The Impact of Photoshop




Aliana Jabbary and Elizabeth Jankovic, sophomore Muse Scholars and Media Studies majors, decided to combine forces to investigate the effects of Photoshop on self-esteem between genders. Aliana is a freelance multi-media artist and photographer. Upon reflection of her own work and creative process, she was inspired to investigate how her work as a photo editor may affect the subjects she shoots. Elizabeth, a Journalism concentration, has written many stories and conducted various interviews. She was interested in how people may react to seeing photos of themselves edited to “perfection” by another person’s standards. Their idea was to photograph one male and one female college student, edit a single photo of each, and upon reveal of the before/after, capture their reactions.

The inspiration for this project comes from the inner conflict that many artists face. Creators are judged based on their work, and therefore want to create the best works possible. Therefore, as a photographer, certain colorization and photo-retouching decisions must be made, but at what cost? When the subject receives the complete images, they are often not given the RAW original files, and therefore they are unaware of the original image. All they see is the final product. This is the final product of what an editor thought would look best. This calls to question, how would they feel if they saw the original (untouched) images? How would they feel, knowing someone edited their appearance, to fit their own standards? Would this affect their self-esteem in future photos that aren’t professionally retouched? Elizabeth and Aliana set out to investigate these questions.

Aliana worked with James Reilly and Claire Leto, both sophomore Hunter students.  She photographed each of them in naturally lighting by the East River, then selected one image of each student to edit with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. (It is important to keep in mind that portrait photography in direct sunlight will highlight skin imperfections)

This is the original and edited image that Aliana picked for James:





After editing the photos, we sat down with James and asked him a few questions about the photos.

Upon his reflection, Aliana added graphical representation of his reactions.


Before seeing any of the photos:

ELIZABETH: What do you want the picture to look like?

JAMES: I want it to look good.  I want my skin to look clear.  I want my hair to look good… I want it to cast me in a good light, literally and figuratively.  I want to look happy; I want to look confident.  I don’t want it to look perfect, I just want it to look presentable.

E: What do you think the picture is going to look like?

J: I don’t know.

E: Do you like having your photo taken by another person?

J: If it’s gonna be edited.

E: Why?

J: Because I don’t want to put a bad photo of me out in the world.

E: Would you rather edit it yourself or have someone edit your photo?

J: I don’t edit my photos… I don’t believe in editing photos of myself because… there’s just no point to it.  I’ll either take a good photo, and post it, or not post it.  I won’t delete it though – I don’t delete photos.

E: Are you excited?

J: I’m excited to have the photo to put on LinkedIn.

E: Do you always post it when people take photos of you?

J: No, not always, because I don’t really do social media much.


Aliana then showed James the final, edited photograph.  Initially, James laughed and said, “Why am I looking like that?  What’s wrong with me?”  77.jpg

After seeing the edited (retouched) image:

JAMES: My eyes are crossed, so that’s something… My eyes are literally not facing the same direction.

ELIZABETH: What do you like about this photo?

J: I like the way my beard looks, and my hair, I think.  I think it’s like vibrantly messy.  I like the color, but that’s the edit… I like it as a photo, regardless of who’s in it.

E: Can you point out anything you don’t like/any insecurities this edit highlights?

J: Acne scars is big, that’s the big one.  That’s like it, actually.  My skin’s edited, obviously, because I have many more zits than that.  And you can almost not see my acne scarring, almost, but it’s still there.

E: Was it what you expected?

J: She didn’t pick the pose I thought she would pick… I picked a good outfit, I looked good in the clothes.


Finally, Aliana showed James the raw file of the photo, without any editing or retouching. 


After seeing the original (unedited) image:

ELIZABETH: Are you surprised at what you see?

JAMES: Not really, because I know what I look like.

E: Do you think it looks drastically different than the retouched one?

J: The only difference that I see is that my skin’s just redder, that’s it.  The main edit is the resolution, honestly.  It’s so high-quality that, in my opinion, anybody who is in a high-quality photo is going to look better because it just looks good.

E: What do you like/dislike about this image?

J: [I dislike] my skin, obviously.  But I don’t hate it.  I still would settle for this photo in the long-run.  What’s funny is, because you turned clarity up, my acne scars actually look worse in the edited one. What I don’t like is the nose thing, because it’s weird-looking.  I look like I’m Russian now – not like that’s a problem; it just isn’t what I look like.

