage or a disadvantage to advertise you present SOC images to clients? I don't know because i've never done it! I am very honest on my website that I edit each image individually. I retouch or edit or alter all of my images, pretty much 99%. Sometimes I do manage to get a perfect image SOC but I have processes I use on my images which make them my personal unique style, so they have all been altered. I might also crop the image, change the colours and correct any background distractions and thats even before the retouching. 

Heres the confession again....

My name is Terri Lee-Shield and I am a Professional Retoucher!

Lia Sundin PortraitLia is beautiful! But I have still made some small adjustments and done some slight retouching on this image.

I then retouch my clients images. I remove any spots or scratches, bruises, I smooth the skin, correct the hair if need and I have even been known to do a nip and tuck!

I don't do it to manipulate or lie to my clients, I do it because over the years I have seen how harsh and critical people are about themselves, my clients can be very mean to themselves about how they look and it makes me sad.

I retouch my clients images before they see them to take away the distractions and small imperfections in the picture, so hopefully they can look at themselves and see how beautiful they are. I do it so they can have a confidence boost, so they feel good about themselves. I do it so when they compare the pictures of themselves to the pictures in the magazines it is a fairer fight!

My friend summed up his opinion on the matter perfectly, he said

" Well you're a portrait photographer, so if you were taking a portrait of me I would want you to make me look as good as possible because i'm going to be immortalised forever in that picture." 

So that's what I try and do, make my clients look as good as possible, of course I use all my skills as a photographer to do this with lighting and in camera but afterwards I also use all the advantages that technology gives me to make them good enough to be immortalised forever. 

I think it's pretty amazing to get a perfect image SOC and good on all the photographers out there pushing the quality of images the industry produced based on this principle. But each photographer is an artist and each photographer should be able to use whatever skills they want in their art. Lets face it, the clients are going to choose based on the results they like...


I'd love to hear your thoughts :)

Terri x


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