Over-retouching photos is becoming quite an epidemic.

Time for some Retouch Rehab Guilty. Been there, done that.  When trying out a new technique it's easy to get sucked in and begin applying it to every photo in heavier amounts.  It's Kinda like the Gun's n' Roses song, "Mr. Brownstone".  "I used to do a little but the little got more and more.  I just keep trying to get a little better, a little better than before."  Ok, now it's time for "Retouching Rehab".  More and more I see photos where there is way too much skin blurring, over-done eye whitening with no regard for realism at all; and the worst of all, over-cooked HDR.  It seems that someone gets a basic DSLR, a photo program and an article on how to smooth skin- and they create these Frankenstein images and start selling their services as photographers.

Now, it's understood that photography is an art form, and not everyone sees things the same way; but I'm only addressing the collective opinions that many of us share regarding techniques that are over-used.  Take wedding photography for example.  I don't do weddings, but in my opinion good wedding photos should be about the composition- the moment in time for that family's biggest day, and the bride whom has waited her whole life for it.  What I see out there all the time are boring photos that look like anyone standing around could have taken, but with the bride's face put through a blender of blur-filters and masking.  I feel that good image design is about a good capture first, and then the post-production is used to either fix problems or enhance the feel or mood of the image.  It's ok to remove some power lines in the background, or desaturate the image to convey a certain feel, just be careful not to forget about the photography part.

I wouldn't include things like digital art or compositing as retouching.  I do a lot of composite work as part of my art and services, so many hours are spent creating images that were otherwise impossible to happen.  It's just a creative thing.  However, in advertising we retouch "impossibly good" model's skin and facial or body features.  This is done on purpose, because in the advertising world there is a different psychology that makes people want to buy products and services where models are used. We make it look so real though, that there should never be anything that can be pointed out by the general public as fake or retouched.  However, I don't necessarily think this level of retouching should be used in portraits, since it's too easy to get trapped into over-doing it.  Plus, most non-professional models would very likely have their feelings hurt when they see their portrait come back looking like a cartoon character version of themselves.  They will think to themselves; "Do I really look that bad for all that Photoshop?".  Be mindful of defeating the purpose of retouching.

If retouching portraits is your thing, just try to "keep it real".  For instance, if you are shooting for a commercial advertisement, or even just for your own portfolio, avoid using a model with really bad skin in the first place.  Someone who has clear skin, but with just a few blemishes is much easier to make look good than someone who's face is going to have to be replaced.  Unless you like sitting in front of the screen for hours retouching, this is one of the easiest ways to avoid having an image come out "overdone".  The point of a good photo is that is does not look 'over-Photoshopped'.

Take a break.  Too often we get into a "must have it finished now" thing, and the more you look at the photo, the more "fixing" it needs.  If you just go to bed and look at it the next day, you might see that it didn't need anymore retouching.  This depends of course, but too many times I've finished a photo only to look at it the next day and realized that I grinded it to a pulp in post production, thinking that it needed more retouching.

The worst I've seen is the HDR stuff.  It's like a virus that gets in to every photographer who uses it and they have to keep turning up that effect more and more.  It's great if that's the "art" that they want to create, but just realize, everybody else can -and are- doing it.  Hitting the "Auto Destroy" button on every photo isn't necessarily a unique art.  I love HDR when it's done to make an image look like it did when it was taken (since cameras aren't nearly as sophisticated as the human eye), but that's just my opinion on what I like, even though I've never used it (yet).

So the next time you pick up that mouse or tablet pen to get to some serious retouching, try to think about whether or not you are helping the image, or trashing it.  The pro's know the difference, why not you?