A Guest Post by Richard Fisher at Frank Communications – a  Leeds design agency offering a range of print, multimedia and web design services. Website:  http://www.frankcommunications.co.uk

Kate Winslet

What was once a great tool known only to the design and advertising community is now part of common parlance. It even appears in the dictionary as a verb – ‘you can tell that image has been photoshopped.’ High profile stories of dodgy usage – Kate Winslet’s lengthened legs spring to mind – have given this creative software a bad name.

It’s fair to say that virtually every image you see in print every day – in magazines, newspapers, on billboards and posters – has been photoshopped. It’s an essential part of the designer’s toolkit, enabling us to create high impact quality work. But it is also often misused or handled badly. Here, we highlight the good, bemoan the bad and shake our heads in disbelief at the ugly sides of the art of photoshopping:

Good

The best Photoshop work goes unnoticed (which is the whole point from an advertising perspective at the end of the day!) Used correctly, it enhances a photo and can be used to remove flaws. Clearly its good practice to check and improve any photo you use even if it is just making sure the contrast is ok. Untidy or low quality images look unprofessional and can reflect badly on your brand. But it’s about being subtle, about having the skill to change and adjust the image so that it is improved without revealing the process of improvement.

Bad

Photoshop is often used as a quick fix to make an image stand out. How often do we see effects just for the sake of having effects? Lens flares appearing in photos for no reason or a random Photoshop filter to make an image stand out even if it looks out of place? Many people over-estimate how much Photoshop contributes and how much the user contributes to the finished piece. They think it is just a click of a button to correct or manipulate a photo but without an understanding of composition and light and shade, photos look unnatural.

Ugly

People know these days that every image of a model or a celebrity has been doctored in some way or other – to remove blemishes, wrinkles, excess flab etc. The effects of this on the way we see ourselves is much debated and analysed, but we think there are more pernicious examples of the misuse of photoshopping – in the doctoring of reality for political purposes. For example, this post was inspired by BP’s admission that it changed an image of a command centre overseeing the team tackling the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The doctoring of the image was to make staff look busier.

Other giant firms and even nations have been embarrassed by similar errors

  • Iran was caught out after it apparently doctored images of a multiple missile launch, to hide the fact that one of them failed to go off.
  • Microsoft was forced to apologise after its Polish arm changed a promotional image of three employees – amending the apparent race of a black man to white, even failing to change his hand to match.
  • Britain’s former culture secretary James Purnell was embarrassed when his presence at a photo shoot was faked because he was late.

It is surprising to still see to this date so many examples of Photoshop disasters within the press and media – the majority down to carelessness and not fully utilizing the expansive toolsets within Photoshop.

Do you have any examples of Photoshop disasters within print advertising? Please share on the comments below.