This ad campaign (left) for Ralph Lauren recently made news for featuring an emaciated-looking model. I mean, she looks like the reflection in one of those fun house mirrors, or a life-size bobblehead -- take your pick. Either way, it's not attractive... or real! We hope you know this photo was heavily retouched. As are most all photos in magazines. To get to the bottom of what "retouching" actually entails, we talked to Emily Smith*, a professional retoucher who works on the high fashion glossy images you see in magazines and ad campaigns. Emily’s worked her Photoshop skills on A-list celebrities and famous models, so she knows what they look like before they show up on your doorstep.
I Heart Daily: Break it down. When you get images in for a magazine or ad campaign, what happens? Emily Smith: Normally, it goes to the retoucher for one round of retouching, then back to the photographer or the Creative Director for comments, then back again for more retouching.
IHD: What kinds of things do you change in a photo? ES: Cleaning up any superficial things like zits or sometimes taking out moles or freckles, stray hairs -- anything that’s distracting. If they have dark circles, cleaning up under the eyes. We take away fine lines or soften deep wrinkles if they have them. Even things like pushing in an arm or rounding pointy elbows, or thinning someone if they’re standing in an unflattering position. Also, evening out skin color, so if someone’s nose or ear is more red, you’re going to adjust that.
IHD: Do you make people thinner? ES: It all depends. If they’re a bigger person you only do it within reason; we’ve actually made models bigger in some cases. Sometimes they’re so thin that you have to make them look bigger.
IHD: What does “Frankensteining” mean? ES: It means taking the "best" parts from different photos -- using the best arm from one shot or the best face from another image -- and putting them all together. The most extreme instance of this was replacing a person’s body with someone else’s body. This celebrity had a body double, and I had to take her face and match the skin tone and everything to the different body.
IHD: So, are you saying celebrities and models have flaws just like everyone else? ES: Yes, even models have cellulite and some have a lot. We’ve gotten images in with a really famous model who doesn't shave her legs. You have to take all that hair out.They’re still really attractive obviously, but you’re just making them look like this unattainable, unrealistic image.
Watch this video made by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund for an accurate look into what goes into a picture perfect photo:
*Name has been changed for confidentiality.