The question says it all. On magazine covers, and almost any pro portfolio, I see so much skin softening that the skin is completely dull and flat. Even though I do retouching myself, I don't like removing so much of a detail of the skin.

However, all Pros I know do that. Is that a necessary step to going further in my career/hobby?

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    Why? Probably the same reason everyone wants pictures that make skin tones look like cheddar cheese (aka instagram): low fidelity in any form is hip these days. – Michael C Jun 24 '13 at 9:38
  • link to cheddar cheese skin pls? :) – Michael Nielsen Jun 25 '13 at 7:00

It is not required to take your professional further. What will take your career farther is a happy client. A good deal of blemish/wrinkles etc. can be taking care of by lighting direction and quality. However, pride is a big part of photography and if your subject wants wrinkles to disappear, then away they go.

I try to take care of this in a client interview. In explaining deliverables I try and educate my client on what looks good and what doesn't. I explain my personal procedure/philosophy on image toning so that I don't get insane requests later, like no smile lines on a 65 year old woman. Yikes!

In other cases I will in fact take skin softening to a place WELL beyond normal. If you're gonna do it, do it 110%. Some clients want an almost oil painting feel to their image. In these cases, "real" is something totally different. Go for creamy. Oh sweet cream.


it's not a necessary step at all but it is popular especially on pictures of women and especially for lifestyle and fashion shots as it covers up wrinkles and bad skin.

you're right though - it can be overdone to an extent that the skin looks flat.

i think in portraiture a little glow is good though as it does glamourise the shot.


It's certainly the fastest way to hide blemishes and make skin look smoother, but overdone it does make it look flat. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the look, but I think expediency might be part of it. It is a lot more difficult to go in and fix blemishes by hand while maintaining the detail level without making it obvious that manipulations were made. Also, if the skin is rough enough or blemished enough, there might not be enough to work from without pure airbrushing. Adding some blur makes it less noticeable when things are airbrushed in and still looks "glamorous" to most people's eye, so it's an easy cheat even if not the most lifelike one.

I don't think it is a necessary step in your career/hobby, but you better get really good at other forms of blemish removal and invest in a good digitizer tablet if you don't want to use it. Personally, I'm with you on much preferring a good blemish cleanup without bluring in all but the worst cases and then it's a lot better in camera with a soft focus lens than done after in post.


Don't forget that a lot of models are shooting TFP - time for prints. On their end they need shots that compete with all of the other models in portfolios, who have had such smoothing applied...

Like you, I think most softening is overdone. I like to apply a light amount of softening so generally smooth out small imperfections while leaving overall texture. But then I do spend more time removing any individual blemishes.

Liberal use of skin smoothing might be one approach to removing blemishes all in one shot.


Learning to give your clients what they want is key in any business. Even if as the one producing it you think it's a load of rubbish. As a hobby, not so much - you're producing what you want and to hell with anyone else!

Airbrushing has been around since photography and although there are plenty of other fads which produce rubbish images that people love, they're always going to want to look their best. Paying clients will expect that you are able to retouch well, even if they choose not to have it done.

There are also fads and as a business you need to be aware of them unless you're creative enough to come up with something conceptually completely new. Even if you do come up with something good it could just end up becoming a fad. Just look at wedding photographers who do the 'jump shot'. But someone probably did once and it worked out - their clients loved it, others saw it and liked it and now many wedding photographers in the US have it in their portfolio and clients will expect it.

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