#934 The Photoshop debate UPDATED

I just received an email from Fiona Hawtin, editor of Fashion Quarterly about the latest cover: “While we’re happy to admit we do retouch images, the summer cover is most certainly not comprised of one shot of our model’s head onto another of her body. The driftwood, however, has had quite a bit of work.”

Two weeks ago I blogged about Sarah Murdoch’s controversial un-retouched cover for Australian Woman’s Weekly. The story as it went was that Australian former supermodel Sarah Murdoch chose to appear on the cover of the magazine with no airbrushed assistance – aka au naturel. That’s one extreme. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve just heard on good authority that the latest Fashion Quarterly cover is made up of two photos – one of the body, and another of the model’s head from a different picture Photoshopped onto the body – apparently a fairly common occurrence for the magazine.

If you’ve seen September Issue you’ll know that photo doctoring as dramatically as decapitation isn’t actually as rare as you might think. The Sienna Miller Vogue cover from the movie had a different head attached thanks to the magic of Photoshop. When I worked for an architectural magazine last year it was quite common for the designer to Photoshop a chair into a room or a different wall onto a house if the first one wasn’t aesthetically pleasing.

So when is it going too far? I’m all for flawless skin and beautiful photos of beautiful people, but surely taking a head from one photo and sticking it onto another body is a little extreme. It kind of takes away the artistry of the photography and styling and the real life beauty of the work. Looking very closely at the FQ cover I decided I wouldn’t have known had I not been told (though I’m no expert on such technical matters), but it seems like the lighting looks different on the face (like, it’s brighter), than the lighting on the body. Graphic designers?

Delaney Tabron from NO Magazine had this to say about retouching (taken from the Sarah Murdoch blog): “I think it is incredibly irresponsible of magazines to retouch people beyond recognition. I do very minimal retouching on No to remove pimples and temporary blemishes but that’s all. I think ‘imperfections’ make people unique and beautiful. I was once publicly criticised for not removing hair on Katy Perry’s fingers on the cover of Issue 4 – God forbid a woman should have hairy knuckles. It’s sad that the media often perpetuates an unrealistic standard of beauty. There is nothing interesting about a world full of people who look like they have skin made of molded plastic.”

And let’s not forget about that whole Ralph Lauren debacle.

So here are my questions:

Do you think it’s irresponsible for magazines to Photoshop to the level of perfection?

Do you think it ruins the magic of a photo shoot?

Would you have known that the FQ cover was doctored?

Be honest – do you prefer to see perfect-looking people on the covers of magazines as opposed to people with everyday flaws?

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  1. gen says

    I don’t really care. Either way, the prospect of me looking like that model is remote… so whether it’s through the miracle of photoshop or the wonder of genetics, it doesn’t really faze me.

  2. K says

    My Creative Director on whether he could tell it was photoshopped (after seeing it on screen, not in real life):

    “Not unless I was looking at it closely. The lighting on the face is harsher though – deeper shadows around nose, eyes and hair than on the body.”

  3. Anonymous says

    It happens all the time, if the body looks good in one shot and the face not so, then you just find one with a good face, no biggie same girl….. It was happen in the dark room as well.

  4. says

    hi, it doesn’t bother me that her expression in one shot looked better with her body from another. While I think the massive perfecting of all the images we see today DOES us (and probably even more so young girls) a very unrealistic impression of what we should look like, I don’t think this type of cut and paste falls into that category.

    Thinking back to Rangiora in the 80’s (hickville)when I grew up, I idolised a bushy browed Madonna, a frankly quite weird looking Cyndi Lauper, and all the girls at school who were taller, cooler, more funny and got more boys than me. What a shame and a waste of a few years! I don’t think that back then it was about who was thinnest and had the most expensive stuff, you just had to have stuff! Now I’m a relatively mature 37 and still focus too much on my physical flaws and I should know better! I also buy too many mags 😉

  5. Anonymous says

    take a look at the editor’s photo for a much better example of over the top photoshopping…waist smaller than head?

