Ahh, the largely debated topic of how much editing is too much editing? When it comes to photography, it’s hard to determine, especially when editing can be considered part of the art. There are definitely MANY styles of photography that require more editing than others. However, where is the line that we as artists cross between artistic editing and unethical editing?
In my career as a photographer, I stumbled across this question several times when editing photos, and I have to say, it’s an extremely tough call. There have been numerous occasions that I am specifically asked to “take off fat” and “whiten teeth” and “make me look 10 years younger.” It’s even more heart-wrenching when a younger person will ask me to make them look thinner. It breaks my heart to think that they have such a poor reflection of themselves that they would not want to see an unedited photo because they would feel personal embarrassment/shame. But what do you do when it is specifically requested of you? I have found myself between this rock and hard place many, many times.
Since I was 13 when I had my first job, one of the first lessons I learned was that the customer was ALWAYS right, even when they were not. When a customer/client asks something of you, even if it doesn’t make sense, doesn’t look good, or you know will not achieve what they are hoping for, it’s helpful to put in your recommendation, but ultimately in the end you need to deliver what they request. I came across this several times in other jobs that I had. There are ways to work with your clients on their vision, but if you must sacrifice your own vision for their satisfaction, that is what you are being paid to do. It’s a little bit different with photography; since photography is a form of art, most of the clients that I have come across have been attracted to my particular style of shooting. However, coming full circle with my initial point, what does a photographer do when they’re approached with extreme editing requests?
As most of written posts are, this is a loaded topic for me! And per usual, let me give you a bit of background about why this is so important to me…
Whenever I have been asked how I got into photography, I always say that photography chose me. To be quite honest, I’m not really sure how. It really does feel like one day I just woke up and started booking sessions, but I can promise you that it came hand-in-hand with PLENTY of hard work and no time-clock restrictions! But since day one, I remember being super passionate about it and not really understand quite why. But hey, I’ve never been one to question when I feel a pull from the universe (just say yes and figure it out later, right?). I quickly discovered a love for fashion/model photography; to this day, I still feel like I am most creative when I work in this field. However, as you can imagine, I also quickly found the dark side of this particular part of the industry. When I began working in this field, I found that I absolutely loved the feeling of making people feel beautiful about themselves (this was part of what lead me to start the fashion shows). It’s a bittersweet feeling when I am at a shoot and can show the client the photo straight from my camera and they look at it with the response, “oh my God, that’s me??” How wonderful and sad it is to think that this person DIDN’T think they were that beautiful before this photo, but that they can now see the completely raw, untouched version of it and still feel that way. Over the course of time, I have discovered that my purpose is to work with, build up, heal and support, young women. It is so amazing to me that photography was part of the path to lead me to this discovery – who would’ve thought? Power of the universe, baby!!
As wonderful as this probably all sounds, it doesn’t always turn out this way. There is a pressure as a photographer – or there is for me, anyway – to try and deliver a photo that best reflects the way that person looks to me in person. But we are all our own worst critics. I came up with the term “ethical editing” after a few of these instances and continue to market myself as an “ethical editor” in photography. Personally, I love laugh lines and freckles! When I see a smile, I see it in the eyes just as much as the mouth, and when you take pieces of that away, you remove a little happiness behind that smile. So many times I will edit a photo to the extreme and then completely undo all of my work because it just seems like such a plastic reflection of that person. The story in the video below is a beautiful example of how this shift is taking place!
So what exactly is “ethical editing,” although I think you could probably guess. I like to describe it as follows — I will edit the person in the photo to the extent in which I see you in real life, with added natural edits such as levels, saturation, brightness/contrast etc. However, my policy is that if you are not happy with your photos, I will redo your entire shoot for free, and if you would like additional edits to any particular photos, I will make them for free upon request, as the client is ALWAYS right and it is most important to keep the client happy with their end product. I will absolutely say that the way people look in person is definitely different than in a photo on a computer screen. I know that my personal experience when I am interacting with another person is that I do not see your flaws. Actually, let me rephrase that – I see past them. When I am talking to you, I am not scanning what you look like; I am listening to you. When I am walking alongside you, I am not paying attention to what others are looking at; I am staying present in the moment with you. When I look at your face, I am reading you from the inside and not scanning the exterior. Ethical editing is the ability to bring this into the final photo; editing the photo only to the point in which I actually see you. I love that a lot of companies are daring to become realistic with their advertising! I believe this is making room for us to become more artistic rather than critical, and how wonderful is that??
The last thing that I will leave this post with, and call me cliche but, beauty truly is from the inside out. I have said this so many times and will say it again – I can’t tell you how many people I have initially met that were incredibly beautiful on the outside and as I worked with them over time, I found it harder and harder not only to edit their photo, but just to take it. I have also seen the reverse happen. How you treat the world is a true reflection on everything about you from your outer layer to your core. Always stay humble, be kind to everyone you meet as you don’t know what battles they’ve been given, never pass judgment based on the cover of the book, and above all things, love unconditionally.