Paolo Ciccone - Headshot Photograph by DreamLight Images, Charleston SCRetouching has become a hot topic lately, with a slew of articles about this or that celebrity demanding that their photos are not photoshopped. Why can’t we just appear as we are, in our natural state? Aren’t we good enough?

The role of retouching

I don’t change how people look. For example, I never changed somebody’s nose to be smaller or different. I never “bleached” the skin of somebody to appear more caucasian. That is pure non-sense. But I routinely retouch photos to make people look at their best. It’s a service that takes hours of very skilled work that is done lovingly and with the interest of my clients at heart. To say “do not retouch” without defining the role of retouching is too much of a broad statement. Not all retouching is the same. Removing flaky skin is appropriate. Making a pimple disappear restores the normal appearance of a person.

Making portraits

When you look at a painted portrait of the past, do you believe that the artist faithfully replicated every blemish, every mole, every skin discoloration of their subjects? I can assure you that in the 1500s, or 1800s, skin care was not at the level of today and moisturizers, makeup and dermathology were not as advanced as they are today. People had many more imperfections and yet, when we look at their portraits, and they look just fine.

I make photographic portraits. I don’t reproduce every microscopic imperfection of the skin. That’s pedantic and soulless. My goal is to give you an artistic view of yourself, not a documentary. My portraits are meant to create a legacy of images for you and your family, something to cherish and be proud of. They are meant to show people at┬átheir best and to boost their self confidence through beautiful images of themselves.

Modern cameras and lenses are much more detailed than in the past. The amount of skin detail that is captured today is brutally elevated. Sometimes this level of detail creates distractions. When we talk face to face we are constantly in movement and we don’t pay attention to every minute detail in the other person’s face. For example, it happens regularly that I talk to a male client during the photoshoot and I don’t notice anything out of the ordinary. During development of the portraits I routinely spot nose hair peeking through, or skin flaking prominently. Often men miss a few spots when they shave and, all of a sudden, those patches of facial hair become quite visible in a highly detailed photo. I painstakingly retouch those elements out of the final image. This creates a better, more even portrait that doesn’t distract the viewer from the main subject.

When you hire a photographer to create your portraits you want a result that is enjoyable. We all age at different rates and with different results. My clients routinely ask me to minimize some features in their portraits. It can be a bit of aging, or some skin blemishes. That is perfectly fine. A portrait is meant to show you the way you see yourself.

By the same token, I could shoot you with harsh, high contrast light or with soft, diffused light. The former will amplify every dent and pore on the skin, even of a 25 years old. The latter is flattering for any subject and creates a beautiful image. Is one lighting more “honest” than the other? No, that is nonsense.

Art, not documentary

The big mistake that is done often is to consider photography a documentary medium. I start with photography but my images are not just photos. In fact, I never refer to what I make as photos. I make portraits, images, pictures. They start as photos and they end up as the visual product of hours of layering many different techniques and ideas until a certain vision is reached. Don’t limit yourself with the idea of a real-life documentary. Portraits can be so much more.


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