Images can evolve. Ever since the beginning of photography photographers have found ways to manipulate the image before and after taking the photograph so that it can reflect the photographer’s vision. Typical techniques have involved lighting, camera filters, film emulsions, different chemicals, temperatures and times for developing the negative, different printing papers, chemical baths for developing the paper and on and on.

In digital photography, many of these techniques have been replaced by Photoshop and an ever growing collection of digital manipulation tools. These tools continue to grow and become more sophisticated.

I wanted to experiment with a new collection of tools and see what was possible.

Last week I had a couple test shoots with potential new models and used one of the images for my experiment. My test shoots are usually simple shoots where I do not expect great images. They are more for me to concentrate on the model and what they can bring to future shoots.

The first image in the gallery in the sidebar to the right, is an image as it appeared straight out of the camera.

It is not a great shot. It doesn’t express what I was wanting to capture, and the lighting isn’t good. It is too dark on the face and hair. However, I liked aspects of it and wanted to see if I could use my tools to make it better.

I immediately lightened the hair because I thought there were some nice hidden lines, and did some minor retouching of the skin. These were minor improvements, but I wanted to see where I could go with the image.

I worked on it for about an hour using a collection of different image manipulation techniques. As I worked on the image it started to go into a direction that resonated with me. It was a combination of beauty and ugliness.

More of the wonderful lines in the model’s hair were being highlighted as well as the model’s face, but her skin was becoming hard, as though she was made out of old weathered stone that was stained and scarred. As a man, the lines of the model’s body make me say, “ooh-la-la” but then looking at the details I get repulsed and I’m not comfortable with the fact that I was attracted to the form.

Converting the image to black and white pushed the image further in the direction of a cold woman made of scarred and pitted stone. Images idolizing the female form and showing a woman’s beauty have been a hallmark of my photography. This image was conflicted. From a distance, or quick glance you see a beautiful young woman with a lovely figure. Looking for any length of time you see something is wrong.

This appealed to me for a couple reasons. It immediately made me think of a time in my life when I was in love with a woman who was abusive, and had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and other mental health issues. She was lovely on the outside but there was ugliness underneath. People with BPD often self-mutilate and scar themselves. While the woman I knew did not, the trait was in my mind.

The fact that I was the target of the abuse and the only one who saw it while to everyone else she seemed charming, is characteristic of people with BPD, and was echoed in the image. The model’s skin is really unattractive mostly on the skin that would normally be covered by clothing and unseen by the public. The ugliness is only seen by the person with whom she would be intimate.

The image could be symbolic of women with mental health issues or healthy women struggling with difficult internal conflicts. I could see the image being used as a lead-in for a magazine article, and created a mockup to illustrate the point.

Life has left its marks on all of us. Some of us have more scars than others, and the scars are different, yet they are part of what make us who we are. Artists often use their art as a reaction to the pain that caused the scars. Sometimes the art heals the scars, sometimes it can only echo them.

This is one way to manipulate a photo to fit the artist’s vision, of course there can be more than one vision for a photo. To illustrate, I have included a couple more interpretations of the same photo.

Software Tools Used
  • Lightroom – initial adjustments and manage image library
  • Photoshop – used to crop, dodge and burn to lighten the hair, and make other adjustments
  • Topaz Glow – Effect applied to the models face and hair
  • Intensify Pro – Used to harden and crack the model’s skin
  • Tonality Pro – Used for converting the image to black and white
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