Afterwards, Aliana revealed to James the specific edits she made to the photo, such as brightening the eyes, retouching skin and undereye bags, and adjustments to color and highlights.  James said he didn’t even notice the eyebags in the unedited photo when compared to the edited one.  He was curious about certain choices Aliana made; for example, when Aliana said she added a drop shadow underneath James’ nose and retouched his neck, he asked, “interesting… why?”  Additionally, he said, “You didn’t edit my hair, which is surprising.”

Overall, James seemed curious about the choice behind certain edits but overall satisfied with the image, especially the skin retouching.



This is the original and edited image that Aliana picked for Claire: 




We conducted the an interview for Claire with the same general questions as James’:

Before seeing any of the photos:

ELIZABETH: What do you expect to see?  What do you want the picture to look like?

CLAIRE: I’m excited, I just want it to be a decent picture.  I think we got some good angles and definitely worked well with the lighting that we had.  I’m just excited to see them; I’m expecting them to be good.

E: Do you like having your photo taken by another person?

C: Not really, at all, I just am not a fan, but since I was with people that I trust, I had a fun time; I had an enjoyable time.

E: Would you rather edit it yourself or have someone edit your photo?

C: I’d rather edit them myself, I think just for the obvious point that I can manipulate anything that I want on it.

E: Do you use Photoshop to edit photos?

C: Not really.  Sometimes I’ll edit a pimple out on FaceTune.

E: Do you usually post the photos when someone photographs you and gives you edited images?

C: I am not active on social media.

Aliana then showed Claire the final, edited photograph.


After seeing the edited (retouched) image:

Claire’s initial reaction to the photo was: “I like her!”

ELIZABETH: How does seeing this portrait make you feel?

CLAIRE: I enjoy it; it’s a really nice picture.

E: What did you like about the photo?

C: The colors are nice.

E: Can you point out anything you don’t like/any insecurities this edit highlights?

C: My hair definitely looks greasy.  My jaw line does look kind of weak.  I also kind of look like I don’t have an eyebrow, but that’s due to my own lack.

E: Was it what you expected?

C: Yeah, no, it’s definitely above and beyond what I expected.  I’m SO pleased with it, thanks!  Now I’m scared to see the unedited version.

Aliana then showed Claire the unedited photograph.



After seeing the original (unedited) image:

Claire’s initial reaction to the original image was: “Wow, my bags in that.”

ELIZABETH: Do you think this looks drastically different than the retouched one?

CLAIRE: I don’t think it looks drastically different, but I know that I’m obviously going to scrutinize it more than anyone else will.  It’s just in the eyes that I really see the biggest difference.

E: What do you like/dislike about this image?

C: My skin doesn’t look as bad as I was expecting it to. I didn’t realize how dark my undereyes were.   I’m really just shocked at the difference within the light hitting my eyes and the shadows of it.

E: Are you surprised at what you see?

C: Not really, I know I have deep set eyes.

E: Does this change the way you think people perceive your appearance?

C: I’m going to say not really, and that’s only because it’s taken me a while to sort of become comfortable with myself to a point where I don’t feel the need to be putting out a perfect embodiment of myself every time I just go anywhere… I don’t feel the need to make myself look decent for school or anything like that.  But that is a really nice picture, so I might be posting that somewhere!


Afterwards, Aliana revealed to Claire the specific edits she made to the photo, such as retouching the skin, adding in contour, and retouching hair.  Claire said she noticed that Aliana lightened a lot of the photo, and she noticed that her skin looks more even.  When Aliana said that she darkened Claire’s eyebrows in the image, Claire said she also noticed that, and that it was “necessary.”

Upon interviewing James and Claire, we found it interesting to see how their reactions varied. Although different images, Aliana used the same method of colorization and skin-retouching on both images. What was interesting is that James seemed to question some of Aliana’s editing choices, while Claire was more trusting of the changes. They were both suprised by a lack of editing on a single aspect of their faces (for Claire her jaw, for James his hair). This highlights how they see flaws in photos of themselves that others may not recognize. Claire and James both mentioned an insecurity, but we found that Claire was more suprised by the difference in original versus edited than James was. While they both liked the images, and accepted the original ones, we found that Claire was more open with her reaction.

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