In Defense of Photoshop

Every time there’s a female celebrity on a magazine cover who is not a size zero (and sometimes when they are a size zero) somebody gets up in arms about how she’s depicted. Did they put her in a big coat to hide her horrible deformed chunky size 8 frame? Did they zoom in on her face so as not to offend us with her body?

Granted, there are some outrageous examples of companies photoshopping their poor models into skeletal nonexistence, like they time traveled into the 19th century and got their corsets tightlaced. (Thanks, Ralph Lauren!)

But yesterday, I saw that the website Jezebel offered $10,000 for unretouched Vogue photos of Lena Dunham, a young woman who is the creator/producer/writer of a popular HBO show, Girls. It was going to be a great big ole Gotcha, catching the evil Emperor in the act of destroying pure young womanhood.

It got them.


photoshop corrections

I was looking at the banal corrections, which mostly seem to deal with posture and lighting– minor things– and my underused $100,000 art major education spat up some info from the depths of my brain:

Photographs are NEVER EVER EVER a 100% accurate depiction of what we see in real life.

There’s something called distortion, caused by the camera lens, or the angle, or how close you are to the subject.

I haven’t seen this mentioned in any discussions (granted, I haven’t read all 1,500,999). Everyone automatically assumes that any kind of Photoshop is an evil attempt to set women back 300 years.

It is not.

Ideally, Photoshop often corrects things so they more closely resemble what you see in real life, with your naked eye. It can be a useful tool to correct distortions, not just create them. To correct things that distract from the subject, mood, tone, artistic intent.

Hear me out. How often have you taken a photo of someone with a crappy phone camera and seen that in the photo, they don’t look quite the same? Maybe they suddenly have a noticeable double chin or bags under the eyes or a bigger tummy than you saw RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Maybe, because one shoulder isn’t back, their body looks like they need to go to the chiropractor. Wrinkles might look more pronounced digitally than they did in real life, or they might be washed out by the light. Maybe there’s a strange shadow in the photo that you didn’t notice when you took it that cuts off half their face.

Try taking a group photo. The people in the front always look way huger than those in the back because they’re closer.

Take a close-up of a friend. Look closely at her eyes in real life– see if you notice any red blood vessels or discolorations in the whites. You probably did not until you looked for them. Now look at the image and see if those pop out at you. They probably do, though you would not note them otherwise.

Take a photo of someone from above them, then from below. Compare. See if they match what you see in real life. Notice how you can make someone’s legs appear longer or shorter by changing the angle. Try a cruddy phone camera vs. a pro. You’ll see a difference.

I don’t agree that correcting something that is distorted is the most awful thing anybody ever thought of in all the history of portraiture.

Believe me, if my family photographer snaps a pic of me and I’m exhaling at that second and my belly’s sticking out like I’m 5 months pregnant but everything otherwise looks great (kids all looking the same way! Yay!) then I would be very happy if she corrected that. Otherwise, my eye would not always be drawn to something unlike real life (nobody’s stuck in an exhale for all of eternity). If she notices blood vessels in my eyes that distract from my energetic joyful smile, then I would love it if she took those out.

Look at it this way. If you hired someone to paint you, would you want them to accurately portray the crap lighting and color mismatches of your living room? Would you want the artist to compensate for the fact you didn’t sleep the night before?

Are you seriously telling me you’d be happy with a Kate Middleton like portrait, where the artist did appear to use whatever cruddy existing English winter light was coming inside to faithfully depict every groove on her young face? All of her candid photos capture a much more joyful (and rested) soul.

Photos are not exactly replicas of real life. Like a painting, a non-candid portrait is a representation of an individual’s eye.

Y’all need to find something new to write about. Try criticizing Common Core or something. But thanks for giving me an idea for a blog post!

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

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