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I can’t “Photoshop” you skinnier or less bitchy for free. How to talk to your clients about realistic retouching.

Dear Adobe,

Can you please add in an “I have body issues” filter?  You know, the one that takes away back fat, double chins, big asses and armginas on my clients?  For that I will happily pay your cloud fee for LIFE.

Love and kisses,


(Armgina.  No photo credit by the request of the maker)


It’s happening more and more lately.  I walk into the getting ready area with the bride and she squints at her reflection in the mirror and says to me ” I hate my arms.  But you can Photoshop them, right?”

FFS.  If you hate your arms why for the love of all that is holy DID YOU GET A STRAPLESS DRESS?  Seriously, don’t these girls have ONE good girlfriend that is going to tell it to them straight about that dress at the Bridal Salon? Or better yet, a gay man?

It’s not just limited to the brides, either. Moms ask to have double chins removed.  Parents ask to have children’s shirts changed from blue to red in the family photos. Everyone knows that with Photoshop, anything can happen.

My standard response has always been a smile and a nonchalant “Oh sure.  Anything can be altered for a fee”.

Lately there’s been some discussion on forums about what is our role as photographers to make sure the client is “okay” with their appearance? Do we have to be stylists, wardrobe assistants, hairdressers as well as photographers?

My contract spells out what I do and do not include as standard retouching, but when we are dealing with peoples fragile egos (and in my case often a bride, which is a double whammy) then I think some extra communication is the key.

A few years ago I had a very buxom very pretty bride. Her dress was  one of those ill-fitting $99 David’s Bridal numbers (strapless, of course) and she was spilling out all over. I’m talking back bacon, side bacon and major boobage. There must have been a dozen nip slip photos I had to delete.  I knew she was self-conscious about her appearance and during the formal photos I used every trick I knew to make her look fantastic.  However, what I could not control were the un-posed spontaneous moments.  At one point I did something I would normally never do, I signaled to her to “sit up straight” at the head table because she was slouching making matters SO MUCH WORSE.

A few days after the wedding she called me in tears.  She had seen photos from friends and family and she was horrified.  She wanted my assurance that I could “Photoshop” her so that none of my photos would look like that.  I assured her I’d do my best.  During the edit, I was frustrated.  Do I delete all these really great interaction moments because of her wardrobe malfunction?  I ended up doing a very tight edit and telling her that anything that she put in her album I would retouch to her hearts content, but anything else, she would have to pay for.   She was thrilled when she picked up her album, but told me she would delete the rest of the photos if it were up to her, but her husband wouldn’t let her.

That still bothers me.  I know it’s not my shit, but it bothers me that she doesn’t treasure those photos.

Now when I deliver the proofs, this is now included. It’s talked about in the initial consultation and again, it’s in my contract… but a gentle reminder never hurt anyone.

Standard Retouching
(Included only in prints ordered through the studio or album prints. Your proofs are balanced for color and tone and cropped for the most pleasing outcome)

Smoothing of skin, whitening of teeth/eyes, under eye circles, flyaway hairs, glasses glare, removal of distracting elements such as exit signs, etc.  Complementary head swaps for group photos.  I do not as a rule remove anything that is not temporary on your body. For example, if you have a mole or birthmark or tattoo, that will remain unless you instruct me otherwise.  Blemishes and other skin imperfections are removed.

Deluxe Retouching
Altering of body including but not limited to:  Tan lines, Double chins, underarm or back excess skin, tummy rolls, love handles, braces removal, slimming of any body part.  These are quoted on a per image basis.

I do my best to catch things on the day. I look for necklaces askew, I check pocket squares, make sure the groomsmen are buttoned up correctly and I physically remove those blessed hair bands off the bridesmaids wrists.   I ask people with transition lenses if they want to take off their glasses for outdoor photos so they don’t  look like a bug.   I have no issues telling a bridesmaid her bra is showing or tucking a stray hair into a bobby pin.

The less I have to deal with after the fact for retouching the better, but if you don’t smile at all during your wedding day, Bridey…I cannot make you look less bitchy.




  1. Wow, I’d like to know how you price to include standard retouching. You seem very generous w/your hands-on care. Do ppl have ANY idea the value (time, skills, patience) dealing with even standard retouching? I’m stunned at what ppl wear, whether being photographed or not. Don’t they EVER look in a mirror? Sigh …

  2. PS Considering ppl constantly photograph selfies or give phone to others to document their every move, how can ppl these days be clueless how they look in photos? And to think Pshop just automatically removes double chins and takes off weight and bulges. Really? They really believe that. Oh my … bring on the many LR Presets and Pshop Actions to soften everything, throw in some bokehs and lens flares to cover their faces, arms, whatev.

