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Truth, Lies and Portrait Touch-up - part 3 of 1 2 3

by Mike McNamee Published 01/06/2009

Being able to improve faces quickly and cheaply is obviously good for the busy portrait photographer, but that is only half the battle...

How not to offend your customers and destroy your business...

Research also shows that it is equally important to be sensitive to the subject's ego and self image. If you do not take this into account, you can seriously reduce your ability to make sales.

The problem comes when you show a subject a touched up picture of themselves and the original at the same time, or even worse, 'flip' between the touched up portrait and the original. Doing this raises very difficult issues for your client.

Our research has shown that when you show a subject the (uglier) original photograph and the (more beautiful) touched up image side by side you are effectively saying two very negative things to your potential customer.

Firstly you are effectively saying to the subject, 'Frankly, you are bit of a dog, a bit rough around the edges, possibly a bit past your sell by date. But that's fine, in photographs at least, we can touch you up, and make you look OK.' This is not good. Nobody likes to be told that their appearance is bad and they need to be airbrushed.

Secondly you are saying to the subject, here is an untouched up picture of you, the real you. And here is an extensively modified and improved picture of you. Are you vain and shallow enough to actually want to buy the fake, touched up picture? Again, not good. Most people are not going to buy either photograph in those circumstances.


Showing customers the original photograph and a touched up photograph side by side is in fact a really excellent sales prevention strategy, (which should only be used by portrait photographers seeking poverty in their own lifetime and possible recognition and fame only after they die).

People simply do not want to appear in public to be vain or dissatisfied with their normal appearance. This was a critical finding during beta testing of our beautifying software. If you 'flip' between the before and after, you are effectively giving the subject a very nasty public dilemma - either be ugly, or appear vain and shallow.

Needless to say, this is a disaster for sales...

However, if you show people just the touched up pictures of themselves, without showing them the original, they just see a great photograph.

They simply do not see the touch-up just an unusually fantastic picture of themselves. And people are prepared to pay, and pay handsomely, for great pictures of themselves.

Indeed in trials, we saw a very dramatic increase in print sales with the beta test photographers who showed the touched up prints only to clients, whereas the beta test photographers who showed 'before and afters' ran into problems and did dramatically less well.

Final thought: Lying is wrong (and unnecessary).

Finally I am definitely not suggesting that photographers and airbrush artists deceive their customers. Lying is wrong. The customer must be told that their photograph has been visually enhanced.

No need perhaps to be specific, just say that the picture has been enhanced to remove the pounds that the camera puts on. Or perhaps to reveal their 'inner beauty' to the world (Virtually every human being on this planet seems to believe they have inner beauty).

What I am suggesting is that you do not give your customer the pain, and it is real pain, of seeing the 'before and after'. Show them how good they can look and leave it at that and they will thank you in a very real and financially measurable way.

Throughout history, renowned portrait artists have flattered their rich patrons in any way they can. If they had not done this, they simply would not have had any patrons. And I very much doubt that any of these great portrait painters ever showed their (often fat and sometimes diseased clients) real 'warts and all' drawings alongside the flattering portrait, to show their rich patron what they really looked like, and what a good job of flattery was being done on them. (Although the suggested originator of the expression, Oliver Cromwell asked Peter Lely to paint him 'warts and all' in his portrait now displayed in the City Museum and Art Gallery in Birmingham and presumably had few qualms about it. Cromwell did have a preference for being portrayed as a gentleman of military bearing, but was well-known as being opposed to all forms of personal vanity. Ed)

This would not have been a good move for the renaissance artist. (Indeed, if they were in Italy and working for the Borgias, they might well have paid with their life), nor is it a good move for today's portrait or wedding photographer.

Show your subjects the most beautiful images you can of them, make them feel good about themselves and they will love you forever. Oh, and you might notice a very substantial increase in both your print sales and recommendations.


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1st Published 01/06/2009
last update 06/11/2019 11:07:54

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