Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I got asked via twitter "I've gotta ask, are all of your models naturally stretchmark free? Or is it a combo of good lighting and mad Photoshop skills?"

I get asked some variation on that a lot (mostly by women!) so I thought I'd address it. First off, all women have stretchmarks. They may not be super obvious, especially with darker skin tones, but I've been editing pictures of women that I would have sworn didn't have any and sure enough if the light hits the right (wrong?) way there they are. If you don't believe your wife or girlfriend has any, mention it to her and she'll laugh and start pointing them out! Women are always hyper aware of perceived flaws in their own bodies. (And oddly enough the more beautiful the more likely they often are to really fixate on the remaining one or two issues or frankly just to make something up.)

There are actually quite a few skin issues that go away with different lighting. One thing that might not be obvious is that some lighting really brings out texture but you can't really see through the skin in the same way you can with regular room light. It just kind of skims off the surface. Portrait clients with pale skin often expect to have me Photoshop out some prominent veins and they just go away.

But yeah, I'll touch up anything I think is a distraction. This is art, not a documentary. And while some people enjoy highlighting some things I find distracting, we're just talking about me here. So if I don't like a large mole, it goes. Sometimes I'll remove a tattoo. It doesn't mean I don't like it on the actual person, but it can be distracting in a photograph, especially if it's half in shadow and you can't really tell what it is. Sometimes I'll remove the little scar where they used to have a belly button ring, depending on the person. And anybody can have a zit somewhere.

(Now actor headshots are different - I do those sometimes and you need to take a really light hand with them. If somebody shows up for an audition looking different from the shot that's bad.)

I don't do anything major like warp the image to thin people up, or move their eyes around or enlarge them or whatever. I don't think there's anything horrible about that, but it's not what I do. Likewise some people run all manner of filters on skin that remove all detail. And my preference is to keep that texture there.

What else... sometimes you'll get a model with tan lines and usually it's good to at least kind of feather the edges in a bit so it's not so dramatic (unless you're going for that 80s Playboy bikini line look).

The other thing I should perhaps mention is that a lot of lighting setups are quite slimming. The shadowy ones your brain kind of guesses and fills in what's missing and often it guesses wrong. And with the high key ones sometimes it's actually blown out a bit - sometimes the models waistline looks different than in real life because there's so much light going around that you can't distinguish the edge of her body from the background. I also get models and portrait clients that will talk about the ribs sticking out on some other model and how she's really thin, and I pose and light them the same way and there they are. Most people just don't realize how much under-the-skin detail, be it muscle or bones, you can bring out in pretty much anybody if you're so inclined.

So the bottom line is that yes, some of the women I work with are just crazy-beautiful, but they're still people. Imagine that.


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