Before and after images + the real reason why you should never use skin plugins on your files

Some photographers ask for a more detailed visual illustrations of my work so I created this dedicated page hoping that it will serve this common request. This website used to have a classical page with thumbnail size before and after images and even though there were many examples, you couldn’t see much detail due to their small dimensions.

When we talk about before and after images, there are three main aspects you may want to take a look at:

1. Pixel level work

It’s almost always about skin texture or clothes/fabric texture (very rare about metal or concrete) and this side of the work is visible only if the image is a close-up or if you’re zooming in when looking at the picture. Below you’ll see high resolution examples of a beauty retouch – the images from this set were done for a beauty salon and that’s why they are a little overdone. Nonetheless, they are good enough to illustrate my point.

As a matter of fact, this is the original version of the image, but I eliminated the color and exposure factor from the illustration, so you can concentrate only on the texture improvement.

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Pixel Level Work
Pixel Level Work

As you can see, the skin texture wasn’t destroyed (that’s what the plugins do); it was just improved in terms of light and shape. If this image would have been retouched using plugins, the results would have looked totally different.

When a skin plugin is used, its job is to blur out the image (using a mathematical algorithm) with the purpose of making it look smoother, but blurry has never been and will never be a style. You shouldn’t like the idea that an algorithm will decide the look of the skin.

The main reason why skin plugins are bad is because their functions are based on selective bluring of intermedian frequencies and some details contained in those intermedian frequencies are essential for a good looking image. When a plugin is used, you have no control over the frequencies because the process is automated. On the other hand, when the work is done manually, every stroke is decided by the human’s extremely intelligent (relative to what we know) brain and this cannot be compared with the first method.

The more manual the process is, the better. Using plugins (especially on the skin texture) is just a common practice for people who don’t know any better or don’t have high standards.

I do understand that some of you preffer to use plugins because they are much faster, but for a trained eye the results will look cheap. If your intention is to get results good enough for Facebook, then plugins may do the job, but if you plan to grow as a professional, just forget about them.

2. Standard work

Well, this can include almost any kind of transformation, from simple tasks like removing bumps and/or major wrinkles, removing dark circles under eyes, fixing blotchy skin, removing any unwanted shininess, enhanceing eyes/mouth and definitions, fixing the clothes, eliminating any fly-aways, whitening teeth, fixing color on roots etc to more complex processes like digital surgery, background changes, digital makeup and so on.

It’s hard to illustrate all these transformations with just one image, but check out the shot below and you’ll see some of the changes I’ve talked about. Animated illustration here.

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Standard work Before and After

3. Color grading

A while ago I’ve wrote a detailed article about color grading (you can read it here) so I’ll mention only the most important facts here.

What is color grading? Well, if you’re looking for a definition, it sounds like this: Color grading is the art of manipulating color both for accuracy and emotional effect, usually performed by a colorist, who often plays a very large role in the look, feel, and emotional impact of an image.

If you’re looking for a before and after visual example, check the static images from below or the animated illustration here.

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Fashion Color Grading Before and After

Color grading is a very creative process where decisions are made to further enhance or establish a new visual tone to the project (introducing new color themes or re-lighting within a frame). Considering that this process is purely creative, there is no wrong or right way to do it, but the person who’s doing it should always keep in mind what the photographer and art director feel is appropriate for the story – depending on the context, the color grading can be subtle and invisible or over-the-top and uber-stylized.

© 2012-2021 Andrei Ivascu