I get a lot of questions about retouching and skin, so today I thought I’d explain my philosophy on retouching — especially regarding skin — and how I arrived there.
Modern portrait and boudoir photography incorporate a startling amount of body alteration. So much of what makes up the story of our bodies gets removed: not just temporary “flaws” like acne, but wrinkles, scars, skin texture, and entire slices and portions of bodies.
I’m not okay with that at all. If as a photographer I use my power to tell people that the stories etched in their bodies aren’t worth telling — if I remove fat rolls and double chins and scars and moles and create china-doll skin — then I’m taking power away from my subjects. I’m telling them that their stories are so unimportant they shouldn’t even exist, in the service of making them look like a generic ideal.
I want my clients to be able to access beauty standards when they work with me — to have those dreamy wonderful pro shots — but not at the cost of their bodies, dignity and stories. So I retouch photos as little as possible.
This is my current framework:
- Stock photos: Only global edits (e.g., lighting, color balance)
- Portraits and boudoir: Global edits plus removing acne and minimizing nervous flushes, with light skin smoothing on certain close-ups
- No removal of body features (e.g., fat rolls) ever
The exception is professional headshots, for which I’ll usually do light skin smoothing and slight wrinkle softening (unless requested not to, of course). Our headshots affect our careers, especially for marginalized folks, and I want to honor that by pushing slightly farther towards beauty standards than I might otherwise.
Last year, I photographed an older woman in Salt Lake City who’d had open-heart surgery. (You can see her image below in this email.) She initially was very closed in about the scar on her chest from the surgery, and was visibly reluctant to have it photographed. So I photographed other aspects of her body first, and slowly we were able to return to the subject. Then she was ready to tell her story, and have captured the way that story was imprinted on her skin.
I will always choose to tell our stories.