Slightly Blown Out Highlights Are In
Years ago in my LenDiaries.com photography tips article, “Photshopped” or Overcorrected, I covered my thoughts on the incident where the U.K., through their Adverting Standards Authority (ASA), banned the controversial Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington photos for Lancome and Maybelline cosmetics advertisements.
The media uproar in 2011 for the latter, along with the current “curvy girl movement” by Sports Illustrated, namely Kate Upton and most recently Ashley Graham, is leading to new trends when it comes to fashion and model photography in general. Trends set by the fashion industry are not new, and it’s usually important for photographers to keep up with trends when it comes to getting noticed by creative directors and photo editors.
However, while I have no problem with the “curvy model” trend, one of the other trends in fashion, beauty and even editorial photography is to “slightly blow-out-the-highlights” especially when it comes to the skin of the model. While my photography style isn’t to blow out highlights, like any professional photographer on assignment, we’ll adjust our photography techniques if necessary to please a photo editor.
This trendy photographic style is impacting both color plus black and white photography, in fact, many editors will turn a color photograph into a black and white photo if they feel the color version is too correctly exposed. The real reason behind this photography trend is the ever-rising public outcry of “over-photoshopped” photos in the past of women, especially iconic women. The industry isn’t the trendsetter this time; the public demand is creating the change in photography indirectly.
Even the recent “leak” of Cindy Crawford’s un-retouched photos started a social media viral storm when the photos were first passed for an “upcoming” 2015 issue of Marie Claire and that Crawford demanded the photos be published un-retouched. Ironically these old photos were properly exposed, not filled with blown out highlights where it counts. When the dust settled, the viral frenzy embracing Crawford’s bravery and empowering women went to WTF?
Apparently neither Crawford, nor Marie Claire, had authorized the release of those un-published photos as Marie Claire later claimed those photos were outtakes from a past Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America Dec. 2013 issue photo shoot. Regardless, this sparked a heated debate on how women really want to see women—and that is the trendsetter today.
The public is setting the trend in that they want publishers to publish photos of women more au natural, and I don’t mean nude, more like light-makeup and with limited post-production techniques. This public outcry is what really drives the more blown out highlights look for women in photos today because it’s the only way a publication can answer their demands and still claim no retouching. The public is being fooled by overexposure of highlights, both in color and black and white, in the final photo.
Technically it makes sense as when the highlights are blown out, in either film or digital photos, there is little or no detail—in other words, you hide imperfections especially when it comes to skin complexions, with “overexposure” of the image, thus leading to less definable detail where it really counts. Some might even call it photography trickery to satisfy the public, but I doubt any photo editor or creative director will accept claim to trickery. It’s manipulation of the image, or scene as it’s being captured, not necessarily after the image is downloaded.
In the old film days, photographers were taught, “expose for the shadows, develop, for the highlights.” We were taught that an overexposed image was bad exposure on the photographer’s part. Then came digital photography and you’d hear things like “expose to the right,” or “expose for the highlights, print for the shadows.” But now, thanks to the trends, photo editors and/or creative directors, from publications to advertising agencies, want the more overexposed look—they don’t want to take a beating from the public! Though in reality, the image is being manipulated, just in a different manner, and Joe Q. Public is just being fooled technically.
From the fashion photography or advertising campaign perspective, this works, as most of the clothes, and even fashion accessories, lean more to colors, not necessarily just white. So if the skin tone is overexposed, the fabrics are only slightly overexposed, but if the photographer can control the light tight, the fashion industry products are correctly exposed while the model is slightly overexposed. Besides, it’s about selling the product, not the model as usually the model in the fashion industry is just considered a “coat hanger.”
Guess?, H & M, Victoria Secrets, Free People, BCBG, etc., are not trying to sell you a model, they are trying to sell you a product. Look at your fashion catalogs today and you’ll see this trend—Crawford and Adobe Photoshop, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, didn’t create this trend, the public did. Editors and creative directors just found a way to manipulate images in another manner that satisfies the public thirst for un-retouched images. Now that’s a tricky, technical trend.
So far Crawford is mum about the release of her photos without her permission, and that’s understandable, however, there is a silver lining in that those photos gave hope to many women as it proved that even supermodels have flaws. Something always known, but rarely portrayed publicly and hopefully this recent debate over Crawford’s photos bumped a few self-esteems in an upwardly manner. (See Photographic Therapy—The Power of Photography to Help Build or Rebuild Self-Esteem, available free on iTunes)
I close by saying, as I did in my original LensDiaries.com article from 2011, that there is a difference between “Photoshopped” and “over-corrected” photos. Surely Roberts and Turlington would have preferred overexposure vs. negative media exposure from the U.K. controversy years ago. Either way, I’m a firm believer in post-production, but not post-destruction. As always, let’s not forget the men and women who serve to protect our country and its values; God Bless them, their families and their friends, Rolando.