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Should advertisers disclose when images have been retouched?

Should advertisers disclose when images have been retouched?

Photo retouching has been used since the beginning of photography. While photo manipulation is much more prevalent now – thanks to digital photography and tools such as Photoshop – “doctoring” photos is certainly not new. In fact, there’s an iconic portrait of Abraham Lincoln that’s actually a composite of Lincoln’s head on John Calhoun’s body. Why someone thought this manipulation would make the image more “attractive” or “compelling” is beyond me, but for whatever reason – even in the 1860s – a simple presidential portrait may have been modified to appeal to a certain aesthetic.

Looking good vs. looking real

In the 21st century, a lot of controversy surrounds photo retouching – especially when it comes to fashion/beauty photography. Fashion designers and beauty brands wish to present an image that is attractive – an image that others aspire to.

“Improving” an image of a model or a celebrity, though, means that image is no longer realistic. Asking someone to aspire to something that can only be achieved by photo retouching is dishonest – and it’s facing a backlash.

“Heroes Pledge for Advertisers”

Online retailer ModCloth is the first retailer to sign the “Heroes Pledge for Advertisers,” which means that it will “do [its] best not to change the shape, size, proportion, color and/or remove/enhance the physical features, of the people in [its] ads in postproduction.” And in cases where retouching is necessary, the resulting ads will carry a message that indicates that such retouching has occurred.

The hope is that this will help clear up the difference between advertising ideals and reality. It remains to be seen how many others will take this pledge, or how effective this effort will be. But this pledge, along with campaigns such as The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty, are certainly steps in the right direction.

Photoshop isn’t all bad

There is a delicate balance advertisers need to achieve when it comes to photo retouching. Most of us would agree that making a model look impossibly thin, or lightening the skin tone of a dark-skinned woman is ill-advised – even without taking the pledge. But removing wrinkles from clothing – or even softening wrinkles on a face – is almost a necessity when it comes to advertising and imagery.

Photoshop allows us to transform stock photography into images that fit our clients’ needs; it allows us to improve “not-so-great” photography; and it allows us to showcase products and services in the best way possible. It’s up to responsible advertisers to make sure we do this responsibly.

Aug 18, 2014
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