I spent much of my day Sunday going back and forth with a client about a hairline. It's unfortunate that we don't always look like the picture in our minds of someone with great hair, great teeth and great skin. In this case it was mostly the first category.
In photojournalism we're taught that pictures tell stories and speak the truth. You might get away with a crop here and a color-correction there, but to push around pixels in something like Photoshop was like making up a quote or fudging a few facts.
Portraiture is a different story, since you're not trying to find some objective reality through your lens but an artistic truth. Retouching helps a photographer reach that truth when posing and lighting cannot. With enough effort the banal can become beautiful and the real, surreal.
Unfortunately Photoshop can easily go too far. You see it every time you pass a magazine rack, dozens of perfectly plastic people staring out at you, all of the little bumps and imperfections sanded away until they all look almost identical.
At Ryan Richardson Photography, I try to find a middle ground between reality and the artistic truth. To arrive at that point, I have two rules that I follow for every photo I retouch to go on the blog or in an album.
1. Real People Have Pores: People are not made out of plastic, often they have flaws and those things help to define and shape who they are. Written on your skin is part of your life story and a photograph should not always hide that.
2. Every Photograph Tells A Story: It isn't always a thousand words, but each photograph should contain some narrative. It may be as simple as "Dr. N is a serious professional" or something more abstract. The elements of a photograph should come together to share that story and not distract or detract from it (like a zit or bit of dirt might).
By these two lights, my retouching workflow is about minimizing flaws and drawing the eye into the story. Of course, treading softly isn't right for every occasion. With boudoir or glamour work, the story often is the fantasyl, so lines and wrinkles vanish entirely to create images closer to the ideal.
It's also not for every client. As with Dr. N, clients can ask for additional retouching on images, especially if there is something that you aren't quite as happy with as you'd like to be. Talking with your photographer about those particular issues is an important step toward getting the photos you'll love, and it was the subject of another blog post. Additional charges may apply for especially intensive or numerous edits.