Help me with an ethical dilemna ... [critique invited]

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Having been influenced by The Graduate at an early age, I am an old hippie who is fond of the way mature women look. Monday evening, I shot some portraits intended to be used on a client's website, including the business' owner, Susan.

The website promotes educational services, and features warm, sunny pictures of smiling teenagers with perfect skin. Susan is in her mid-fifties, blond and has spent most of her life in the Arizona sunshine, so her face is deeply lined and textured. Although she indicated to me that she did not want to use make-up for her photos, I wanted her photo to match the style already used on the website.

She gave me, literally five minutes of her time to shoot, so I worked fast and spent much of that time encouraging her to smile, then to smile less. I picked the exposure with the best expression and extracted this monochrome (channel mixer R:G:B:C -80:80:102:-2) version that isolates the facial lines and skin texture:

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Then I made a smoothed out version, by filling the lines and shadows in by hand with the the clone, dodge, healing and history brushes; as well as pumping up the yellows and blues with the Hue/Saturation control to get a sunny look:

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Since this was for the web, the final image was resized and smoothed with Grain Surgery and sharpened. I think Susan gives 1967's Ann Bancroft a run for her money:

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For comparison, here is the same picture 'straight out of the camera', without the 'digital botox':

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My dilemma is, have I gone too far in altering reality? Considering the aesthetic constraint (matching a youthful look on the website), have I done the right thing?

My second question is, have I done the thing right? I never want my pictures to look like anyone else would have done them, but are there things I should have done to improve my rendition of this altered reality?

Please be 'brutal' in your "critique", but don't make me cry. I used an 85mm f/1.8 Nikkor with bounced flash at f/2 and iso 200 if it makes a difference.
 
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Well first off I like the B&W one. You have done well in retouching the image and yes she does retain some character. Your changes are subtle when viewed in totality but is fairly dramatic when viewed against the original. I would guess that even though she is not vain she will like the retouched image the best.
 
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Thanks Gordon, I like that one best too. In fact there are some expressions that are not so flattering that I like as art even better.
greyflash said:
I would guess that even though she is not vain she will like the retouched image the best.
Good because I have only shown the processed image to my client.
 
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Well if the client likes the processed one then go for it. Personally I think it's processed too much, but it's really the client's call.

Heh, that 85 is a killer lens eh?
 
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I like the third image. Cameras show more than we even see sometimes.

For instance the butterflies i took. When up on screen i saw the spider webs, but not when i took the shot.

I do not think the 3rd one is over done at all.
 
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Who, that B&W is TOO real

Women want to shown is their best light, and while that B&W is about as real as it gets, it makes her look like she's at least 60 yrs old. Does she want to be thought of as a 60+ y.o? I highly doubt it. The touched up shot is MUCH better, and still retains all of her charactor, charm & spunk. I'd go 1 step further & lesson the pores on her nose. They're too prominent and distracting. Nice glamourizing work, Chris!
 
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I like the black and white one best. There is an honesty somehow. It conveys the feeling of a pleasant person with an inner beauty. Looking straight in the lens reinforces the idea of her self confidence.

Rich
 
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Okay, you asked so here's my 2cents worth....

She's not a super model and she knows it (as do most of us women). She knows what she looks like and she appears to be comfortable in her own skin, otherwise she would not have agreed to (a)have her picture taken, and (b) do it without makeup. You say she liked the retouched one that you showed her. I say there is your answer. It is still her, just a more flattering picture of her. I don't think you went to far. She still has tons of character left in her face for potential customers to see via your shot. The third shot is definitely the most flattering. My only suggestion is that you might consider reducing the amount of red in it. As you said, she spent much time in the sun, therefore her skin has a ruddy appearance...which seems just a touch more noticable in the retouched version than in the original. I think you did well w/a very touchy situation.

Hope that helps.
 
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Leigh said:
... My only suggestion is that you might consider reducing the amount of red in it. As you said, she spent much time in the sun, therefore her skin has a ruddy appearance...which seems just a touch more noticable in the retouched version than in the original. ...
Thanks Leigh, color casts are a particular problem for me, and I am trying to match the over all color scheme of the website, but that's more golden than red. I'll desaturate the reds a bit before posting the photo to the site. (And fix the pores as Steve pointed out.)
 
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Paul, Gale, Frank and Rich, Thanks for your words of encouragement. I knew that I was treading on thin ice when I took the job, and I took some other exposures just in case she didn't like this one - but hey - she'll like it, as will her assistants (one of whom has already seen i.). But getting approval from here sure helps my confidance! :)

Here's my plan B shot:
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Heh - thanks Paul. I've been working with Susan for 6 years now, and I've never seen her with her hair anything except pulled back. Hmmmm.

I wouldn't want to tell her "Loosen up, baby!", Austin Powers style, but I could enlist her assistant... ;)
 
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Chris, I definitely like the touched version, it's not one of those "vaseline all over the filter" type of touchups. It's tasteful, not over the top. You're definitely on the right track with your ideas. I would however do something about the pores. Katrin Eismann has an incredible book on retouching faces so that they appear natural, not retouched, but the person appears 'brighter' and more 'lively'. If you'd like a few tips, feel free to PM me. Cheers, Sandi
 
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Thank you!!! With your good critiques and pointed instructions, I have completed the photo. I did fill in the pores as Steve suggested. Thanks for the clone/lighten method Sandi! And Leigh, I desaturated red by 5%. I also resized the photo to 398 pixels wide to fit it into the space I've got on the web page:

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And here it is in situ.

Paul, I would love to do a 'hair down' shoot with Susan, maybe she's interested in making her hubby a photo for his desk ... or something. ;)

(Wow, this critique stuff wasn't so scathing after all!)
 
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