Many graphic designers spent time in the trenches doing pixelmonkey work: retouching and color correcting photos. Back in the mid-'90s, Photoshop didn't have all the auto-correct, healing-brush, no-thought-required tools that it now does. I have spent more hours than I care to think about, alone in a room, staring at an image blown up to 1600%, altering an image pixel-by-pixel. I've laboriously masked out backgrounds from hair, hidden bald spots, removed people from group photos, and performed other pixelmonkey feats. I can pretty much repaint, add, or remove… well, anything from an image. This has made me extremely good at spotting when something's been badly retouched.
This means I'm often asked to judge whether or not an image has been Photoshopped. Now Lifehacker's put together a handy guide to detecting image manipulation yourself. See? You don't need me anymore!
I feel that retouching isn't always a bad thing. I believe there's no harm in taking out something from a photo that isn't normally there: e.g., spinach in someone's teeth, a cold sore, a pimple. Color correcting a shot because it was shot with the wrong white balance? Fixing exposure or focus issues? No problem. I consider that to be a reasonable use of Photoshop.
Where I draw the line is when an image is majorly distorted; when it's had serious plastic surgery done to it. Women's fashion and beauty ads are notorious for this.
I highly doubt that anyone could manage to alter their body shape as drastically as that video above would have you believe, but it's a good illustration of just how much you can do with Photoshop, if you know what you're doing. I'm against that kind of major surgery, because it gives a very false impression of what most people look like… not to mention the unrealistic and unattainable ideals of beauty our culture holds women to. As Jessica Coen points out in Jezebel,
"For those of you who have seen, time and time again, these manipulated images — be it a retouched wrinkle or a dramatically trimmed waistline — and are aware of the reality behind them, you're maybe able to look at ads and mags and keep your head straight. Not necessarily, but that's the hope.
But remember that every day, a young woman somewhere sees one of these overly polished pictures for the first time…and has no idea that they're not real. She may very well have no idea that most waists don't really bend without a roll of flesh, that a 40-year-old woman actually does have some wrinkles, that no mascara will make one's lashes magically long enough to tickle her eyebrows. What the girl does know is that the pictures show What Is Beautiful. She thinks they are reality. And maybe she doesn't have someone in her life to point out that this is complete and utter bullshit."
I know it's bullshit, because I've had to alter images, and see the before-and-after shots. I know what to look for. Now, hopefully, you've got the tools to detect the Photoshoppery, too.