i am best know as an environmental portraitist. i like my people to look real and have always eschewed retouching out wrinkles and other "flaws". i do want people to look their best and feel good about their pictures though so i almost always even out bad skin, get rid of crust on the corners of eyes, acne, cold sores...my rule of thumb has been to keep what is always part of the person but to remove the temporary. this is easier to get away with when the subjects are only part of the picture, not the only thing in the photos.
last weekend i started a long awaited personal project photographing funeral portrait of the elderly at my parents catholic church in new jersey. more on the project later. faced with photographing what amounted to head shots of 20-30 senior citizens, i joked with a photographer friend about needing to buy one of those "pretty filters" photographers apply to actor head shots. something that would help me to clean up skin quickly so i wouldn't be stuck retouching for hours. later that day he sent me a link to portrait professional. it was half meant as a joke. the before and after images on the web site are scary. borderline amoral. i am hoping no one actually uses the settings in such an extreme way; to alter the bone structure of a person's face.
i have to say though, i was fascinated. i downloaded the trial and played with the filters. there have been countless times when i wished i had some program to even out skin texture, usually due to bad light, without losing the actual texture of the skin. other times i have tried to even out and lighten under and around the eyes and made several attempts before i got it to look even. now here was a program that mapped a face and then enabled you to make those changes with a few simple sliders. i had to admit, this tool was way better at retouching faces than i was. it's a great tool as long as you don't get carried away and start making your subjects looks like pore less, fashion mannequins.
by far the scariest filter on this program is the face sculpt controls. this is where you can plump the lips, widen the eyes, elongate the neck, slim the jaw and tighten/pull the eyes upwards. i am fascinated by the above before and after picture of me. i can't tell exactly what they changed and how much but i can tell whatever they did was drastic yet subtle in a dangerous way. well, maybe not life and death dangerous. but dangerous in defining that border between what is acceptable and how far can you retouch a person before you've gone too far. the controls for portrait professional at auto (which is what my picture above was set at) must be set at at maximum appeal; what society on the whole views as ideally beautiful: slimmer jawline, fuller lips, bigger eyes, smoother skin...
seeing the photos of myself side by side i can't help but think the after picture of me looks like my prettier, sexier, evil sister. it still looks like me (i think), a more attractive, idealized version of me. but it doesn't feel like me. by lifting/elongating my eyes and slimming my jawline the filter erased enough of my personality that i don't look warm or friendly anymore. if i were in a profession where i was dependent on my physical appearance to make my living (acting, modeling) i'd find it difficult to decide which image of myself i put out there; the idealized retouched version to better my chances of getting a call for a go see so they could meet me in person or the real version, which when compared side by side looks so much more boring all of a sudden.