Can You Airbrush Me or Make Me Slimmer?

It doesn’t happen often but from time-to-time I do get asked this very question, as I imagine does every other professional wedding photographer.

The majority of the time it’s said very much tongue-in-cheek, but it did get me thinking about how people’s perception of beauty has changed over the years.

Disclaimer! This article isn’t intended to be controversial, nor is it an attempt to belittle those photographers and digital artists who do perform airbrushing or body shape manipulation. It’s just my personal opinion on what is rather a divisive topic within the photography industry.

Photo manipulation has been around for centuries

Despite popular perception, photo manipulation didn’t just become commonplace at the dawn of the digital age, or when Adobe Photoshop was first released back in 1990.

Prior to computers becoming mainstream, the practice of photo manipulation involved using ink or paint to re-touch images as well as combining photographic negatives to create double exposures.

Ever since the first photograph was taken in the early 19th century, people have been manipulating images so it’s certainly not a method exclusive to the digital age; the practice has been causing controversy for the best part of 200 years.

So, what’s my take on photo manipulation?

Personally, I’ll never ‘airbrush’ or alter body shape in post-production. Why? Well there are a few reasons.

Firstly, it’s just not my style, it may sound like a cliché but I believe we all look great as we are. Secondly, it’s actually a very difficult process to do well and takes a lot of skill and experience with the right software to make it look convincing.

Additionally, I believe that heavily manipulated images in the media are creating unrealistic goals for impressionable young people. Often the celebrities in the magazines don’t actually look like the celebrities in the magazines, if you get my point!

My editing process

I do use Photoshop as part of my editing workflow, but only minimally. I shoot in RAW format (unprocessed data direct from the camera image sensor) so a certain amount of post-production work is necessary to prepare the photos for delivery to my couples; but I use Adobe Lightroom for this.

There are a few scenarios where I will take an image into Photoshop. I’ll happily remove spots, skin blemishes, cuts and grazes.

Occasionally, I’ll remove distracting background elements from a photo, such as litter or a fire exit sign. I’ll also tone down skin redness which often results when people are nervous or a touch embarrassed.

Like I said earlier, this is purely my opinion and it’s my philosophy to keep things natural, but I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on the subject.

Steve x


All images are © Steve Grogan Photography.

6 Comments

  • Hi Steve, I couldn’t agree more with you. As a fellow documentary style wedding photographer, we very rarely “airbrush” and instead we focus on telling the story as it happened. If there is a fire extinguisher in the hotel, then it was there! Although of course we aim not to include it in the images.

    • Steve Grogan says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’m glad you agree, natural and real is best! 🙂

  • Lynne Burns says:

    I remember my daughter having a school photo taken the day after she had fallen and grazed her nose. I can’t tell you the relief when the photos came through and the graze had been removed. But like you I think that is a far cry from the massive altering of images that go on. We are what we are and I truly believe we should celebrate that. Great post.

    • Steve Grogan says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with you, Lynne. Of course, removing a spot or a graze is something I would do no problem. For me, my photography has to be the truth, it has to be real. We spend far too much time worrying about how we look, when really we should just enjoy the moment more. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.