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News & Insight

Actress Ashley Benson Talks Smack About Photoshop. Should She?

By Kishore Sawh on December 14th 2013

Adobe must be popping bottles this week. Actress Ashley Benson, a star of the hit show ‘Pretty Little Liars’, in her recent Instagram post criticizes the show’s new promotional poster by voicing, “Our faces in this were from 4 years ago…..and we all look ridiculous. Way too much photoshop. We all have flaws. No one looks like this. It’s not attractive.” Photoshop really couldn’t ask for better press than this! What this is saying is that Photoshop is so astonishingly powerful that you can take yourself not only to a realistic level of perfection, but so far remove yourself from reality that you become a different person. Or an Alien….Or a dog.

Image in question courtesy of Ashley Benson via Instagram itsashbenzo

[REWIND: Student Photographer Mocks Beauty Industry’s Use of Photoshop]

You think a dog is far fetched? It’s not. You want pore-less alabaster skin? Easy. Longer legs, less weight in the hips, and more weight in all the right places? Give me 10 min. It’ll take little more than that to transform Quasimodo into Esmeralda. Ok maybe not by me because I’ll refuse to. Not strictly because of any social conscience, mind you, but also because as Benson put it, no one looks that way, and that then isn’t attractive.

Your Brain & How To Think About Photoshop

She’s not the first, and not the last. Whether you agree or not is besides the point. Forever demonized, Photoshop will no doubt be on the receiving end of some bashing, but it’s a highly useful tool when used well, and I think it’s good to take a second to understand something from a photographic perspective. It’s understood that the human brain tends to remember how a face looks as the eyes see it from around 10-12 feet away. This is why when you unite under the mistletoe this holiday season, to the person on the receiving end of your kiss, happy about it or not, you won’t look disproportionate as you come within a an inch of their face. Their eyes are seeing a huge nose, wide cheeks, and oddly shaped head due to proximity, but their brain is adapting the view and transforming it to look sort of like how it remembers it from 10-12 feet away. Normal and nice.

It’s understood that the human brain tends to remember how a face looks as the eyes see it from around 10-12 feet away

Photogs get this because we see it easily when contrasting images from say the flattening compression of a telephoto lens, to the warping look of a wide angle. I bring this up because when we see other people we generally view them from a more flattering perspective, and we remember that image in fleeting flashes of thought. A photograph, however, stays. A photo captures a moment that is usually gone in a flash, and therefore you can focus on this momentary image in a way normally impossible. This allows you to really look and notice abnormalities, little flaws, and lack of symmetry that in person you wouldn’t ‘see’. This, is where and why, I feel photoshop should be used on people; To do the minimum to an image so it appears how you would generally see it, maybe with a spot or two removed. The idea then is not to use photoshop to create a new person, but to strip away what’s distracting, and to reveal the person.

What say you? Do you like photoshopping yourself or others to look unreal or totally different? Do you think photoshop is unnecessary? Better yet, show us some sample of your photo work, and I’ll give my feedback. You can follow Ashley Benson on Instagram here.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Drew Pluta

    I like where the discussion is going here! This is similar to my approach to editing. The process of photography is inherently unnatural. It is rife with distortions of reality, photographic anomaly’s, and quirks. THAT”S WHY I LIKE IT!

    If there’s a pimple, get rid of it. If the makeup flaked a bit, fix it. Much of photography is about creating a final vision, not capturing a true to life natural moment. The edit has always been a part of the process, yes all the way back to film. Not seeing that would be unfortunate and not allow for a massive field of photographic artistry to have it’s rightful place.

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  2. nsterken

    Wow, I never thought about it that way but, I do touch people up and have concsciously thought about why I feel the need to do so. It is not so much to stroke their ego and not embarrass them but more for a deeper reason, along the lines of what the author wrote: this image, it is not the actual person. We did not freeze the person and trap them into a camera nor into a 2d image. We took a capture or a ‘likeness’ of them. If we know them, we will re-touch them the way we know them. If we see the model before she goes to makeup, we can perhaps even snap a shot without the makeup and get a true shot of her bone structure, face, because we probably won’t be able to remember her face in the 30 seconds before she goes to makeup. We’re creating a likeness of the individual. Does the individual look like some celestial goddess? No. They look human. Should they get touching up after the tool used to create their likeness has captured the contents of all their pores and every single eyelash, even the tiny hairs in front of their eyes, by their cheeks? Yes, because it is a harsh and detailed tool and captures much more than our eyes do. But machines will not be viewing these likenesses: we will. And we are human.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Nathan, thanks for the input. Retouching is this sort of interesting term – covers all manners of sins. When I’m retouching a headshot there are the touches that affect the quality of the image and not really alter the subject.. such as sharpening around the nostrils and possibly strengthening the catchlight in the eyes. I rarely adjust structure and if so it’s extremely subtle. That being said it is an expression of art sometimes. If you ever have read The Picture of Dorian Gray, one of my favorite books, in the first chapter a main character speaks of how in a painting the subject isn’t revealed so much as the painter. It can work this way in photography also.
      you can check out this other article of mine for an idea of touch-ups. These images aren’t heavily touched up at all actually .Rally just eye catchlights and and a touch of sharpening. Best for the holidays to you! Cheers.

