Photoshop and the Decline of Western Civilization

I can still recall my first experience with this thing called Photoshop. At the time, the image in question had been manipulated on a Scitex imaging workstation, which is now so ancient it’s hard to even find info if you Google the term. I believe they were room sized machines that cost something like $600 an hour for a skilled operator to to work his magic (we’re going back over 20 years years now) I recall the designer showing me the cover of a brochure and asking, “Well, what do you think?” I looked at my photo and said, “It looks great–what am I missing?” Turns out they had swapped out a head on one kid and switcher complete bodies on another. It was Black Magic – i’d never seen anything like it and was amazed that I could not even tell my photograph that I HAD TAKEN had been fussed with. I couldn’t believe it!

A few years later that technology became Photoshop 1.0 and continued to expand all the way up to its most recent incarnation. I was excited to learn it and leapt feet first into all sorts of Photoshop Training, soaking up all I could. I was DETERMINED to get as good at it as I possibly could, even attending a few multi-day Photoshop World conferences, immersing myself into learning it’s in’s and out’s.

Now, for awhile, this all worked out fine, it was fun and  I was providing my clients with a somewhat specialized service (and still do) I’d fix a pimple here, remove a stray hair or unsightly EXIT sign there…However things rapidly went downhill, as demonstrated by the fact that The Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster officially classified it as a verb in 2006. A VERB!!! Photoshop was no longer a skill or piece of software, it was an ‘action’ expected of us. Some of the fun started to get sucked out of it.

We have created an entire generation of photographers who now rely on it far too heavily to ‘fix’ their photography mistakes. The idea of ‘getting it right in camera’ is a concept sadly slowly fading away. Even worse, we now have slews of clients ( families, brides, corporate–there are no boundaries ) who not only EXPECT you to ‘fix it in photoshop’ but act as if that is accomplished by pushing a button whilst sipping tea on the veranda. It’s no longer asked, “Do you think you can do anything with this?”,  but rather it’s demanded.

A few weeks ago while shooting formal photos at a wedding, I overheard out of one ear in the distance, a bridesmaid say with a giggle, “…. He can take care of that later in Photoshop.” I stopped what I was doing, looked over and said, “What am I already fixing?” The wedding day had barely begun and already I was ‘repairing’ things they didn’t like about themselves.

The outrageous lists we how receive to swap heads, flip bodies, correct floral arrangements, open closed eyes, make smiles magically appear or remove people due to post-wedding divorce (not kidding) have gone off the deep end. These are usually not even to correct photographer errors, but is now a weird cultural norm to fix everything deemed ‘not right’. These natural occurrences are now, somehow, photographers jobs to correct. Recently a fellow photographer shared a tale of her bride who was wearing a VERY low cut dress and with ample, ummmm ‘boobage’, who asked disappointedly afterwards, “Why is so much of my cleavage showing? Can you fix that?”   Huh?!

“Remove my double chin!”, “Make me taller!”, “Lighten my hair!”,“Move my sister closer to me!”, “Change the color of the roses in my bouquet!” – are all thing we photographers now hear on a regular basis. I wish I were kidding. Everyone now expects all of their imagery adjusted to some unrealistic mental expectation they have, and we are competing with extremely vivid imaginations. The world it seems, must be flawless. If one more person asks me to make them “Younger and Thinner” my head will explode. I mean it – right then and there; POP! explosion.

Strangely, many folks think providing these services should be free or are somehow automatically included. As mentioned before, they seem to think it happens with the push of a computer button or gentle swipe of a mouse. I’m more than willing to correct a nasty pimple that pops up mid-forehead expectedly on a wedding day, but juggling the order of family members in a photo or the switching of heads are skills that if to be done correctly, need a lot of training and time. Training is not cheap. Time is not cheap. Unless you are prepared for your images to look like poop, please prepare to pay your photographer for the time these requests will take.

A friend recently received this request list from a couple and is allowing me to share it here – this is 100% for real and not altered or exaggerated:


#033 can you touch up my mom’s wrinkles on her face and neck (her instructions, not mine!)

#034 can you crop out the ceiling and swap my mom’s closed eyes and give her a smile?

#099 can you crop out the door in the background and is there any way that you can cover the windows, door with shingles so it looks more uniform? Don’t really love the door, etc. 

#165 can you swap out my dad’s frown with a smile and fix the lavender so it is standing up?

#170 can you fix the lavender again in this photo?

