Where Do You Think YOU’RE Going Looking Like THAT, Young Lady?

photography photoshop tipsMy Parents Were NOT Impressed….

I was 14 years old. My older sister Carol was 16 years old. She was getting ready for a date with her boyfriend Merrill, they were high school sweethearts. My Dad was knocking on the door of our one and only bathroom. He couldn’t understand why she was in there so darned long!

My sister finally came out, and my Dad gasped. She was wearing MAKEUP! A LOT of makeup! She looked VERY adult – much too grown up for my parent’s liking.

“Wait a minute young lady” Dad said to my sister “where do you think you’re going looking like that!?”

My sister’s eyes could not have rolled any further back in her head, as she sighed loudly and said “I am going on a date, Dad, I have to leave”.

“Not like THAT” he bellowed. A long discussion of what is appropriate ensued, to my amusement.

“Honey” my Mom finally chimed in, more gently, “it’s just that you’re so pretty, without all that makeup covering up your natural beauty…”

“You mean all that GUNK”,  my Dad added. (It was not helpful.)

My sister relented and with my Mom’s help, she took off some of the makeup but not all. It was a compromise. (I was leaving to meet some friends to go to a school dance, and had a pretty good set of blemishes, but when my Mom offered to put some skin toned “cover stick” on MY pimples, I fled!)….    KEEP READING!

Now, what does this story mean to photographers like us?

Photoshop is like my sister’s makeup – when done right, it can enhance.  When done wrong, it can make anyone look like a clown.

Plus – it can EAT UP YOUR LIFE….  no kidding.

I learned Photoshop on Photoshop version 4, in 1998. I didn’t have a digital camera, nor scanner, so for a year I worked with the images actually provided in the program. My old computer groaned to even open an image, let alone “retouch” it.  As each updated and newer version came out, I updated it (usually at around $200 a pop!).

Soon I came to realize the power of retouching. I could fix my mistakes, remove telephone poles from behind people’s heads, and fix zits with relative ease. But with that power came a bit of overconfidence. Photoshop was FUN! “I’ll fix that in Photoshop” became my mantra.  It was a BIG mistake.

“Are You Coming To Bed Honey?”

I was newly married around the time digital photography came to the fore in my studio in 2003. I had my first digital camera, a Kodak “point and shoot”. I started doing business portraits, in the huge “2 megapixel” format! I was a retouching genius!  (I thought.)

I also married my wife Karen in 2003. We had been dating about 2 years.

One night in 2004, around 2 in the morning, I was feverishly retouching several high school senior images. I was trying all kinds of cool new tips and techniques! I was on Photoshop fire!

From the bedroom my new bride said “honey, it’s after 2 a.m….are you coming to bed? I’m cold..” I tore myself away from my computer and reluctantly went to bed. I knew this wasn’t right!

The next day over coffee,  she said “honey, I noticed that since you went from that Hasselblad camera and film to that little Kodak thingy cute camera and digital photography, your hours have doubled almost. You must be excited! I assume your income has doubled too? Is that why you’re staying up all night?”

I sheepishly admitted “no I am working a lot more, but my income is the same.” Hearing myself admit this was sobering.

Innocently she said “why hun?”

I thought I was going to make some brilliant point, but as I explained the need for downloading, archiving and retouching, and how I didn’t get paid any extra for doing a lot more work she again asked “and why do you do that stuff?”

Thus began my journey to try and save my marriage and sanity by NOT working all night retouching things that should have been fixed IN THE CAMERA…..

A Kick In The Seat Of The Pants….

The last straw was when I was judging a Maine PPA (Professional Photographers of America) photography competition. Some amazing images were appearing, but you could tell there was a LOT of experimentation with this new Photoshop phenomenon.

One judge finally said, a bit frustrated sounding, “can I make a small point here? I’d love to see some of these images without all of this Photoshop GUNK all over them!”  It took me back to my Dad, who accused my sister of “gunking up” her natural beauty.

The judge continued “no offense, are you letting your work go out the doors of your studio like this? Not me!”

His point – let the natural beauty of your images start inside the camera, and your image capture, and THEN, very judiciously “tweak” the image to perfection. Don’t cover up your wonderful images with bad Photoshop!

Less Is More

My approach to Photoshop is “the least I can do” to make an image look the way I want t to. What’s my vision and the goal of this image?  What is it lacking in the original capture that I can enhance? (Of course, in a busy studio, I cannot spend a ton of time making these decisions. I need an efficient work flow and to move along quickly while still maintaining the standards my clients expect). But I need to “keep it real” and not have my clients look over retouched, plastic or fake. The LESS retouching I do, the better! 

What About Your Sister, Tom?

She was fine. She did look pretty (a teen brother would never admit that thought.) Her date was fine and that night I saw a rock band play at my school dance and I decided I wanted to do that too! So although my parents no longer had to deal with my sister’s makeup challenges, they DID have to deal with the explosion of noise coming from me and my fledgling rock band practicing in their cellar! 

- Thomas Morelli


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