  6. j says

    ugly smirky face + perfect body

    or perfect face + ugly smirky body

    there’s no reason why you can’t have both. we’re all aware that photoshopping happens (TO EVERYTHING. if you don’t- then get with it please)

    it had to come round eventually, and it’s not as if this type of work is something new. before photoshop was air brushing by hand- where sure it’s more seamless than it used to be it’s not such a big deal for it to be happening/just an industry standard.

  7. says

    Photos are not real. Regardless of whether a shot has been retouched or not, photos are not real.

    They are ALL cropped, two dimensional representations of a three dimensional moment in time.

    Ever since photography was invented photographers have always used a variety methods, tools and tricks to make their photos look better than reality.

    Any decent photographer will use lighting, lens, aperture, camera angle, composition, cropping, styling, editing, etc, etc, to convey their unique interpretation of any given subject matter. All of these elements make a HUGE difference as to how a model in a photo is conveyed to the audience (before Photoshop even enters the equation). For example if you shoot from low down you can make the model look taller. If you light in a certain way you can remove bags under the eyes and soften the skin.

    Photoshop is simply another tool that photographers now use to create aesthetically pleasing imagery. Criticizing the use of Photoshop is therefore completely irrelevant and pointless.

    Photos are not real. Fashion photography in particular is not even remotely close to reality – Photoshop or not.

    “If you want reality, why don’t you look out the window?”
    – Nick Knight

  8. jess says

    iunno, i don’t mind it.. however i do appreciate when someone can create a mood without the need of retouching or photoshopping (beyond recognition).. there’s something more artistically pleasing to me.

    i think swapping body parts is a bit ridiculous tho, someone failed there… the model or the photographer

  9. oldgirl says

    Just had a good look at the cover plain model awful swimsuit also all aussie gear, swimsuit and bangles. do not no why it is called new zealand F.Q . The photograper should be able to get one good shot . My be it should have a all N.z crew and clothes and it would look a lot lot better, they need to try a lot better next time, it is a funny mag anyway a bit old fashion.

  10. Leonie says

    I view photography the same way I do great art, theatre, literature. It’s a concept being conveyed, an interpretation, an emotion. Skin may seem flawless, body perfect, but there’s an entire team of people creating this image, including the subject of the photo. It’s really the message that is being transmitted that is significant.

  11. Anonymous says

    Boring stories. This happens all the time in publishing. Maybe we need to find a new subject to debate?
    Also, those of you commenting that the model/photographer/team “failed” being the reason a head be “swapped” on a shoot obviously have no idea in regards to what goes on behind putting a magazine/photo shoot together.
    As for the comment that the swimsuit is “awful”… I just bought it as I loved it so much.

  12. says

    Read all the comments-some good points made.
    Irresponsible of mags to photoshop extensively? Not really. Individuals moral compasses are all set differently-parents and experiences help mould us, not mags. A picture is just a picture. If you choose to model yourself on an image, you’re an idiot. Does it ruin the magic? Yes. Even though manipulations are made during shooting to get the image desired by a photographer,that should be where the clicking stops, THAT’S the result you want to see, not an extremely overhauled version. Who’s the talent to credit then? Photographer or retoucher?
    Would I have known? Course not. It looks a little odd, but these days we’re bombarded with plastic fantasy fashion imagery and I can’t tell anymore. Be honest about my preference of perfection versus actual? Of course I do. I’m buying to look at pretty, at fashion, at models. It’s great escapism. If I want real, I’ll buy National Geographic. Quirks are cool (like No, Lulu, Jalouse, Oyster) but pimples, saggy baggy bits, hairy moles and open pores?…photoshop them away, I’m paying good money here!

  13. Anonymous says

    Boring stories I agree. I think that this cover along with the Spring cover of the the two girls in the garden are the best covers FQ has ever had.

  14. oldgirl says

    I hope the swimsuit fits the person who brought better than the cover model, it’s to big on the model. A friend who is very good designer made the comment it looked like a 2nd year design school project, I have to agree

  15. Anonymous says

    If that looks like a 2nd year design school project, I would hope that pupil got top marks, I think it is stunning.

