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Nicole portrait

By Ahem
This is an image of Nicole when she was an undergraduate studying fashion design. Unsurprisingly, she was also a model. I used a single rectangular soft box overhead ("butterfly-ish") to light her.
I'm a novice with Photoshop and I've recently been dabbling with "softening the skin." There are a number of online tutorials on this subject. My concern is...has this gone too far? To me, her skin is almost too perfect now. Ain't nobody got skin like that. Any pointers or leads to other video tutorials would be most appreciated. Thanks in advance for looking.

Tags: Portraits and people Nicole portrait

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dudler Plus
18 1.7k 1878 England
9 Jul 2021 3:50PM
That's an excellent question, Hem, and one to which there are a number of answers...

For my taste (and possibly yours?) this has gone beyond 'kind' into 'Barbie' (though only just) - but for a beauty magazine, and for many commercial photographers it would be fine.

In general terms I'll say that it's so good, with such wonderful soft light and tone control that I'd vote without a second thought, and might give an award. The composition is in the 'so good that you don't really notice it' category - everything is quietly understated. It would still be magnificent for just about every viewer with significant skin texture.
9 Jul 2021 4:09PM
Thanks, as always, John, for looking at this and so many other images far and wide. I agree with you about the Barbie's just too much for me.
It leads me to wonder about beauty standards and the unrelenting drive to feed that fantasy.
Chrism8 14 1.0k 29 England
9 Jul 2021 4:18PM
A superb portrait of an attractive lass, excellent lighting with just enough light on Nicole's for her to stand out from the dark background

I would prefer a little more skin tones or skin texture, it's a tad to smooth, it depends also for me on what the lady wanted, did she want any / all blemishes she may have had cloned out or something more natural.

I shoot a lass who's in her late 50's but wants to look in her 30's and requests each image has blemishes removed inc her crows feet etc.

Robert51 12 7 124 United Kingdom
9 Jul 2021 4:30PM
What a wonderful portrait which captures the beauty of this young lady.

The mod I have done a little colour toning and some minor adjustments of the eyes lips and brightness f the face. Very little needed as it's already a wonderful image. Hope you like it.
9 Jul 2021 4:35PM
Thanks, Chris and Robert. I guess I'm in the stage of learning where I ask, "but it goes up to 11, right?" Just trying to find where the image seems most comfortable but I'm so enthralled about discovering new tools that I crank them up to see the effects.
mrswoolybill Plus
14 3.0k 2459 United Kingdom
9 Jul 2021 6:56PM
Thanks for asking a serious question, that gives us something to think about!

It's not my area photographically, but as a woman I have strong opinions of skin-smoothing... I do see it as an insidious form of objectification, it destroys the character and life experience that skin texture conveys. I could go on...

Quite apart from that issue though, the problem that I see is that it tends to create a 2-dimensional effect, it flattens the face. You have compensated for that I think by using the burn tool to bring back shadows, on both sides of the nose and on the lower left (to us) cheek. That looks awkward to me, and it's a distraction.

I'd love to see the original, I suspect that I would much prefer it.
9 Jul 2021 8:04PM
Hi Moira,
Thanks for taking the time to look and comment on this image. Your statement of "skin-smoothing... I do see it as an insidious form of objectification, it destroys the character and life experience that skin texture conveys" is really illuminating. Would I have thought about skin smoothing if it was a portrait of a man? Honestly, probably not. That shows my inherent bias, doesn't it? As you mentioned, this could go on...
I may post the slightly altered original (background burn/untouched skin) in the gallery.
Thanks again,
banehawi Plus
17 2.5k 4268 Canada
9 Jul 2021 8:34PM
To me, it looks like your applied softening to the eyes and hair, so best to avoid this using a layer and a mask.

It would be nice to see the original here, as your own mod, easy to so, click modifications. then upload, and select the untouched version.

Heres a link to a tutorial on layers and masks.

