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The Plastic Senior: Enhance Beauty Without Over Processing


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IMG_4683 The Plastic Senior: Enhance Beauty Without Over Processing Guest Bloggers MCP Thoughts Photography Tips Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

Photographing Seniors is by far my favorite thing to do. I love their energy, willingness to try new and crazy things, fun personalities, and their hope for the future and what is to come after High School. Their Senior Year is such an exciting time in their lives, and I love to be a part of it.

Most Seniors exude a self confidence that really shines through in their photos. Some don’t, and it is my job to help them look their best, feel comfortable during the shoot, and to realize through mind blowing images of themselves, that they are beautiful or handsome. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately among photographers. It’s a trend that is destroying the self-confidence of young women and men alike. I know that we want our subjects to look flawless, and that we can do that in post processing. Photoshop is an amazing tool, but we all know it can be taken too far.

The Backstory

Recently, I had a young lady call me in tears. She had her Senior Photos taken by a well know local photographer. You know, the photographer we all want to be when we grow up with the arsenal of equipment, shiny studio, and hundres of thousands of dollars in yearly sales revenue. The girl was upset because she didn’t want to sit for photos again because she thought she was fat, and her mother was making her call me and schedule a session. In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “So she’s a little heavy. I can disguise that with a bit of creative posing and good lighting.” I assured her that I would make her look beautiful in her photos, and scheduled a free consultation with her and her mother the next week to get an idea of what she wanted from her Senior Session.

When I arrived at the consultation, I was shocked. The girl was BEAUTIFUL! I’m not saying that not every girl is gorgeous at whatever size they are, but this girl is 5’8”, and she couldn’t have weighed over 115lbs. She was tall, thin, athletic, and gorgeous. It didn’t take me long to figure out why she was so apprehensive and insecure. She showed me the photos from her previous Senior Session with the aforementioned photographer. I was shocked. The images looked like her, but they were an overly perfect Stepford Wives version of her. Not a hair was out of place. Her skin looked so perfect that it looked plastic, and he had thinned her face, narrowed her hips, reduced the size of her nose, and increased the size of her breasts. I’m sure he thought he was simply enhancing her natural beauty. However, what he really did was take every bit of self-confidence she had, and turned it to insecurity. Was she not good enough just the way she was?

Examples of what not to do.

Here is an example of over processing an image to the point of destroying a girl’s self esteem.  The first image is straight out of camera.  The second is the same image.  I thinned her face and arm, reduced the size of her nose, whitened her teeth, liquified her eyes to make them bigger, and smoothed her skin to a perfect plastic appearance.  Not horrible, but really, it looks nothing like her at all.

Straight out of Camera 

IMG_4707 The Plastic Senior: Enhance Beauty Without Over Processing Guest Bloggers MCP Thoughts Photography Tips Photoshop Tips & Tutorials


Insanely Over Processed: Do not do this!

IMG_4708 The Plastic Senior: Enhance Beauty Without Over Processing Guest Bloggers MCP Thoughts Photography Tips Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

Here is an example of processing the correct way.  I left everything about her alone.  I just slightly smoothed her skin, sharpened her eyes, and enhanced the colors a bit.  That’s it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Had she had a small blemish on her forehead that could be cloned out, but her skink was pretty flawless.  My basic rule of thumb is that I correct anything that will go away in the next 6 weeks (blemishes, scabs, scrapes, etc.) and I very slightly soften those that are permanent (scars and birth marks are usually just lightened a tiny bit if they are red. If not, I just smooth them the tiniest bit.)


Real Perfection- Beauty is enhanced, not created!

