Lessons From Epic Photoshop Fails

I am going to discuss some ways retouchers get carried away with Photoshop’s features. The lesson here are these are things to avoid if you want to maintain your reputation as a professional retoucher or photographer.

Too Much Fun With The Liquify Tool

The liquify tool is amazing. You can remove inches from a model’s waist and even alter physical appearances. A common technique some retouchers do is to tuck in any excess body fat to give the appearance of a healthier and slimmer body. This is not recommended any longer, as editors now want a more natural looking body. It has not been totally banned, but relying on tools like this can lead to a lot of misuse and unethical practices. Sometimes even the models complain when they see how much retouching was done to alter their look in a photo. Keep the body looking natural. Viewers will obviously spot these body morphing or alterations because they just don’t look like real life.

Examples of too much body altering. 1) (Left) Model Lais Ribero’s extremely slender arms and the gap between the arm and ribs 2) (Right) The “gumby” looking thigh gap of the model (Photo Source Victoria’s Secret)
These Photoshop fails are from major fashion brands (Source Photoshopdisasters.blogspot.com)

Another thing to remember is that when you use the liquify tool to edit, be wary of the background. When you liquify a body part, it will also affect the surrounding. If you have straight lines in the background, they will be warped and this makes it very obvious that the liquify tool was used on an image.

Missing Body Parts

This is perhaps the funniest mistake that really makes you shake your head when you spot it. The clone tool in Photoshop can make you remove certain things in an image, including body parts. Sometimes it just gets too obvious, you wonder if the retoucher did it on purpose. It may have been done to make the image look better if the body part was in an awkward position. Otherwise, just choose the best shot instead of taking the effort to edit it.

Marisa Miller’s amputated arm from Victoria’s Secret catalogue (Source Cosmopolitan)
Something is missing between her legs (The Irish Sun)

Impossible, Unusual And Bizarre

There are times when the retouching is just too questionable, it borders on the bizarre. Did the company have a budget or did they just hire the retoucher off the street for knowing a little bit about how to edit images? The magic wand tool can make certain things disappear in an image. Likewise you can also make certain things appear in an image. They may have been done by amateur retouchers, but others are from well known brands. They should have known better. Shouldn’t these brands have some form of editing review before it was released?

The infamous Martha Hunt “floating elbow”. Notice how her arms also look so unnaturally thin(Source Cosmopolitan)
The horse without a body (Source ListsWorld)
Please, hire a good editor! (Source ListsWorld)

Cultural Appropriation Fails

Using Photoshop to appropriate culture can be both unethical and just plain ridiculous. Examples of these are replacing a particular ethnic identity with another and fitting the narrative of the culture. It is fine to use native culture to create an image, but when done incorrectly it will be an obvious embarrassment. This also leaves it open to accusations of bigotry and prejudice.

This Microsoft ad shows the original photo at top of a black man being replaced with a caucasian face in the bottom photo. The retoucher forgot to replace the black man’s hand. The bottom photo was for a Polish ad (Source ListsWorld)

Portrait Professional, Right?

There is a software for image editing called Portrait Professional which is like Photoshop, but focuses more on the face. When used correctly it can be quite impressive, speeding up the time to retouch beauty images. The problem is that anyone can use this software and most of the time, amateurs are not aware of what they are altering. When this happens the results can be hilarious and obviously “faked”. From large round eyes, to unusually long necks, plastic smooth skin and even shorter chins, the software can change the way one looks in many different ways. It seems some smartphones have a sort of feature that can do image retouching that creates a similar result. It is all good if the results turn out great, otherwise get ready for some comedy.

This is how not to edit an image. Are they human? A family actually paid a photographer to take these photos and do some editing, but not expecting it was going to turn out this bad. (Source Peta Pixel)

If you are going to hire a professional photographer for family portraits, do your research. Check the photographer’s previous work to see how the images turned out. Ask for any recommendations as well. If their images look anything like that family portrait above, reconsider working with that photographer. No one should ever have to lose money this way.

Getting Carried Away With Filters

Aside from Photoshop, some apps used on smartphones have image editing capabilities that use what are called filters. This is where users tend to get carried away, to cringe worthy levels. Instagramers and other social media personalities are guilty of this. These are not commercial and more fun in nature, whether intentional or not.

What happened to that waistline? (Photo Source Daily Toast)
We get it, Incredible BULK (Source Daily Doze YouTube)

What Amount Of Retouching Is Acceptable?

In my opinion, minor retouching is acceptable if it doesn’t alter too much of the subject’s appearance. When it comes to shooting people there is a more ethical issue to it because we are dealing with people and their personal appearance. Retouching in brands and products is not as big of a deal since it is part of the promotion and marketing. For people the issue really is personal. Such altering can affect a celebrity or model’s image. This is why a retoucher should always be careful with what they alter when using Photoshop.

Removing a blemish, adjusting hair covering the face, covering up a scar or lightening the skin are sometimes acceptable depending on the situation. Sometimes retouchers remove distracting objects in the background or totally remove the background from the image. For cover photos, the best image must be presented and this may require some obvious retouching to make the image pop out and catch the eyes of it’s viewers. Like I mentioned before, it must be done in good taste. A bad example of this is going overboard with the retouching, to the point were the image looks nothing like the person. On the other hand, a good retouching job may even be flattering to the person and appear acceptable to the general public.

Authenticity of an image can be guaranteed by film. This is why portraits shot on film have a more genuine and authentic appearance in photos. With little to no retouching, the original film prints are a testament to the authenticity of the image. Film photographers are highly skilled for creating these great exposures. With digital you can take as many images as you like and edit it in post. With film you don’t really have much room for mistakes because you only have a few chances to capture the image. Film’s limitation may also be its advantage when creating the final image. It makes the photographer concentrate more during the shoot to get the best exposure with the lighting and composition.

You can do just about anything to edit an image in Photoshop. This is the advantage of the digital imaging domain. It may always look perfect, and at other times just horrible. Either the editors missed it before the final release of an image or worst case is nobody even reviewed the editing. Retouching can be done correctly to produce mind blowing images, otherwise it is a botched attempt at making something look good. When you see these images, you’ll probably be saying in your mind “Wow, someone really messed up.”

This parody shows some common retouching mistakes (Source Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 2016)

We get that using Photoshop is so common for commercial work. It is the best way to retouch an image, but it must be done in good taste. Even if the image editing is noticeable, it must be done in a manner that enhances the image’s beauty or appearance. You don’t use editing to make the image any worse, and that is the main rule for retouchers. If the idea is to make the image look surreal and otherworldly, there are effects for that. For commercial ads and publications, if that was not the intention then it is quite embarrassing. It can become the news for late night talk shows or viral with bloggers who get more views for their criticism.




Multimedia, Imaging, Audio and Broadcast Technology

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Vincent Tabora

Vincent Tabora

Editor HD-PRO, DevOps Trusterras (Cybersecurity, Blockchain, Software Development, Engineering, Photography, Technology)

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