Is Anything Real?

Posted on 11/7/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In her presentations “The Fixer” at Photo Shelter’s Luminance event in September, retoucher and illustrator Amy Dresser beautifully demonstrated that there is no reality in photography any more.

Great photographers can create great images, but even with today’s technological advancements there are limits to what photographers can capture. In Hollywood no celebrity image is complete until Amy or one of her colleagues has worked her magic. To get a sense of what she does go to her beauty portfolio at and mouse over most images to see the original file she was given. Perfect skin tones, lighting and backgrounds are not created by the photographer or make-up artist, but by the retoucher.

Need bigger or smaller breasts. No problem. If someone is a little too fat Amy will slim them down. Need to bulk up some muscles, no problem. The 30-minute video of her presentation is an eye opening revelation of what is possible in image creation today. It is well worth the time of any photographer who wants to understand how what they create on their best day can be changed, improved or made into something totally different.

Amy is humble about what she does. She calls photo retouchers parasites in the photo industry and acknowledges that without photographers, people like her wouldn’t exist. As a professional photo retoucher her goal is not to make an image perfect but to keep the character and remove what might be distracting.

Retouching has never been more prevalent than it is today. The line between photography and illustration is increasingly blurred. It is impossible to have a clear definition of what is “cleaning up” or “adjusting” an image and what is “retouching.” The concepts of “photo reality” or “photographic proof” no longer exists. It is no longer possible to be sure that a visual representation of something is what the photographer saw and recorded, or what actually occurred in front of the camera.

For more presentations from the PhotoShelter Luminance event go to (

Copyright © 2012 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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