IMG_4708-2 The Plastic Senior: Enhance Beauty Without Over Processing Guest Bloggers MCP Thoughts Photography Tips Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

The point of this segment is this: DO NOT TAKE POST PROCESSING TOO FAR! You may think that you are helping your client out by perfecting them. And trust me, there is nothing wrong with blemish removal, slight skin smoothing, and a little liquefying here and there if there is a bulge in clothing or on an arm. However, your client wants photos of themselves or their family, not some insanely perfect version of themselves. Real people, especially High School Seniors, are amazing just the way they are. It is our job to enhance their natural beauty and help them see themselves as beautiful, no matter their size or shape.


Atina is the owner of Atina King Photography located in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  She loves to focus on photographing High School Seniors in urban environments throughout Arkansas.  She resides in Fayetteville with her husband Jonathan and their two small children.  Her work can be viewed on her website at Atina King Photography.


Looking to pose senior guys and girls more naturally?  Check out our senior posing guides, filled with lots of tips and tricks for working with high school seniors:




No Comments

  1. marie myler on July 16, 2014 at 8:48 am

    perfectly stated……and I love the words you used….” Beauty is enhanced not created”

  2. denise on July 16, 2014 at 8:52 am

    THANK YOU for this!! There are soooo many people as well as photographers that think this necessary.I try to capture that photo to the truest of true. The over processed drives me crazy!! Even the over processed sunsets get to me! There is nothing wrong with the beauty that lies within everyone and everything.

    • denise on July 16, 2014 at 8:55 am

      Sorry, I meant to say, “There are soooo many people as well as photographers that think this IS necessary”

  3. Big Eater on July 16, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Great thoughts… I can’t believe someone would do that to a teenager…. What a schmuck.

  4. Brooke on July 16, 2014 at 9:04 am

    AMEN to this!!!! I could not agree more!

  5. Terry Begemann on July 16, 2014 at 9:24 am

    This is perfect advice, I used to think I had to make the images look perfect too, but over time have learned that natural is better, so I ever do now is some very light skin smoothing, play with the colour a bit and sometimes brighten the eyes a bit, not whiten the eyes though. A photographer I very much admire taught me that.

  6. K on July 16, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Sigh. When I read the lead line on this, I thought you meant ME – as in REAL seniors. And the thought that anyone wanted to do a portrait of an old person, and do it without damaging self-esteem, was really striking. Softening skin, etc. I guess I’m really here, now, then – in this period of life. When did I slip into thinking of myself this way? Anyway, can’t deny that the actual content was a bit of a of let-down. But the point is, of course, well taken and presented.

    • Atina King on July 16, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      K, When I wrote this, my example was a high school senior. But I’ve seen it done to Seniors- as in older people- as well. I disagree with processing out wrinkles. Every line tells a story. Now you can soften here and there, and do a very slight tuck where sagging skin, etc might be distracting, however, the elderly should never be over processed either!

  7. Judy on July 16, 2014 at 10:47 am

    I think most of us are becoming more aware of how much we dislike over-processed photos. Every time I look at a photo I immediately and automatically assess if it is over processed or if the processing is natural and beautifully done. Eyes that pop out and look like glass and skin that looks like plastic are a big turn off…they’ve lost the life and breath of the person. Thank you for this post!!

  8. Beth Herzhaft on July 16, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Good point, but I must take issue at your stating that over retouch “destroys a persons self esteem” as if it was an immutable fact, and not your opinion on the matter. I mean, come on, over retouch has been going on since the days of George Hurrell and the Hollywood glamour photographers of the 1930s onward. Young ladies who saw those unrealistic images seemed to come out of it fine.

  9. Tanya on July 16, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    I was shocked by that article- that any photographer would do that- I always tell my students my goal is to look at my photograph and not tell anything was done to it in photoshop! No crazy glowing eyes- just enhance what you already have!

  10. Colin Rogers on July 16, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Good point well made. I use lightroom but not photoshop for this very reason

  11. Nicole Pawlaczyk on July 16, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Love this and totally agree with the writer!! I see this done actually across the board in photography and we need to be careful to just enhance and not overprocess. Hard to explain but super easy to see in her example – thanks for sharing!! 🙂

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