A good friend of mine from high school joined a band during his freshman year of college. When he and his bandmates recorded their first CD together, he asked me to design the artwork for it, thus introducing me to my first real commissioned foray into Adobe Photoshop.
Fun fact: The lead singer of the band at the time had connections to “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks. While Facebook stalking him one day – I thought he was cute, give me a break – I stumbled across a photo of the two of them together. In it, Jordin’s holding up a CD, and lo and behold, it’s the exact same one recorded by my friend’s band with my design on the jacket and my name in the credits. That whole six degrees of separation thing, you know?
Now that I think about it, that period of time was actually pretty tragic despite my feelings of joy that Jordin Sparks had seen and even gone so far as to physically TOUCH my work. Tucked within that plastic CD case was too much erasing and not enough masking – OK, fine, no masking at all – and a logo I thought was the bomb, never mind the fact that I designed it entirely as a raster-based image. (Don’t even get started on me. I was a newb, and that was clearly a very dark time in my life.)
Yes, I’ve done some wrong, wrong things with Photoshop over the years. In fact, there are probably esteemed graphic designers rolling over in their graves right now at the thought of my past transgressions, and if they have no grave to roll over in, they’re drop-kicking their Macs because THOU SHALT NOT DO THAT WITH THY PHOTOSHOP. It could also be because they’ve had it up to here with little Mr. Spinning Rainbow of Doom and Gloom, though who am I to speculate?
But there’s a HUGE difference between ignorantly wrong and morally wrong, and if you’re Photoshop, you have quite the rap for being the instigator of horrible, unspeakable crimes – like this, this and this.
So that begs the question: When should I use the program and when should I lose it?
I used to work at a newspaper, and one day I was sent to the local hospital to take a photo of something particularly noteworthy – or noteworthy for a town of 5,600. The lighting inside the building was awful, so I used a flash. After I snapped the picture, the lone woman in the shot approached me and asked if she could see it. I flipped my camera around, gave her a moment to review the image, then watched as she gestured at herself before requesting that I “fix” it.
The problem? She was wearing a black shirt that, in normal light, was perfectly modest. Under the harsh, unforgiving glare of flash photography, it was suddenly very sheer, and her bra was suddenly very visible. Because it was impractical to come back another day and retake the picture, I headed back to the office, fired up Photoshop, and sat at my computer with the woman’s chest filling all 27 inches of my iMac while I did my best to keep her pride intact.
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Sure, I was faking reality, but what I wasn’t doing was shaving 20 pounds off her frame or adding 6 inches to her height or doing a multitude of other things to drastically, unrealistically alter her appearance. Instead, I was simply adhering to Girl Code and preventing this woman from embarrassing herself in front of our entire readership. Hardly ruinous of her integrity, if you ask me.
Victoria’s Secret, though notorious for using some of the most photogenic women on the planet, is also notorious for its use of Photoshop.
And sometimes it’s used very, very badly. You can see examples here. And here. And oh yeah, here.
But have no fear, Victoria: You aren’t the only party guilty of abusing Photoshop.
Once upon a time, I had the fortune to work behind the scenes at a photo shoot with the whole kit and caboodle: stylists, a professional photographer and a couple of models who were hired through a local agency. While I wasn’t around when the first model came in to try on clothes prior to the shoot, I was there when the second one did. She showed up and was absolutely stunning, even in minimal makeup. Tall and willowy with great skin and a fantastic bone structure – you know, all that stuff Tyra blathers on about when someone really fierce absolutely kills it on “America’s Next Top Model.”
Fast forward to the day of the shoot. The model, makeup artist and photographer came in. Each did her respective thing – snap, snap; that’s a wrap; catch you on the flip side – and all was well until the retouched photos came back and HOLY MOTHER OF GOD WHAT AM I LOOKING AT?
It appeared that someone sneaked into Madame Tussauds after hours, ran off with one of the wax figures and, in some wild Houdini-inspired switcheroo, substituted it for the human we had originally hired.
I wanted to cry, and I wasn’t even the one who had been ‘Shopped to within an inch of her life.
Anyway, moral of the story: Photoshop is a tool to be used with utmost love and respect. It is not to be abused, and it is not to be waved in the air like you just don’t care.
Or if you’re Aerie, it’s not a tool at all.
In 2014, the lingerie-producing part of the American Eagle conglomerate decided to nix Photoshop altogether when it started its #AerieREAL campaign. Vowing not to airbrush any of its models, the retailer now peppers its website and social media accounts with images of women proudly baring their scars, stretch marks, tan lines and other “imperfections” not normally found in modern advertising.
Happy, body-positive customers who bring in major ka-ching for the company and help us realize that retouched isn’t always remarkable.
Final Verdict: Use It
But before doing so, ask yourself this simple question: Are my actions going to make someone cry? (See what I did here? Photoshop jokes for days, yo.)
If the answer is yes, RELEASE THY DEATH GRIP ON THY CLONE STAMP TOOL. Go outside and get some fresh air. Listen to the birds sing. Ponder where you went wrong in life.
If the answer is no, carry on. Make all the smart objects. Posterize until you can’t posterize anymore. Keep doing what you’re doing because you are what makes Photoshop so great, and for that, I thank you.
Here’s hoping your work makes it into the hands of an American Idol someday too.