Okay. It's been a long time comin'. I've been wanting to address this subject for a long time. It's a subject that's been in the news (Brittany Spears magazine cover), in songs (Meagan Trainor break out song), and just about everywhere there is an image created with the use of a model, a camera, and a photographer.
PHOTOSHOP is a popular program created by Adobe used to alter or manipulate digital files; A digital "darkroom", if you will. It is so commonly used that it has become a verb in many people's vocabulary. There are many other programs that do similar things for the same purpose. But for all intents and purposes, in this article, I will use "Photoshop" to refer to all programs and processes that are used to touch up a photo.
Personally, I think photoshopping an image is neccessary in most cases. Yes, there are the mistakes that those who use their camera in manual mode will make. They may have to lighten underexposed images, cool down an overly yellow image, etc. But even when you have all of the settings right, avoid all distractions like a branch going across the subjects face, etc., you still need Photoshop. Why? Because as sophisticated as cameras are nowadays, they still pale in comparison to the human brain. The decisions a camera makes will never produce an image the same way our eyes and brain sees them in reality. So we use Photoshop to dial in the settings until we like what we see. Besides all that, who can argue with not wanting a big pimple removed for your nice portrait? There are definite positive uses for Photoshop in the industry. So why does the word leave such a bad taste in so many people's mouths?
Ever hear of celebrities getting busted for shaving off a few inches on their thighs in a vacation selfie? Or the exposed extreme body or face altering of models for magazine covers? It's almost outraging (see this video as example). But that's all in the name of money.
Another bad use of Photoshop is it's overuse to cover up the lack of the photographer's skill or knowledge of light and equipment. Some turn all their images to black and white and call it art. Or the artistic textures mask the fact that the image is blurry. All these help give Photoshop a bad name.
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION
Photoshop for photographers is much like make up is for most women. A little make up enhances the beauty already present. Too much make up, well then even the most beautiful woman can get to the point of ridiculousness (amiright?).
The same is true of programs like Photoshop. A little touching up will definitely help a already stunning image. But if you start pushing those saturation and sharpening levers too far, then that image could end up looking clownish and unbelievable. Don't get me wrong, the occasional artsy filter or texture is just fine if it is for the expression of creativity. But simply doing it on everything just isn't right in my opinion.
WHAT WE ALL WANT
You want to look good in your portraits. That goes without saying. It's our job as photographers to make that happen with all the tools we have available to us, including Photoshop. High fashion model photography may use super skin smoothing to produce the beautiful imagery you see in magazines. But your photos are going to be seen by your friends, your family, etc. They're going to notice that you don't really have porcalin smooth skin like a china doll. It won't get past them if your eyes are the richest blue in the picture, but in reality, they are a clear blue. I want you to look the best you can with out it looking fake.
Next time you look for a photographer, look closely at his or her work. Make sure they produce quality, well polished, believable images. That could very well be a good indication of the quality of the rest of your experience with them.