  3. ROTFL. When will strapless dresses please go out of style? Photographers worst nightmare! Two hundred pics of the bride pulling up her dress during the reception. Those dresses have ruined more moments. Love the addition to the contract, seriously need to add to ours. We can only hope that a little education can go a long way! (What did we do before, we sucked it up and accepted ourselves a but more!)

  4. Ah yes – the infernal strapless dress. If I’m talking to a “wedding photographer” and he doesn’t get it when I talk about the big armed broad who will inevitable show up in a strapless, my first question is “how long have you been shooting?” Because I know it hasn’t been very long. And the cream of the crop is the strapless with that f’ing lace-up-synch business in the back. NOBODY has the body to survive that number! You are much more diplomatic than I am. – My standard comment when asked to do something about the arms is “Sure. I can PS them right off. You will look like the perfect mannequin”. Perhaps this is why I never get any wedding inquiries anymore… hmmmmmmm….

  5. I did have a friend who had her wedding photos photoshopped to make her mother-in-law’s “blush” colored woman’s bridal gown pink. Ha!

  6. It seems as if Pinterest has spurred unrealistic expectations. We live in a different world loaded with FB, Twitter, Instagram and the dreaded hashtags. #weddingphotographerswillneverbethesame

  7. I. Love. This.

    Back when I first started out, I photographed an absolutely stunning English country wedding where the bride (with her strapless dress) had the option of wearing a shrug to cover her arms. She asked all her bridesmaids for their opinion, which was divided, and then she asked me. I had already spotted her tan lines so I tried to persuade her to keep it on and then her sister came in and said, “Oh no, you don’t want to wear that, it looks like you’re trying to cover your arms!” Off came the shrug and I shrugged and let her get on with it.

    Two days later I had a tearful phone call from the bride. She had just started to see photographs coming in on Facebook – you know the ones, the blurry camera phone type which make no one look flattering. And she was horrified to see how visible her tan lines were. “Will you fix them for me?” she wailed. And, like the newbie fool I was, I agreed.

    6 weeks it took me to photoshop every image she was in. 6 WEEKS! Don’t get me wrong, she was so happy with the end result and so embarrassed she hadn’t had the 10 minute spray tan she had been offered in the days leading up to the wedding, but I was a blubbering wreck. After giving her her disc and album, my next job was to re-write my contract. I will never fall for that again.

    As an aside – I hate my arms so guess what? I wore a wedding dress with SLEEVES when I got married last month. I felt absolutely stunning and when I got my photographs… I loved them! Funny that, eh?

  8. Well said! I also wanted to comment on the ill-fitting dresses that David’s (or any other high-volume nation wide brand) is famous for selling. I actually worked there for a year — and I wanted to share that the problem is SOMETIMES in the hands of the associate — but 99% of the time it is in the hands of the customer. Here are things that brides are SOOOO famous for doing.
    1- (this is 90% of the problem!!) Not properly getting alterations. ALMOST everyone needs at LEAST a few hundred dollars in alterations. period. Bring this in, take this out, adjust the length of something, add a bustle. And when brides hear this, they cheap out — especially those shopping the clearance rack. THEY are the ones that are pulling their gown up all day/night. I PROMISE that a well-fitted strapless gown will NOT show anything, will NOT fall down, and will not cause any extra rolls!! Even a gown with straps — ALL of the weight of the gown should sit on the torso/hips, basically none on the straps. PLEASE talk to your brides about this fact — because a $100 fitting charge for a proper bodice adjustment will save them hundreds of dollars in photoshopping charges potentially. state it like that. :) :)
    2- TOO many brides think they are gong to lose weight before the big day. They don’t. They always are SHOCKED to learn that bridal sizing is 1-2 sizes higher in number value (so an 8 in bridal world is between a 4 and a 6 in real world sizing, at least in the USA) and they apparently think that people are going to look at the size w/ their x-ray glasses or something… and then tooooo many think “oh i’m going to lose that last 10 lbs, 20 lbs, 80 lbs… in the months between now and then. So, David’s (and any other company is similar) has Bride sign a contract stating they understand exactly that they are ordering a sized dress that is NOT recommended for them. Then, stress and too much booze celebrating happen — and low and behold they don’t lose that weight, or they they may actually gain weight. Combine this w/ no real fitting/alterations… and bam. We have another “can you please photoshop under my arms/by my boobs/on my back… moment.

    Working with a GOOD bridal consultant at ANY shop can REALLY help wit these things. If they haven’t gotten their dress yet — don’t be afraid to tell them these things. You can ALWAYS take a dress in — but a standard amount to go out is only about 1/2 of an inch. that’s it. That is almost nothing.

    Thanks for sharing this. :) I hope my comments will be of help to someone, somewhere. :)

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