As a photographer, I lean toward being a purist in terms of my work. Set up the lighting, exposure, composition before you take the photo. Then you don’t have to do much in terms of post-processing in Photoshop/Camera Raw/Lightroom, unless you’re going for some dramatic, visual effect. I’m not fond of “photoshopping in” elements that were not in the photo to begin with, and this includes “pasting people” into scenes or locations. It takes way too much time, and to me it’s kind of cheating (well, I’ve never been to Rome, but here’s a picture of me in front of the colliseum!) Most landscape photos benefit from minimal enhancements such as deeper hues in clouds, richer blacks, better saturation. But those effects should be subtle and add to the whole “feeling” of the photo. Minimal adjustments are acceptable in most photography competitions.
Portrait photography is a different story. Clients expect their photos to be retouched. That’s why they go to a professional photographer. If you don’t believe that, try selling someone a $500 gallery wrap where you did not “photoshop out” a zit smack in the middle the forehead!
Our human brains do not operate like a digital camera. When we look at a person, we see the best part of the person shining through. We don’t see any “flaws”, or as I like to call them “unwanted distractions” such as wrinkles, imperfect teeth, blemishes or age spots. But cameras are unforgiving. There are the “distractions”, in all their glaring glory, and the more the resolution increases, the more detail you can capture, wanted and unwanted. So, for portraits, Photoshop is the “big-gun” . If you know what you’re doing, you can not only eliminate blemishes and wrinkles, but resculpt the face. The key is knowing when to stop –kind of like plastic surgery. You know you’ve gone too far when you don’t recognize the original person. With photoshop, a little goes a long way.
I watch a lot of videos of ScottKelby and Joe McNally (fantastic photographers!!) on a photo shoot and am never surprised that they use these “flawless” young models who are perfectly at home in front of cameras. Sure, the focus of the video is usually on some lesson on lighting. But most of us photograph everyday people who are sometimes shy or uncomfortable being photographed, probably because they’ve seen unflattering photos of themselves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I’m not photogenic”. My response is always, “Everyone can be photogenic in the hands of a good photographer.”
So, yes, I retouch and resculpt just enough for the essence of the subject to shine through without the “unwanted distractions.” My goal as a photographer is for the viewer of the photo to see and experience the beauty that I saw when I made the picture. It’s as true for portraits as it is for landscapes.