The last few months of photography articles have had an unusually high percentage of ‘hatorade’ for digital editing in the fashion world. So much so that some brands have chosen to feature images that are Photoshop free. While I’m an advocate of self-love and teaching our youth that perfection is impossible, I cannot be a hypocrite and turn my back on Photoshop. I love it, my clients love it and my business would suffer without it. I am a wedding and portrait photographer. Let me share with you three reasons for my Photoshop passion.

image by Michelle Ford

1. Photographers Judge Each Other

I’m a member of several online photography groups. It’s a closed environment and an open forum for my peers to “help” each other out with our work. We post images and seek opinions among other things. We ask for constructive criticism, but don’t tolerate negativity and hateful comments. I can tell you, honestly, that in a couple of my networks that are beauty and fashion based, because of these fundamental rules when people post images that are clearly from newer photographers with little to no Photoshop experience, the comment thread can go silent. I know that I personally don’t comment on these because, either the image didn’t move me enough to comment, or I adopt the if-you-have-nothing-nice-to-say-don’t-say-it attitude. If the contributor had very specific questions about the image I might leave a note. But see what just happened there? I took a look at the image and judged based on the image the level of experience of the photographer.

You might say that great photographers have great images straight out of camera. You might even say that beauty is beauty. I would agree on both accounts. The right lighting, the right subject, the right clothes, the right moment, all the right things can contribute to an awesome image, but that number of right things is a small percentage in my field. If I were asked to find the beauty photography experts out of 10 images from 10 different photographers, I would most likely select the well edited ones and so would you. We are a visual group and we like our images to look amazing. Photoshop takes us there. And before Photoshop there was image manipulation in the dark room too, so don’t even go there.

[REWIND: Friday Funnies: Unbelievably Shocking Photoshop Transformations]

image by Michelle Ford

2. Clients Judge My Work

I’ve gotten calls from women who found me on Facebook because their co-worker had photos done and they saw the final image and loved them. These are women who knew what “everyday Gina” looked like personally and saw what Gina and I achieved together on our shoot. They loved the images enough that they envisioned the same thing for themselves. They know just by looking at the images that there was some digital manipulation involved for the final rendering. They know this; they understand it and they want it for themselves.

Photography clients are clearly visual people as well. If and when a woman decides to pay the fees for a beauty portrait session, she weighs in the value of her money and she’s looking for someone that can make her look good. She shops for the right person and that photographer’s portfolio is their resume. Many glamour photographers these days even provide examples of before and after images to push the impact of their work. The use of digital manipulation is very clear and it’s part of their value.

What about models? On sites like Model Mayhem where there is a slew of professional models and even more abundantly, people that want to become models, the subjects judge the photographers they want to work with based on their portfolios. Again, these people are looking for a way to look amazing. Unexperienced models are hoping for a seasoned photographer to take them on and, in some cases, will pay for a session. Models with representation are naturally looking for work, but will be willing to do a trade with amazing photographers. We’re back to how they judge amazing. At this level, amazing almost always includes digital manipulation.

I can hear it now, people will say, “but that’s because of what media has taught us to expect.” Yes, the law of supply and demand definitely created our current situation, but I would also like to argue that regardless of how much we grumble about it, the truth is if you or I were the client, WE want to look good. WE are part of that supply and demand. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good. There is also nothing wrong with shopping for the photographer to get you there if you were in the market for that.

[REWIND: How To Heal and Clone Non-Destructively in Photoshop]

image by Michelle Ford

3. The Woman in the Mirror

We wake up every morning and we look in the mirror and we see. We see all our flaws and we work on it. We comb our hair, we brush our teeth, we put on makeup and we dress ourselves. We do what we can with the tools we have to present the best version of ourselves that we are able to on any given day. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good. Sometimes we want a whole different version altogether. I say we, because I am one of these women. I am just like my clients.

My clients are not models. They are everyday women with flaws and beauty just like me and just like everyone else. They come to me with an objective and it’s about looking good. They want me to see past the flaws they saw in the mirror when they got up this morning. They want to see the beauty that I see when I look at them and they want to be amazed by it. They want to see outside of their everyday view. I use an amazing makeup artist to help transform them out of their everyday. I use my talents and skills as a photographer to get the image right in camera. I use my personality to coach them out of their shell. And I use Photoshop to finish the image.

[PRODUCT HIGHLIGHT: Learn how to use Photoshop like a pro for beauty retouching with the Digital Photo Retouching ebook by Julia Kuzmenko McKim]

I am a portrait photographer. I employ my skills in Photoshop to render the best version of my subjects with the tools I have. I don’t use Photoshop to turn a size 12 woman into a size 6 but I do nip, tuck and smooth to enhance an image. I don’t use Photoshop to turn back time on a 60 year old woman, but I will soften lines and eliminate blemishes to show her the beauty I saw when we sat face to face during the shoot. I’ve shown my clients the images straight out of camera and they love it. Two weeks later, I show them the enhanced images and they love it even more. I have never been asked for the pre-edited photo.

image by Michelle Ford


What I do is eliminate the veneer of imperfections that we all get hung up on when we look in the mirror in the morning. I help my clients get past that first layer and introduce her to the beautiful woman I saw. It’s like that Dove commercial that went viral, but my tool isn’t a pencil and paper, it’s a camera and Photoshop. They might have come to my door looking for a way to look good, but I like to think that I gave them more than that, I gave them something to feel good about as well.