Photo editing tech has never made you look so good

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In the recent Prince Andrew media debacle, the question of whether ‘that’ photo of him with the girl was photoshopped caught our attention. One side say it’s real. The other side say you can’t prove whether it’s real or not. No-one seems to be able to say for sure whether photo editing has been used or not though. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

We have spent quite a bit of time with Adobe Photoshop recently working on this site. We know photo editing technology could easily have been used to create the photo. Cutting, pasting and manipulating images together is what Photoshop does brilliantly. The ‘magic lasso’ tool for anyone who uses Photoshop is genuinely worthy of being called ‘magic’. But if the Andrew photo was faked, they did a pretty good job of it. That photo has undergone a huge amount of public scrutiny, and yet digital photo editing experts can’t agree on the authenticity of the image. Fat fingers or not.

We did wonder though why unlike many news stories in the past mentioning Photoshop, there was no accompanying cry about the evils of Photoshop and photo editing. And yes, the abuses of Epstein do make photo editing look pretty unimportant in comparison. And yet, it wasn’t so long ago, that whenever Photoshop hit the news, it was a bit of a dirty word for media pundits. (Ironic from an industry that couldn’t survive without photoshop).

Photo editing is fake? And your problem is?

Photoshopping is not real you’d hear. Not genuine. It’s fake. We know Unilever created a whole award-winning insight and campaign on this observation around ‘Real Beauty’ on their Dove brand. We know this because almost every marketing and communication best practice case study seems to quote the Real Beauty campaign for about the next ten years. And yes, it was a good piece of work. 

But go on Instagram or open any woman’s magazine and see the cosmetic and beauty product market continuing to boom. By all means, show yourself without make-up or touch-ups if you want, you are beautiful on the inside. Yes, you are. But the sad fact is other people see you from the outside. And judge you by your appearance. You might not like that fact, but it is a reality. So, there’s another insight that drives beauty and the on-going use of photo editing that many people still like to present themselves to the world at their best. 

Is photo editing really a problem these days?

So, maybe Adobe have a very good PR machine and moved the “Photoshopping is a dirty word”  story out of the news cycle. Very possible. But more likely, it’s that the act of photoshopping has stopped being much of an issue for most people. A touch up here. Fix a random background colour clash there. Who cares really? Everyone wants to look good in photos. And if technology helps, then great. 

Whether it’s an Instagram filter, Photoshop retouching or some other alteration via one of the many photo editing tools you can download via the App store, everyone fiddles around with their imagery these days. From your average teenage Instagram star wannabe to the thousands of creatives, designers, photographers that use tools like Photoshop every day with no second thought, it seems ‘real’ images are increasingly rare. When you work in creative and design, it’s impossible not to find Photoshop being used in advertising, in packaging development and in digital marketing. We use it to tidy up some of the images on this site as you can see from the header image on this blog.

When photo editing goes wrong

We don’t believe Photoshop itself is the problem. That’s like saying nobody should use kitchen knives because they could be used to stab someone. 

No, it’s the use (or abuse?) of what Photoshop can do to an image to mislead people that’s the real issue. But that’s down to the user, not the tool. We understand there’s an issue in using it in the fashion and beauty industry for example. Creating unrealistic aspirational images that cause young women to strive for unrealistic body shapes. This is a terrible thing. The health impacts from dieting to look thinner. The emotional distress when skin and hair are not perfect. We get it.  But look around at real people and see nobody really lives their lives like you see on Instagram and in the magazines. It’s just so obviously faked. 

We like the approach taken by the French and Israeli governments on this. Models need to have a minimum BMI and where images have been photoshopped a ‘photograph retouched’ notice needs to be included. These seem like sensible measures that should be rolled out in other countries. 

When Photoshop goes wrong

There are however some other issues with photo editing we have beyond this. Especially with Adobe Photoshop. The constant improvements in Adobe’s flagship product is very impressive from a technical point of view. It’s rather less impressive from a pricing point of view from those who have paid for a license. You can spot creatives using Adobe by their lack of an arm and a leg that they’ve paid to maintain the subscription. Especially if you grab all the other Adobe goodies at the same time. And the chances are you probably will. Big agencies can suck up the cost but freelance designers and small consultancies like us, it’s a pretty steep annual investment. 

We’ve dabbled with a few other cheaper or free photo tools like Gimp on desktop and Snapseed on iPhone but they are just not the same. Affinity Photo is one we haven’t tried yet, but may well explore in a future blog post. 

We should also mention the challenging UI on Photoshop while we are at it. Go into any creative studio where people are using Photoshop and listen out for the muttering and curses you’ll hear. Using Photoshop is like getting temporary dose of Tourettes. Click here. Forget to click there. Why’s that bit not working? Why won’t you paste, dammit? Oh, and I need to close that pop-up window again do I? Hmmm. But maybe that’s just our experience.

When photo editing goes right

Photoshop is a gift to beginners and bad photographers. With a bit of practice, you can turn crappy dull photos into something much more impactful. It’s a creative tool we use most days. Tidy up that blemish there. Change the colour balance or exposure there. Some tools like the Dodge and Burn are frankly amazing pieces of technology to enhance your base image.  

Back to our admittedly weak photo editing is like using a kitchen knife analogy.  In the hands of a master craftsman, both can be used to create magical differences in raw ingredients. To create something based in reality, but to transform that base into something artful. To create amazement. But even for newbies and day to day users, you need it as an essential tool of your trade. And yes, in the wrong hands, like a knife, it can be harmful. Maybe not physical harm, but still. But that doesn’t mean you’d ban kitchen knives.

Photography on this site

Most of the photos on this site, we have taken from free online services like Unsplash. We try to make sure we credit every image we use as this service is amazing for people starting out building a new website. 

Given we discuss photography elsewhere on the site, we will be looking to be less reliant on free images in the future, and create more of our own. We believe with a good camera, a willingness to learn, and a lot of patience, anyone can create great images. And if you can’t, Photoshop is a great back-up support tool. 

And for that, Photoshop will be something we plan to use a lot. Yes, the bad uses of Photoshop are not good. But we experience ‘real’ every day. Look in the mirror. Talk to people. The world online creates an escape. Be suspicious of what you see online but also be joyful about the wonderful creativity.  

Though, if Adobe could do something about their frankly outrageous subscription fees, yes that would be good too.

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