Why read this? : We look at the impact of photo editing in marketing. Learn why there are so many different opinions about it. We share examples of positive and negative uses of photo editing. Read this to learn how to use photo editing to make your brand look better.
In the recent Prince Andrew / Jeffrey Epstein media scandal, the question of whether that photo of him with the girl was photoshopped caught our attention.
One side says it’s real. The other side says you can’t prove whether it’s real.
No one seems able to say for sure whether photo editing was used. You can draw your own conclusions from that.
We’ve spent a lot of time recently using Adobe Photoshop to edit photos on this site.
We know photo editing technology could easily have been used to create the photo. Cutting, pasting and manipulating images together is what Photoshop does brilliantly. Its ‘magic lasso’ tool is genuinely worthy of the name ‘magic’, for example.
But if the Andrew photo was faked, they did a pretty good job of it. That photo has undergone a lot of public scrutiny, and yet digital photo editing experts still can’t agree if it’s genuine.
Fat fingers and no sweat, or not.
We did wonder though why unlike many news stories in the past mentioning Photoshop, there was no accompanying outcry about the evils of Photoshop and photo editing. And yes, the abuses of Epstein do make photo editing look pretty unimportant in comparison.
Yet it wasn’t so long ago, that whenever Photoshop hit the news, it was a bit of a dirty word for media pundits. (Ironic from an industry which couldn’t survive without it).
Photo editing is fake? And your problem is?
Photoshopping isn’t real you’d hear. Not genuine.
We know Unilever created a whole award-winning campaign on this insight around ‘Real Beauty’ on their Dove brand.
We know this because every marketing and communication training forum seemed to quote the Real Beauty campaign as best practice for about the next 10 years.
Sure, it was a good piece of work. But go on Instagram. Open any woman’s magazine. Has it made a difference? It seems the cosmetic and beauty product market is still booming.
By all means, show yourself without make-up or touch-ups if you want. You’re beautiful on the inside. Yes, you are. But the sad fact is most people still see you from the outside. And judge you by your appearance. You might not like that. But it’s a fact.
So, there’s the insight which drives beauty and the use of photo editing that many people still like to present themselves to the world looking their best.
Is photo editing really a problem these days?
So, maybe Adobe have a very good PR machine and moved the “Photoshopping is a dirty word” story out of the news cycle?
But more likely, it’s that photoshopping has stopped being as much of an issue for most people.
A touch-up here. Fix a random background colour clash there. Who really cares?
Everyone wants to look good in photos. And if technology helps, then great.
Whether it’s an Instagram filter, Photoshop retouching or some other fix via one of the many other photo editing tools out there, everyone fiddles around with their imagery these days.
From your average teenage Instagram star wannabe to the thousands of creatives, designers and photographers who use tools like Photoshop every day with no second thought. It seems that ‘real’ images are increasingly rare.
Photoshop is packed full of benefits for marketing.
We use it to edit images on this site as you can see from the header image above. We use it on the creative designs in our shop. And, we use it to create lifestyle photography on our social media feeds.
All very standard marketing practices these days. In fact, it’s hard to find images on social media which haven’t been photo-edited.
When photo editing goes wrong
We don’t believe Photoshop itself is the problem.
That’s like saying nobody should use kitchen knives because they could be used to stab someone.
No, it’s the use (or abuse?) of what Photoshop can do to an image to mislead people. That’s the real issue.
But that’s down to the user, not the tool.
We understand there’s an issue in using it in the fashion and beauty industry for example.
Creating unrealistic aspirational images which cause young women to strive for unrealistic body shapes. This is a terrible thing. The health impacts of dieting to look thinner. The emotional distress when skin and hair aren’t perfect.
We get it.
But look around at real people. Nobody really lives their lives like you see on Instagram and in magazines. It’s just so obviously faked.
We like the approach taken by the French and Israeli governments on this. Models need to have a minimum BMI. A ‘photograph retouched’ notice needs to be added where images have been edited. These seem like sensible measures to roll out in other countries.
Our gripe with Adobe Photoshop is something different
We have other issues with photo editing, however. Especially with Adobe Photoshop.
The regular upgrades to Adobe’s flagship product are impressive from a technical point of view.
It’s rather less impressive from a pricing point of view for those who’ve to shell out for the expensive monthly license.
You can spot creatives using Adobe by the lack of arm and leg they’ve had to give up to pay for it.
Especially if you grab all the other Adobe goodies at the same time. And the chances are you probably will.
Big agencies can suck up the cost. But for freelance designers, it’s a steep financial commitment.
We’ve dabbled with a few other cheaper or free photo tools like Gimp on desktop and Snapseed on iPhone. But they’re just not the same. We haven’t tried Affinity Photo yet, but may well explore it at some point. (See our Adobe alternatives article for more on these tools).
We should also mention the challenging User Interface (UI) in Photoshop while we’re at it. Go into any creative studio where people are using Photoshop and listen for the muttering and curses you’ll hear. Using Photoshop is like getting a temporary dose of Tourette’s.
Click here. Forget to click there. Why’s that bit not working? Why won’t you paste, dammit? Oh, and I need to close that pop-up window again, do I?
Hmmm. But maybe that’s just our experience.
When photo editing goes right
Photoshop is a gift to beginner photographers.
With a bit of practice, you can turn crappy dull photos into something with much more impact.
It’s a creative tool we use most days. Tidy up that blemish there. Change the colour balance and exposure there.
Some tools like the Dodge and Burn are frankly amazing pieces of marketing technology to enhance basic images.
Back to our admittedly weak ‘photo editing is like using a kitchen knife’ analogy. In the hands of a master craftsman, both can be used to create magical differences in raw ingredients. To create something based in reality, but to transform that base into something artful.
To create amazement.
But even for newbies and day-to-day users, you need it as an essential tool of your trade. And yes, in the wrong hands, like a knife, it can be harmful. Maybe not physical harm, but still. But that doesn’t mean you’d ban kitchen knives.
Photography on this site
Most of the photos on this site, we’ve taken from free online services like Unsplash. We try to make sure we credit every image we use as this service is amazing for people starting out building a new website.
Given we discuss photography elsewhere on the site, we aim to be less reliant on free images in the future. To create more of our own.
We believe with a good camera, a willingness to learn, and a lot of patience, anyone can create great images. And if you can’t, Photoshop is a great backup support tool.
And for that, Photoshop is something we plan to use a lot. Yes, the bad uses of Photoshop aren’t good. But we experience ‘real’ every day. Look in the mirror. Talk to people. The world online creates an escape. Be suspicious of what you see online, but also be joyful about the wonderful creativity.
Though, if Adobe could do something about their frankly outrageous subscription fees, that’d work too.