What to retouch- The stress!

     People often discuss the many retouching techniques to achieve the “best” or most “natural” effect, for example for skin retouching. Although it is true, that proper techniques should be used to retain the structure of the skin, textiles, etc., in my understanding, it is just as important to understand what should be changed using these techniques, and not only concentrate on the how.

     I have met talented retouchers or photographers who retouch themselves; young, full of knowledge, tricks and technical skills and yet their post production work, look of final images, lacked something. At first I did not know what I was missing, it did take me a while to understand that most people, at least at the beginning of their career, tend to concentrate too much on the technical side and keep forgetting that the most important aspect is the esthetics of a photograph (not going into the meaning of an image and it’s impact on its value). Everyone prefers a beautiful although a bit poorly altered shot to an ugly perfectly retouched one.

     And so when we retouch a person, to make him beautiful, by which I mean to show his natural beauty, not making him into a Barbie, or just to make him look appropriate to the context of the image, we should concentrate much more on “revealing” the person’s face, than just on altering the skin texture or removing wrinkles.

     When retouching human faces there are a number of things we usually correct (and it is not whitening teeth as most people might think); the most important thing for me is stress and tiredness. How do you remove that, you might ask? In fact it is not that complicated.

After stress relieving treatment

After stress relieving treatment

For a short moment imagine that you are on vacation; you sit comfortably by the sunny seaside, there is a cool breeze and the view is splendid. At that moment you feel the tension leaving your body and you relax. The muscles in your face gradually relax and the lines, shapes of the face change. In the case of many people who have an intense job (who doesn’t nowadays?) this change may be very big. We also have to take into account that stress, fatigue, or intense pleasures build up over time, they leave their sign which in many cases is there to stay.
     In this understanding to make someone beautiful is to make him forget about all his worries and relieve the tension of the facial muscles. It might sound pretty complicated but it is not. It is something which you may learn with time. Retouching wrinkles or lightening the color of the eyes will make everyone seem younger, but not necessarily more beautiful or if we may put it in other words: to make someone beautiful it is usually much easier and better to change the large scale shadow- highlight structure of the face (which represents the psychological state of the person) then the micro wrinkle structure.

     Yes, I hear you, celebrity retouching usually consists of hours of tedious changing of unlimited elements in a photograph- all very true, but if we look at the before and after of the photograph and start to look at what made the biggest effect in helping the face, for me it is usually the stress relieving treatment.

     To make my point let me ask you a question about celebrities, who appear on photographs everywhere around us. We see their faces shot by many famous photographers and somehow on most of those images they seem relaxed. Why? Do you really think celebrities in general have calm, stress free faces? Of course not. I have retouched hundreds of famous people from around the globe over the years and in my opinion they are of course just like the rest of us. Stressed and tired. Yet their images are usually retouched by skilled professionals who are able to tell what to change to make the celebrity look as people expect them to look like.
     Now if you thought I am going to show you a before and after example of Halle Berry or Kate Winslet, you were very wrong. But I believe I don’t need to, in order to make my point nor to show what features should be corrected in order to make the “stress relieving treatment”.

     I will show an example, but also give you an exercise. Exercise first, so you don’t get to lazy reading this text. Look at any person near you, or if you are alone into the mirror and imagine that you are on the cover of Vogue, there is splendor and grace shinning from your image. Imagine what changes for you to look so great. Yes, unfortunately a few things would, nobody is as perfect as the cover of a magazine.

     And now the long awaited example. Sorry if it is not the obvious before and after you were waiting for. It will require you to activate your imagination once more. It is a cumulative mask of all the various luminosity changes I have made to the portrait above, where the white areas are places were the image has been lightened. Another words the whiter the places the stronger the lightening.
     Obviously it looks like a strange sketch of a face, as the stress footprint on our face represents us and also is marked onto our facial expression. Show me your problems and I will tell you who you are…

by Tomasz Kozakiewicz

Mask of lightening operations on face

Mask of lightening operations on face





you may view this post also at House of Retouching