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NSFW: Ethics of removing tattoos in post-processing

At one time the idea of a tattooed model gracing the pages of any mainstream magazine, ad campaign, etc. was unheard of. While tattooed models still are not commonly seen in some genres, tattoos and other body art have become much more accepted and popular throughout the photographic world.

People get inked for many reasons. The stereotype that they were all drunken bad decisions is rare today. Every tattoo has a story behind it. As a photographer, I see myself as a storyteller first. The story of this person includes their body art, and in my opinion by removing it may take away a part of their story and identity.

Whose story is it?

Now, I know this is a point of contention, some believe the model is only there to fulfill the vision of the photographer, and to them, the models’ story doesn’t matter. Personally, I believe in working with the model to create a story, and their tattoos or body art are as much a part of creating the mood and moment as everything else they bring to the art.

Karolina

Model Karolina Von is also a circus aerialist, making her a natural performer in front of the camera. A bright beautiful personality, her tattoos are a part of her and her story. This completely impromptu series where I let her have free reign for her poses and expressions was recently published in a feature called “The Many Moods of Karolina.”

Talk it through

If nothing I else, I strongly recommend you communicate with your model about your intended look for the final images.  Get their buy-in prior to editing their tattoos or other body modifications. I have seen many instances of models being upset by the removal of tattoos and piercings. I have likewise seen many who don’t mind their removal at all. While your model release may give you the right to do so, frankly, it’s rude, uncaring and in poor taste not to at least discuss such alterations with a fellow professional whose look is or might be their brand. That brand often includes their stories and their choices of their body art.

Ultimately it’s all about communication, and making sure that a few strokes with Photoshop’s Healing Brush don’t create a rift between you and a fellow creative. Simply put, it is a matter of respect that we must consider in every artistic collaboration.

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