#175 can you smooth my dad’s under eye wrinkles, neck and swap my eyes and give me a smile? If possible, use one of my smiles that I don’t the look of a double chin in? I was cheesing pretty hard in some photos.

#193 can you crop out the ceiling?

#219 can you fix the lavender?

#225 can you fix the lavender?

#238 can you swap my dads eyes and smile?

#252 can I see what the picture looks like in color before I decide on b&w or color for the album?

#272 can you crop out most of the sand/dirt up to the edge of my dress? I think Mary’s face has a shadow on it as well.

#285 can I see what the picture is like in color and can you crop out the people in the photo and the head over my shoulder?

#286 can you smooth my under eye wrinkles?

#298 can I see this one in color?

#305 can you smooth out my wrinkles and can I see it in color?

#332 can you swap out my eyes so they’re not closed? I also can’t tell if I have a double chin from laughing because the photo logo is right over it. If so, could you maybe smooth it out or swap my head?

#345 can you smooth out my “back fat” and show what the picture is like in color before we decide?

#379 can you smooth out my eye, neck wrinkles?

#420 can I see it in color?

#495 can you smooth out Patty’s “double chin” (her request) and crop out the person’s head that is fuzzy on the side and the blur right behind Lucy?

#515 Is there anyway that you can adjust the lighting in the picture so that it’s not so bright on one side? Just wondering.

#605 Is there any chance that you can remove those three little white picture frames from the photo? Jimmy put them there that day as a joke, and well, I never noticed them…

The final picture in the favorites category is black and white, don’t have the number, but Jimmy is kissing my cheek by the ocean, we would also like to see that in color because the water/sky are such a pretty color. 

 I attached a picture of my dad that maybe will be helpful to use with the eye/smile swap because he’s actually smiling…too bad it’s from the rehearsal dinner. Also, this may sound crazy, but since I didn’t get a full length shot of just myself on the day of, I actually put my dress back on for a few minutes and my dad snapped a picture that I attached….is there any way that my head can be swapped from the day of the wedding and put on the body of this picture?

I have a few extra of my dad and my mom and I that if possible, I would be willing to pay to fix.

There’s one more picture that I would love, love to fix, it’s #232 – if I could swap my dad’s eyes/smile, my eyes and my mom’s smile, it would be amazing to have.


Life happens, and its not always wrinkle-free.


  1. Tania on July 10, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Wow. Robert. You’ve articulated what many of us photographers have thought (with the exception Scitex- sorry, before my time in the industry!) Unfortunately, capturing memories in the moment is also slowly fading as we get more and more Pinterest requests. Whatever happened to enjoying the day and being happy with who YOU are? PS. The boobage request? I received that request in 2007… and photoshop nearly 200-300 photos because of spillage!

  2. RE on July 10, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Just today I responded to a client who reiterated she wanted things photoshopped on her when it had already been done. As a photographer we don’t often have time to get to know our clients before a shoot. Especially when trying to figure out what THEY think their self image is. This is why an engagement session before a wedding is really helpful to us. The one thing we can’t control, or sometimes can’t figure out, is our subjects own self image. Something that not even proper posing or lighting can fix. If they don’t like the way they look, no matter how good the photos is, end of job. Personally I’m thinking of stating ahead of time that I have a no photoshopping policy and if you’re not ok with that then I’m not the right photographer for you. You are who you are. I already have in my contract “(The client has) knowledge that in creating the photographs, the Photographer shall use his personal artistic judgment to create images consistent with his personal vision of the Portrait, which vision may be different from any other person’s vision of the Portrait. Accordingly, the Client acknowledges that the photographs shall not be subject to rejection by any party on the basis of taste or esthetic criteria.” As in, I did my job to the best of my ability and if you don’t think your beautiful, like the way you look, there’s nothing more I can do. This isn’t just an individual basis thing. It’s society, magazines, over skinny models, photoshop, and any other unrealistic expectation we place on ourselves in our own head. We do it to ourselves then project it onto others. Will there ever be a day that we just don’t care and we can love each other for who we are instead criticizing ourselves and others for who we are not?

  3. Matthew J. Wagner on July 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    I have two, make that three, recommendations:

    1. $25-80 per retouched image depending on extent of work
    2. Outsource the retouching
    3. Sip tea purchased with the profits on your veranda while someone else does the photoshop work.

    You are a photographer, pay a retouching artist.

    Retouching requests have a way of decreasing fast at the above rates and if they don’t your bottom line increases.

    Keep up the great blog posts.

  4. robert@robertnormanphotography.com on July 11, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    You said it, RE!!!!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.