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  3. Loreen

    Another problem here is client perspectives. When they see models and actresses/actors in photographs which have been retouched – gently or heavy-handedly – they automatically assume their photographs will be just as “perfect”. Brides in particular have a disconnect in how they perceive themselves vs how they should appear in their wedding photographs. They certainly do not have the team of make-up artists, stylists, and hair dressers at their disposal on their wedding day (at least not the average bride – I know some do have) to help them look perfect, flawless, and immaculate. Photoshop (in my opinion) is a tool to be used lightly – not to completely transform a person (Bride) beyond recognition from their daily selves. When you clients are hiring based on Photoshop abilities and not photography abilities – there is something wrong.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Loreen, that’s a great concise way to phrase it, “When you clients are hiring based on Photoshop abilities and not photography abilities – there is something wrong.” I see this sort of thing all the time. I know a guy who shoots for a lot of men’s magazines and the women he shoots look utterly unreal in the photos. He knows that these women come to him to be shot and look like this. They know, he says, that they don’t look like that (primary issue is skin – completely re-done to look as if they were spray painted) but they want to have photographs like that – unreal. Clearly there is a market for this. Mind you these women are about as discerning as Kim Kardashian. I’m much more in your camp though, but that could also be to taste. I like finding perfection in the imperfection. Beauty in standard, can be boring. It calls to mind one of if not my favorite poem, by Robert Herrick: Sweet Disorder “A SWEET disorder in the dress
      Kindles in clothes a wantonness”
      “A SWEET disorder in the dress
      Kindles in clothes a wantonness:
      A lawn about the shoulders thrown
      Into a fine distraction,
      An erring lace, which here and there 5
      Enthrals the crimson stomacher,
      A cuff neglectful, and thereby
      Ribbands to flow confusedly,
      A winning wave, deserving note,
      In the tempestuous petticoat,
      A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
      I see a wild civility,
      Do more bewitch me, than when art
      Is too precise in every part.

      Thanks for posting –

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  4. Mike Campbell

    I agree with you – I would never go so far as to transform someone into another person when it comes to Photoshop. But I think Photoshop has been getting a bad rap lately by celebrities and models in the media. I don’t know if this is a case of retouchers going to far with images, or the people being Photoshopped don’t realize what the aesthetic changes the retoucher is making are for (some can look quite dramatic when comparing a before and after). I agree 100% that a photograph is a slice in time, and all too often a photo editor is picking the best aspect of an image for their use (expression/pose/how clothing falls/etc) and the retoucher is then going to great lengths to help balance the other features of the image that aren’t as “perfect” as another image might have. I don’t think there is anything wrong with slight posture changes, fitting clothing to the model and even slight corrections for the optics used by the photographer. Altering the person so they don’t look like themselves is another story though…


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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Mike, Photoshop does get a bad rap sometimes I agree. Where in fact the criticism should fall on those using it. ANd there are cases abound of both the client being aware and unaware of the levels to which they’ve been edited. Just as anything else it’s generally circumstantial. Not long ago when Kate Winslet spoke out against an image of hers being too overdone I really stopped and thought, what the hell is happening here? Because it was shot by one of my photographic idols, Mario Testino. And the editing was really terrible. I think it’s probably not a bad idea to approach editing like you would approach cover letter or application letter…write it… walk away for an hour, come back and see how it looks. Be objective. Thanks for the thoughts. I see you’re a up in the T.Dot. It’s been a year since I’ve been back and I’m hurting. Can’t wait to be back. Happy Holidays from Miami!

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  5. Gautam Naryanan

    Great article I love your style. thanks

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Guatam, cheers for the kind words! Also looked over your website and you do nice work. It’s a shame I hadn’t known of you this summer when I was in the UK being asked to suggest a photog for a wedding ’round your way. Next time. All the best, and Happy Holidays from Miami.

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  6. Syranno

    Photoshop has definitely helped me alot, I agree that sometimes it can be overkill in the wrong hands giving that porcelain effect but with the right amount and “adjusting” the right “distractions” it displays a great deal of creativity.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Syranno, you speaketh the truth. I have a lot of respect for Photoshop and it’s capabilities. Frankly I think to do good work with it you have to respect it. After all, it does take skill and sound judgement to get good results. And given the right project, getting carried away with it can be a good thing. It’s just there’s a lot of abuse, and when dealing with photographs of people, there’s often a tendency to manipulate the image beyond recognition. I’ve just skimmed over your site and clearly I can see where Photoshop comes in handy for you and from what I can tell you understand how to balance that line between creativity.. and just plain madness. Keep it up. Cheers and Happy Holidays from Miami.

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  7. nevrenough

    I love how you write. I’m not totally into photography. My girl friend is and she told me about this site and said you make photography stuff sound interesting and you do. Somehow I manage to read your posts. You should write more. You have interesting views on things.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Well that’s a nice line to drop me. Cheers for that. I’ll do my best to continue to have my posts be good enough for you to ‘manage’ to get through ;-) Happy Holidays and don’t be a stranger.

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