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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Fixing Faces

If only it was this easy...
There was a time when relatively few people really knew how to fix faces. They were mostly limited to makeup artists, airbrush artists, and portrait painters. Today, with the overwhelming ease and prevalence of digital photo-editing software, this group of "face fixers" probably numbers in the millions. One has only to Google "Photoshop Fails" to look at and laugh at a similar number of would-be photo-editors who only think they can improve upon what nature and the digital camera contrives. As a portrait artists, I've had an interest in this relatively new art since about 2000, which was the release date for the photo-editing program I routinely use, PhotoStudio 2000 by ArcSoft. I do own the latest version of Photoshop, but as with most software today, I find it easier to use what I know rather than learn new stuff. My sixteen-year-old antique works just fine. Only rarely do I come upon a task which it can't handle.
A good photo editor can turn a grandmother
into a leading presidential candidate.
When you're not the best photographer in the world (as in my case), then being able to quickly and adequately edit my photographic inadequacies is a boon and a blessing I wholeheartedly embraced early on. I wouldn't think of starting a project today without having in hand a fairly close digital print of how I hope the painting will eventually appear. Now, having established my credentials, let me pass on some tips. This is not about the technical end of "how to" edit photos (there are far too many software products in use to get involved in that). My approach is more on the order of what to do, and more important perhaps, what not to do. And perhaps most important of all, this is about when to STOP editing. As in virtually all art, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

Even the so-called "beautiful people" can benefit
from a little expert Photoshopping.
What a difference the right lighting makes.
There are two basic areas of concentration in editing faces. The first involves fixing the photo, which includes improv-ing the lighting (left), and then any flaws in the subjects complexion. Technically, the two are virtually impossible to separate. In doing the first the second becomes a relatively simple part of the process. The first involves the photo as a whole, the second involves mostly erasing harsh details the lighting accentuates. Our good friend George (above) gets his lighting softened and his wrinkles minimized all in a single process.

The complexion comes first, then a few of the wrinkles.
Although we often think first of wrinkle removal when it comes to playing digital plastic surgeon, its hard to overstate the importance of cleaning up the subject's complexion first. The wrinkles can come later, and in fact, are of lesser importance in that they often add character to the face as well as contributing in subtle ways to the quality of the likeness. Be quite careful when you start attacking wrinkles, it's extremely easy to overdo it. As "granny" )above) demonstrates, once the flaws in the complexion are smoothed, any remaining wrinkles are of little consequence. The face below is an example of the tremendous effect complexion cleaning can have. Few if any wrinkles were removed, thus the photo editing is such that it may even go unnoticed.

Cleaning up the complexion and little else.
That's not to say that minimizing (first) and removing (as a last resort) wrinkles from the face is unimportant, or should not be done. As Amy Dresser (below) demonstrates, the change can be quite remarkable. However, one has to wonder, in seeing the years melted away from her face, if the photo editing artists didn't go a little too far. How do you know when to stop? When the likeness begins to suffer, or the face takes on a "too perfect," unnatural appearance, then it's probably a good idea to backtrack. As a simple rule of thumb, consult the model.

Did the photo editor go too far? You decide.
Another clue indicating the proverbial "too much of a good thing" can be seen in the model below. In this case, the photo editor has gone so far in "cleaning up" the face and erasing virtually all traces of aging to the point that the model takes on an almost ghostly bland appearance, her face drained of all life and personality.

More attractive "after" than "before"?
Perhaps, but also more uninteresting.
When we begin talking about minimizing the effects of aging, its probably best to define what the photo editing artist can and should do before discussing the multitude of sins committed when such an artist goes too far, venturing into the realm of what he or she should not do. The photo set below is marked to show the subtle changes to a middle-aged face, which almost unnoticeable serve to improve the image.

Keep any changes subtle and minimal.
Better to stop short than to go to far.
Even the most youthful, beautiful face (below) can benefit from judicious photo editing if the artist knows what to look for and operates with the element of restraint first and foremost in mind.

It's hard to improve and easy to ruin the near-perfect face.
Below is a photo editing effort that obviously has gone too far. The likeness is almost totally lost; or at best, appears to depict relatives one or two generations removed. (Those in search of lost relatives find artists with this "skill" quite valuable.) However, the photos do serve as a means of outlining those areas of the face most likely to contribute to the appearance of aging. First and foremost is the chin line followed by what's come to be know as "smile" lines. The area around the eyes, have traditionally been considered one of the surest signs of aging, but except for extreme cases (way too many years of squinting), they tend to be of secondary importance to the effects of gravity and the aforementioned complexion problems.

I'm uncertain which of these two faces came first. The second face may have been digitally created to demonstrate the effects of aging; or the youthful face may be an attempt to reverse the process. In any case, they serve our purposes.
Probably the most startling case of photo over-editing was one I stumbled upon in which a well-meaning artist attempted to make the British singer, Susan Boyle, look youthfully beautiful (below, top row) In this case there's no problem seeing which image came first. Although the appearance of weight reduction is very often a motive for some pretty extreme photo editing, in this case the artist seems to have been intend upon making her as youthful as possible as well...and failed miserably. In studying his dismal attempt, I couldn't help making an attempt of my own (below, bottom row). Although I too removed a good deal of mass from the face and neck, as well as softening the lighting and taming the hair a little, I think I've retained a decent, flattering likeness without attempting to turn her into one of the Spice Girls.

What do you think? Too much or not enough?
The rules differ somewhat for men.
This one is eexceptionally well-done.

There, there, that's better...


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