Category Archives: Random Thoughts

My Photoshop Philosophy

In my previous article entitled “The Photoshop Effect” I made three points that I thought Photoshop was

a) Producing lazy photographers, and
b) affecting the way we look at images
c) distorting our view of the world

The previous article discussed the first two, and in this post I will cover the third point.

People are aware that we are bombarded by thousands of images each day through magazines, billboards and television and that in recent times there has been real questions about the about of retouching that is happening especially in magazines that target females.

Perfect smiles, perfect hair, perfect shapes and perfect skin leap off these pages so it is easy to imagine that these are the examples you should strive to achieve. Now with a good makeup artists, hair stylist and a photographer who knows about lighting and posing you can produce great looking images, but the magazines want more and so, unfortunately in just about every case the images have been manipulated.

If you want to see how much actually goes on then there is a simple test to do. Find an article where a celebrity is in favour and one where  the celebrity is not. In the former case the images are generally staged. Hair, makeup and styling is done and full lighting is used. Odds are that any little wrinkles that slip through in this stage will be removed later. But for the celebrity out of favour no such luxury. The shots here are generally paparazzi taken in the street under harsh light and are designed to show the person at their worst. It is doubtful that any post production will be done on these images.

The reality is that the later shots actually reflect reality.

Just about every model I have shot has had some body issues and quite frankly I lay the blame at the magazines for making these worse.  I have not yet encountered a model that does not have stretch marks on some parts of her body, yet you will never see them in the magazine.

Now as i shoot model portfolios I am not so stupid as to say that I will not retouch an image myself because quite frankly that would not be fair if the person is trying to present the best of view of themselves.  However I will initially try to minimize the need for it with hair, makeup and lighting.

Then with regard to the retouching I have developed my own photoshop philosophy and a set of guidelines that I will usually apply when handling model portfolios.

  1. Skin must look like skin and not be so altered that it looks like plastic. (if I wanted to shoot Barbie I would start with a mannequin)
  2. I will remove blemishes (such as acne) but I will only remove scars after I have checked with the person if they want them removed.
  3. I will brighten eyes and enhance the natural colour but I won’t change it.
  4. I will only use the liquidify tool to correct bulges caused by clothing, or posing, or in the case of a recent model where she had recently given birth. I will not however use it simply to slim someone down.

If, however, I am shooting a concept piece then I may well give the image more of a retouch.

The photoshop effect

Adobe Photoshop is a marvelous tool when used properly but I somehow wonder if it is

a) Producing lazy photographers, and
b) affecting the way we look at images
c) distorting our view of the world

In terms of the first point too often I hear the notion that photographers don’t need to get things right at the shoot, because they can fix it in post production. Now this is true to a degree it completely ignores the fact that often spending an extra 5 minutes at the shoot will prevent having to spend hours at the computer.

Danielle - image copyright to Bev Short. Image used with her permission.In terms of the second point is demonstrated with this image displayed here which was taken by Bev Short for her “All Women” book and exhibition.

When I first saw the image at the exhibition, my first reaction was that it was a very nice image, but I suspected that it was also a composite of two images (Danielle and the plane). In doing this I had immediately jumped to the assumption that in today’s digital age that you would not try to stage the shot.

I was surprised to hear that the shot was actually done in camera and that the photoshop treatment was pretty much limited to the sepia effect. Unfortunately I think that today our instant reaction to too many great images is that the photographer has assembled the image later. This is a real shame because in many ways it plays down on the skills of the photographer.

Now, this is not to say that there is anything wrong with composites, rather that it is just a slightly different skillset. In fact the ability to put together an image that is based on elements that you can not see together shows real creativity. Have a look at the work of either Richard Wood, Mandi Lynn or Sue Bryce and you will see that the images they produce are stunning.

On my third point that will be filled out in a later post.

Sources of Inspiration

I have sometime been asked where I come up with the ideas for shoots. Quite often that is something that is difficult to answer as often a shoot ends up combining several different ideas that may have come from various sources.

Sometimes the inspiration comes from another image or a piece of art. The image here of Aleks is based on a painting that I saw in a gallery in Wellington. I have often found that paintings can provide inspiration particularly for poses.

Others times i will see or buy an object that I think has potential just to play with it.

I saw a string of LED christmas lights on trademe some time ago and thought they would be quite cool to use in a shoot. Back in May I shot them as one of my “Photo a Day” images which is showed at the bottom of this page.

No this is quite nice but I thought I could make it more interesting so with a model willing to be wrapped in the lights you end up with the following image.


This post is not about a session I have shot but rather the culmination of a number of things that I have seen or experienced in the last six months. I have titled it “Respect” because this is to be is central to how I deal with people when I am shooting them. Please bear with me as I hope this will not turn into too much of a ramble.

The first instance that sparked this post occurred back in February when I did a shoot with Maly. For at least half of the session all she had on was wearing was a length of fabric, some of which was very sheer. During a break in the shooting she asked me how it was that I could concentrate on the photography when she was dressed in so little. I explained that I was so focused on getting the shots that I was not actually looking at the fact that she had very little on. In fact I have done sessions where at the end as I have reviewed the images I have not remembered taking them. I also explained that the purpose of the shoot was to produce art and not simply to let me see her naked.

The second discussion occurred during my shoot with Aleks. We were discussing a reasonable successful photographer (in terms of awards) that we both had done shots with. Aleks did not have a very positive impression of his mainly because he wanted to shoot more erotic style images with her when all she had agreed to was a nude shoot. When she refused he ended the shoot.

Now I always tell my nude models that I am going to produce shots where shadows will play a concealing part and that they will resemble early “Playboy”, and definitely not modern day “Penthouse”. In reality the difference is posing between the two can be as little as 3 inches in terms of where the model is relative to the camera. In doing this I am respecting their right to a level of privacy. The only time I have ever done a shot where literally everything was on full display was one at the specific request of the subject.

I always tell them that if I ask them to go into a pose and they are not comfortable doing it then they can say “no” and we will try something else. I do not believe that it is right to push anyone past their own comfort zone (unless they are getting paid for it). That is the way I would like it, therefore the way I treat others.

Producing a great image, especially concept shots, actually involves a collaboration between the photographer and the model. If you as a photographer do not respect the model then the chances of producing great work just got a lot harder.

A matter of perspective

Often if you want to produce an image that is dramatically better, or just different, from the same old, all you have to do is change the perspective that it is shot from. I have learned this well over the last 18 months as I have been shooting my “photo a day” images.

At lunch time today I sat down by the Wellington War Memorial to eat. Very some I was joined by a cheeky sparrow and the couple of pigeons, all eager to share in whatever would fall their way. I decided to take an image of my lunch partners but when I looked at all I could say was “boring”.


Then I thought maybe I could put the camera on the ground and see what I could capture. The result is a much better image and my photo for 18th July 2012.