A post I made for my photo blog that may give folks an insight into retouching practices.
There is a lot of photoshop controversy with the new Black Widow poster. You might have seen the above image floating around tumblr. It has some commentary added about what they think had been altered and it isn’t far off.
People are upset and I definitely understand why. But there are also a lot of photoshop “experts” weighing in on how this image was manipulated, and many of them are close, but I don’t think any of them really know what the hell they are talking about.
While I can’t claim to know every edit that was made to this image, I can give you a close idea of how an image like this is produced. I’m not going to make too many judgments about the ethics. I think that has been covered pretty well.
First off, this is a hybrid image. An initial photograph is taken, and then a digital artist essentially paints over it. The painting layers and the photograph layers are blended together to create an almost surreal effect. Like the image could be a painting or a photo and it kind of blows your mind a little trying to figure which it is.
It’s both. So don’t hurt your brain too much.
You’ll see this done a lot with superhero movies because the images almost look like they could grace the page of a comic book. I think it is a neat effect when done properly.
The initial photograph is taken with very bland lighting. The subject is very evenly lit so there are no heavy highlights or shadows. If you were to see the original photo you would probably think it wasn’t very well done. That is because the digital artist wishes to paint in the dramatic lighting themselves. That is the main way they create the overall effect. They paint in highlights and shadow. They enhance textures. They will use the color of the original as a reference, but usually they will repaint or dodge and burn to get the effect they want.
The part of this image that people don’t care for are the adjustments to Scarlett’s actual features. Yes, her waist was absolutely brought in. This is done with a tool called “liquify” in photoshop. It’s a very easy adjustment to make and takes about 20 seconds. This is extremely common practice and it’s possible that 20 second adjustment is the most controversial of all.
The below image took me about 30 seconds total, and as you can see, it can be taken to some pretty extreme lengths with almost no effort at all.
I can’t say for sure, but her neck was probably lengthened in the poster. This is pretty standard practice, though it is very hard to detect. This is probably the silliest practice in retouching. I have never once said, “Man, I wish that person’s neck was longer.”
People say that her breasts are enhanced, and that is true, but I don’t think they are “enhanced” the way people think. In photoshop, if you want to enlarge breasts, you would use the “bloat” function in the Liquify tool. Again, this is another 20 second adjustment and it produces surprisingly realistic results.
I don’t think this artist actually enlarged her breasts a great deal, but rather made them more… pronounced. He added a heavy highlight on the top and a shadow on the bottom. This gives the illusion of depth and makes the breasts stand out more.
To show you some examples I did some very quick and dirty adjustments. Keep in mind if I had higher res files to work with, I could get much more realistic results. I just wanted to give you a rough idea.
This is the standard technique for enlarging breasts using the bloat tool.
The tool expands the area and makes it seem more spherical. Photoshop will probably tell you this function has all sorts of practical applications. But I’m pretty sure they created it for boobs.
Below is the “pronounced” effect I think they used in the poster. It is just simple shading and highlighting. Nothing is enlarged, but it still gives that effect.
And, of course, you can use both techniques at once. Which is also a possibility in the poster.
The only thing I am not too sure about is the length of the arms. I have definitely heard of people making legs longer, but I don’t recall arm lengthening being a general practice. In my opinion I think it was just the way the image was shot.
In photography there is a technique where you can use a wide angle lens from a low angle to give your subject a more powerful appearance. Think of yourself standing at the base of a tall statue. As you look up, it seems massive and imposing. That is because of perspective distortion. Close things seem large, far things seem small, and it is what gives us a sense of something’s size.
So if you create that same effect in a photo with a wide angle lens and a normal human, it creates that sense of power. Which is what I think they wanted to convey with the image. However, that perspective distortion can make a person’s features seem a bit unnatural. Limbs seem the wrong length. Proportions seem a bit off. For the most part our brain interprets the image correctly, but if you do a very close inspection of the photo, then these distortions become more noticeable.
I looked at press photos of Miss Johansson, and she does have long, slender arms. I think her naturally long arms + distortion is why they appear a bit funny looking. I don’t think it was a purposeful decision.
I think the sad part is that if they had not brought in the waist, pronounced the breasts, and lengthened the neck, this would have been a pretty badass image in its own right. She is a beautiful woman and I don’t see how making these unrealistic adjustments made this image any better.