A few weeks ago, news broke that a high school yearbook staff had edited out girls’ cleavage. Now, as someone who went to a private school, I can attest to the fact that schools can be pretty strict when it comes to dress code. Pulling out a ruler and checking skirt lengths, for instance, was a regular occurrence at my school.
All that said, did the yearbook staff overstep? Completely. I was a high school yearbook editor myself, and I can’t remember an instance where we had to edit photos in this fashion. Sure, we had a dress code … and if someone didn’t follow that for their school photos, they had to get retakes.
But the fact of the matter is, these edits were blatant and covering up something that’s deemed a natural part of a woman or girl’s body. The same school was perfectly fine with putting the boys’ swim team photos in the yearbook, which had them in speedos. There’s a double standard here that’s not right.
A lighter brush is always best
Over the years of photographing, I’ve used having a natural style to my advantage. As someone who photographs events, I want my clients to remember the events as they were. That doesn’t mean the images are perfect, but they’re representative of the event.
The same rule of thumb can be taken when editing portraits. A lighter brush is always best. If the person has acne, brush some of it out, but don’t go overboard and smooth their skin to an extreme.
If a person is a little heavy, don’t take 50 pounds off so that the person looks completely different. Likewise, don’t make their eye color super bright (or even a different color).
Our responsibility as photographers
As photographers, we’re there to capture the moment. It doesn’t matter if you’re an event photographer, wedding photographer, street photographer, landscape photographer or any other type of photographer. You’re there to photograph what you see in front of you, as it is (unless your intent is to create digital art).
While some edits might be necessary — for instance, you might take out a person from a wide landscape shot — most of the time, I find myself enhancing my scene, not completely altering it.
This is one of the reasons I’m so excited for Adobe’s investment into the Content Authenticity Initiative. This makes it so that you’re able to write any edits you make to your photographs, which can then be viewed by everyday people on the web. It makes it so that photographers can track usage of their images, but that consumers can also tell if a photograph is legit or fake.
Next time you edit a portrait, think about your process. What are you removing that ultimately makes the person appear differently? Is that edit making them look unrealistic? If so, I suggest you rethink how you’re going about your portraits. Your clients will thank you for it … and ultimately you’ll be capturing what you see. Not what you think might look best.