Has the retouching arms race gone too far? That’s a question a group of scientists are asking and they’ve developed a new metric for rating photos on a scale of 1 to 5, depending on how much retouching the photograph has received.
Health organizations are increasingly concerned that the photography profession is pushing an unrealistic standard. We could argue at length whether the main driver is the photographer’s drive for perfection or client demands, but I think we have to own up to at least a contributory role.
It all started innocently enough, just using the clone tool to mask the zit here, the small blemish there, and maybe fill in that chipped tooth just a tad. Later that grew into smoothing out the skin tones. Plugins popped up to make it all as easy a few clicks of the mouse. It wasn’t long before we were making the eyes bigger, making the eye color brighter, slimming the jaw line, making the neck longer. We could take inches off a waist or pounds off of hips and customers loved us for it. It was all very gradual and we were praised by clients and peers every step of the way.
Now the question is have we become guilty of creating a Frankenstein’s monster of perfection unattainable by mere mortals?
If you’ve ever worked with real, paid, high-end models, you already know there isn’t a lot of Photoshop required. You’re dealing with the top 1 to 2 percent of people in the entire population; you’re playing in the shallow end of the gene pool. They make their living looking good and with a good makeup artist they are the real deal.
But with software to the rescue we can gain near perfect regardless of the physical form we start with. We don’t need a top model anymore, we can pull any waif off the street, bad skin, bad teeth, bad hair, no makeup and make them look like a supermodel.
So now Professor Hany Farid and Eric Kee, computer scientists at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, are set to rat us out. About to publish a set of tools that analyze how much retouching has gone into a photo. Soon the world will know if her eyes are really that color of if they were punched up post. If her skin really that smooth or if it’s an adjustment layer.
So, what do you think? Do we deserve to be outed? Has the retouching arms race gone too far without a discussion about whether we’re setting unrealistic standards?
I’ve seen portraits worked so much in post they look fake, like a mannequin. Somewhere in between there has to be a happy medium.