An Altered Image vs. an Enhanced Image

I recently had a conversation with a friend who said that she no longer trusted photography. She was frustrated by images that were intended to fool the viewer or to alter what was really there. (remember President Clinton walking down the stairs of Air Force One to shake hands with Martians?)

Kidding aside, she had a point. However, there is an enormous difference between enhancing an image and creating an altered image with the intent to deceive.

Is It OK to Enhance an Image?

Altering images to deceive is a serious subject. However, as artists, we feel comfortable making reasonable changes or enhancements to improve the overall appearance of our finished portraits. Artists have done this for centuries.

Our clients want to look their best too. We help clients pick ideal locations, great clothing and the best time of day for their portraits. However, some things are beyond anyone’s control. An outbreak of acne, a gust of wind in the hair, or a crying baby can spoil an otherwise perfect photograph. These are the sort of things that our skilled artist can address. All in the interest of achieving the beautiful portrait the client commissioned us to create.

Trade Secret Revealed

We are well known for photographing large family groups. A typical group might include grandparents, parents and lots of children. Not surprisingly, keeping everyone’s attention is our challenge. In a perfect world, everyone would look at the camera with an engaging expression. In reality, there is always someone talking, crying, blinking, adjusting their hair or looking away. Did I mention taking “selfies”? That’s just the way it is these days.

Our solution is to take a series of photographs in a fairly short time span without altering the basic position of the group. We go to great lengths to be sure that every subject has a great expression in at least some of the images!

So now what? We go back to the studio and pick the best overall image. Then, we replace any bad expressions with good ones from other similar exposures. In some cases. we may only have to exchange one person. In a larger group, it may be several. An excellent artist makes these changes look totally natural and undetectable.

The result is a great portrait that the client loves the first time she sees it. This is as close as we come to altering images.

Pleasing Our Clients

We are occasionally asked to create portraits that are not totally accurate, but that meet a client’s unique need.

Sometimes we photograph partial groups, at separate times, and combine them into one seamless image. The groups were never here at the same time…but the client got exactly what she needed….a portrait of her entire family.

We feel the same way about skies and backgrounds. If we create an outdoor portrait of a family on an overcast day, we will offer to make the sky blue or to add some pretty clouds. This is simply in the interest of making the image fit the vision the client had. It is their choice.


This is a fascinating issue and one that we will continue to discuss. We would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Thanks for reading.

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