9 Jul 2021 9:27PM
Thanks for the link to the tutorial. I'll definitely check it out. With your assistance, I might actually get somewhere with these new fangled computer cameras.
banehawi Plus
17 2.5k 4268 Canada
9 Jul 2021 9:35PM
Just looked at this on my graphics monitor, and you have not applied softening to the areas I mentioned at all, - its quite good.

I did upload a mod with a touch more light/dark tone modelling on her face to try to reduce softening, but its trickery!
Owdman Plus
5 6 23 United Kingdom
9 Jul 2021 11:31PM
An interesting question and interesting replies. I think it basically comes down to what you're trying to achieve. I know that John likes his images to be 'as is', warts and all, I see my photography as the starting point for a future image that may or may not be an accurate representation of the person I photographed. I like your photo a lot, though I'd prefer the gaze to be into the camera lens, but that's because I like that type of image. I don't think your photo is over retouched and certainly at least one of the models I photograph has the sort of skin that really doesn't need retouching, so does that mean I should add texture to it because it doesn't look 'real' Smile. Another model has a blemish on one side of her face that she asks to be removed. I can quite understand people getting uptight at adverts where the women are polished and adjusted to be unreal, but I'm not producing adverts, I'm producing images that I like.
10 Jul 2021 12:22AM
Thanks again, all. I just posted Nicole's portrait (her face is untouched in PS) in the regular gallery area. I think this digital darkroom is going to be fun to explore although I do miss seeing prints bloom in developer. I haven't done that in over a year.
dudler Plus
18 1.7k 1878 England
10 Jul 2021 10:17AM
I love the 'natural' version. Apart from anything else, it's truer to my sense of how lenses work...
saltireblue Plus
11 12.2k 76 Norway
10 Jul 2021 5:24PM
Nothing to do with your image, but relevant to the retouching.
A law has been passed here in Norway making it illegal to post retouched images without stating that they are altered.
Owdman Plus
5 6 23 United Kingdom
10 Jul 2021 6:42PM

Quote:Nothing to do with your image, but relevant to the retouching.
A law has been passed here in Norway making it illegal to post retouched images without stating that they are altered.

I can understand why, but I can't see how that can be effectively policed.
firstlight 11 2 3 United Kingdom
13 Jul 2021 4:39AM
You may wish to look at the work of high-end professional retoucher Viktor Fejes of Gild Studios, especially for skin retouching. He has tutorials on several different photography education platforms, and his work on skin retouching is as beautiful as it is amazing. He explains why frequency separation is not the way to go, etc.

To those with the ears’ of ePhotozine, perhaps this is a topic worthy of considered discussion on the site? Surely it’s a worthy topic for consideration…

It's not my area photographically, but as a woman I have strong opinions of skin-smoothing... I do see it as an insidious form of objectification, it destroys the character and life experience that skin texture conveys. I could go on...

An interesting, and of course, very valid viewpoint. I take a slightly different view, seeing skin retouching as intrinsically no different as any other adjustment, say, whitening teeth, removing stray hairs or unwanted creases from clothes (male or female). Although I personally prefer very little work to be done on skin, I also see no problem in those seeking the perfection that ‘doesn’t exist’, just as the Ancient Greeks and Romans did with their anatomically impossible sculptures (here I could go on 😆Wink. But surely it is the ‘intention’ of the photographer and what they are trying to produce that guides the viewer here…?

I find it thought provoking as, from my perspective, I see so many images of naked women where it appears that little thought has gone into the story or message, the backdrop, the props or the post-production. This strikes me as minimal effort at an artistic project and more an excuse to plonk a naked woman (it usually is women) in front of the viewer (this is not directed an any individual, just a personal view and I respect people are free within the law to choose to do as they wish). I find this ‘normalised objectification’ much more of an issue than skin retouching - especially when the skin retouching is done for a specific purpose (and we should really define what we mean by ‘objectification’, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent before getting into a debate). I recall the artist Rob Debenport, used to photograph nudes of the same model every time. Paraphrasing his words, this way he avoided the risk of taking the same old poses and thinking it was unique because he had a different model in front of him. I see this ‘risk’ hobbling several otherwise very talented photographers.

