A Look at Photo Touch-Ups

I use PicMonkey to add overlays and text to photos. While I’ll sometimes also use PicMonkey to lighten or crop a picture, that’s pretty much all I ever do with it.

Then, just last week, I figured I should really check out what some of the other icons and settings can do in the PicMonkey program. As I explored, I started playing around with some of the other features, like the blemish fix and weight loss tools. And what a fascinating adventure that was!

photo touch-ups

No airbrushing here – just a pretty filter.

“Touch up” tools like airbrushing and Photoshop can be extremely frustrating when we look at photographs of models and are bombarded with advertisements every day. But it’s one thing to know that it happens, and it’s another thing to play with the tools and make it happen yourself.

And I have to admit… it was rather fun to see how much I could alter a picture just enough to still look like me, without actually being the real me.

I started to wonder, as I was playing around with the tools, watching in amazement at the small “fixes” that I could make, about the point at which we go too far with altering photographs.

better than Photoshop

<3 makeup

It’s one thing to use a filter in an Instagram photo, and it’s another thing to alter facial structure and shave off sections of arms and legs to make them look thinner in a magazine spread. Right? But… where exactly is that blurry line? At what point does it stop being a point of making a photograph look more artistic, cleaner, sharper, and instead become making the subject of the photograph look different than reality?

The line isn’t a clear one, but it’s a question we must ask since marketing plays such an incredible role in our day-to-day lives and our perceptions on the world and of reality.

Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant suggest in their 2010 book, The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture, that the average person is exposed to about 600 ads per day.

That’s a whole lot of advertisements… and if the images that we are seeing are airbrushed and altered to the point of distorting reality, such as lengthening necks in the video below, what kind of impact is that going to have on our perception and understanding of the world?

As fun and fascinating as it is to play around with touch-up tools in PicMonkey, I won’t be using them in my photos. The most you’ll see here at SaganMorrow.com are photographs taken with a high-quality camera, using interesting filters and exposure to change the lighting and contrast. Let’s keep it realistic.

Weigh in on this topic of photo touch-ups: what does photo manipulation do to our body image? Is photo manipulation worth it? Is it necessary to alter photos of ourselves by airbrushing through programs like PicMonkey and PhotoShop, or can we get by with just using a pretty filter? Share your thoughts!

How do you feel about the culture of airbrushing? Have you played with these tools before (and did you find it as fascinating—and fun!—as I did)? Where do you think the line is between making a photograph look interesting and distorting reality through it? Share in the comments section below!

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  1. Jessica

    I do understand people using it to airbrush and make skin look better, like they do for ads, but I am totally against altering the size of the body. When they cut arms to look thinner or stomachs to look smaller it is totally not cool. Thanks for this post and the video!

    1. Sagan Morrow

      And that raises another great point, Jessica – it really depends what the photo is being used for! If they’re are our own photos and it helps build confidence to use some airbrushing, or if they’re being as art pieces in an art gallery for interesting effects, then the line would be much different than that of ads… so much to think about!

  2. Tori

    I watched that video awhile back and was just in awe. I feel like you can’t look at one ad without it being completely retouched. Just look at the Beyonce stuff that is going around right now! I’ve played with some basic things before, such as lessening the wrinkles under my eyes, but that’s about where it ends for me. I want to look at pictures of myself and be happy when I see them. I feel like if I retouch them too much, then I’ll just be staring at someone I will never be.

  3. Nancy

    I will never airbrush myself. As a Graphic Designer, I can’t help but edit any and all the photos I take – in Photoshop I like to brighten, and sharpen photos. Sometimes I add a warming filter, but I will never ever photoshop out blemishes, or “fat” on my body. I cannot stand seeing it on other blogs and I know they don’t look like that in person! So deceiving.

    1. Sagan Morrow

      It gets really interesting when we look at this from the angle of bloggers and social media. If we look at photos of people who we *know* online and see them totally airbrushed (especially if we don’t REALIZE that they’re touching up their photos!), I wonder if that has a different effect on us than if we see people in ads who we would automatically assume are touched up etc.?

  4. Kelly Wiler

    Oh yes, I’m really over seeing all of the touch ups too. I use snapseed a good bit but I use it to lighten and brighten the shadows (my photos are usually of furniture and decor) I want everything to be as true to the actual color in person-so that’s what I mainly use the apps for. Btw-you’re lovely just as you are…no filters or touch ups needed girl 🙂

  5. Megan @ C'mon Get Crafty

    I love using Picmonkey to enhance my photos, but more so in the exposure/color/contrast type settings. Have I occasionally blurred out a pimple in order to enjoy an otherwise awesome photo of myself? Maybe. But I agree with you on the overuse of photoshop and altering photos to sell magazines of unrealistic body images.

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