  16. L says

    I thought there was something wrong with the cover when I picked it up today! I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong with it. Why isn’t Zippora on the cover?

  17. oldgirl says

    if you wnat to see something really ugly in fashion, check out Daphe Guinness in Alexander McQueen s/s2010 shoes so sad, find on Hilary Alexander Twitter site,sorry I no good and doing the links

  18. Anonymous says

    Honestly, who cares? Magazines do this on a monthly basis, whether it be within editorial or on covers. It’s still the models head, on her own body – if it makes for a more asthetically pleasing cover then who does it hurt? No-one.

    And besides, by the time an image becomes a cover option, the control the photographer has over how it gets photoshopped is zilch. It doesn’t reflect the lack of talent in either the photographer, stylist or model – there are so many reasons why an editor would choose to photoshop an image like this, be it a gust of wind making the hair look terrible in that particlar shot, or perhaps that outfit was never meant to end up on the cover and the model wasn’t looking directly at the camera, so in order to make it ‘cover-worthy’ they take a shot where she is and replaced it onto the desired cover outfit.

    And, that swimsuit is amazing!

  19. Anonymous says

    This cover is nowhere as baddy photoshopped as the cover (last year I think with the girl standing on the bridge and 2 stories that were inside) that Karen Inderbitzen Waller shot in Paris for FQ. My friends & I were amazed (and humored) at the all the cut and paste and how badly executed the photoshopping was done.

    Get it together FQ!!!! We should not be able to tell in an image has been manipulated.

    I wholeheartedly agree with most of what Aaron K says, however believe that, extremities in cut and paste and over looking photoshop can perhaps reflect negatively on the skills of the team that created the image, If your going for a cover shot, at least get one shot, not 2 that need merging together.

    Photoshop is here to stay and the retouchers who can do the job well need to be celebrated.

  20. Anonymous says

    i would just like to say that as a photographer this is what sometimes happens to our shoots, they get butchered by idiots, sad but true.

  21. Anonymous says

    oh yeah!
    That cover was definitley worse.
    Poor Karen IW, she must of been so upset when they did that to her photo. I don’t know her, but I know for a fact FQ ruined her image wihtout her thumbs up.

  22. says

    Would rather pay money for this than the other extreme (i.e the throwaway happy snaps I could have taken on my phone) that some magazines expect you to pay money for. Aaron K summed it up really…
    As far as irresponsible? I don’t personally think so. Sure its sad if every young girl thinks they have to look like this. But surely most normal people can see natural beauty to aspire to around them everyday? This is just someones creation, like a barbie or lego figure.

  23. says

    Fashion is about aesthetics – sure young women suffer from body image issues related to images published in magazines and on television but should magazines feel responsible for every 16 year old’s eating disorder? I don’t think so. A better way of addressing this issue would be educating parents so that kids have the right perspective on woman portrayed in the media, however extreme the retouching, woman on the street are real and and thats the reality younger women should be absorbing.
    That shot of Sarah Murdoch un-retouched on Woman’s weekly is so ridiculous. The lighting is so strong her fine lines didn’t stand a chance.
    Hope you’re well Issac!!
    Zanita xx

  24. Anonymous says

    Has everyone been so distracted by the front cover, that the back of the magazine has been ignored? Now THAT is a photographic travesty (ohhh if only magazines weren’t made possible by awful ads!)

  25. Anonymous says

    A polite warning, If you plan on calling your blog “fashion news” you shouldn’t print tip-offs if you haven’t checked your facts. As well as doing your readers a disservice, you run the risk of saying libelous things about people or organisations.

    Journalism 101 I would have thought.

    Luckily for you the editor seems cool and can even have a laugh about it.

    Tread carefully in the future.

  26. Anonymous says

    es….and back to soem previous discussions and media honesty….so rare when pay checks are ruled by advertising dollars. Long live the bloggers I say!!!

  27. says

    Aaron is totally right, he couldnt have said it better.

    People will complain either way, if models look like everyday people media and consumers also dish out criticism. Its loose loose, but we all secretly love checking out babes..

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