May I pose a question from a slightly different angle? When a woman applies lipstick, mascara etc, is she self-objectifying herself? Ignoring the actors involved for a moment - she is materially changing her skin’s appearance, changing her character and life experience perhaps?. Is it just that this is a more acceptable ‘adjustment’? Or, by wearing figure enhancing or altering clothes, is this any different from post-production digital figure work? Or, Is it the intent of the model/photographer/creative director that is more important here?

And are any of these issues new or are they the same issues from the days when photographic glass plates were painted.

The arguments here can be nuanced, but it is a worthy topic to debate when we consider the speed of digital transitions and the reach of advertising. Again paraphrasing, Socrates this time, it is only by debate and inquiry that we may arrive at the truth.

P.S. thank you Moira for a thought provoking comment, much appreciated.

From the above, you may guess that I believe it all depends on what your intention was when processing the image and what story you’re trying to convey. Without this my only comment would be that it looks slightly over processed in some areas, but it’s the colour grading that I would personally change. The red dominance - RHS of model’s forehead, nose and neck. Just don’t ask me to adjust it - I’m not that good!
dudler Plus
18 1.7k 1878 England
14 Jul 2021 8:23AM
There are some very interesting thoughts in there... Possibly too many to discuss easily or quickly, although that's no reason why they shouldn't be discussed!

They include:

What is objectification, and who is 'allowed' to do it?
How can one make an image better by editing?
For whom is the edit done, and why?
What constitutes a story in am image? (And can extensive retouching help one tell it?)

I'm definitely up for the discussion, and I've looked up both Robb Debenport and Viktor Fejes - briefly, so far. In particular, a Fejes video of a two-hour retouch in two minutes on YouTube, which left me in no doubt that the object was to perfect the image beyond all reality. The clue, maybe, is that he works for a studio, and so his normal task is to make the subject look better than reality. That means that his images suggest that all women should look as perfect as the people in those images, and that is, I think, a problem. Not a spot, not a blemish, not a hair out of place. The justification for such thorough editing - however well done, however lovely the result - is that the client wants it, and will pay handsomely for it.

In terms of the question Hem asked with this picture, I think that a Fejes-style edit would be unsatisfactory - though I know Hem can speak for himself, and (very possibly) also for his model, with whom he will have discussed many things in the course of shooting.

As to self-objectification... Again, maybe the justification is income for some: though the idea that employees of a city firm should wear high heels (I seem to remember this in the news a few months back) remains offensive, even if most women willingly complied. In a photograph, there may be collusion to produce an image on a reasonably equitable basis...

Maybe one small part of this - and an additional area for discussion - is that hinted at in firstlight's third from last paragraph is that software makes it relatively easy for all of us to retouch extensively. The fact that it can be done is not an argument that it must be done...

I'm very willing to try to open up the debate through a blog, if anyone else is interested in joining in.
firstlight 11 2 3 United Kingdom
18 Jul 2021 5:13PM
Unfortunately you won’t see much, if any, of Robb Debenport’s photography now, he switched his artistic efforts from photography to ceramics and Jewellery some years ago now, his photography website is no longer live (if my memory serves me correctly). This is a shame as he had some excellent, thought provoking articles alongside his photography.

Please don’t judge Viktor Fejas (who owns Gild Studios) by a You Tube video. His work is used by many commercial and fine art photographers as well as big brands. I have seen him use incredibly subtle post-production work on models’ skin. Yet at the other end of the spectrum he produces incredible CGI rendered images - indistinguishable from reality. Don’t forget, he pays his mortgage with this, so he provides his clients with what ‘’they’’ wish for, not what ‘’he’’ might. (He’’s used words to this effect in public and I suspect You Tube is just a marketing tool.)

And this now brings another topic - the increasing use of entirely computer generated imagery, where the economics of finished product is more cost effective than the production involved in a studio shoot. Will digital imagery of the real world face the same fate as film with the challenge from increasingly impressive CGI?)

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