Can Photoshop Sway an Election?

Sarah Palin Newsweek Cover Here’s the question of the hour… Can the use (or non-use in this case) of Photoshop actually have an effect on voters in the upcoming US presidential election? The Republican Party sure seems to think so! Republicans are up in arms over the latest Newsweek Magazine cover showing a closeup “un-retouched” photo of Sarah Palin. The party is accusing Newsweek of borderline slander, by not retouching and smoothing out the image of Palin.

At first I set out to write this blog article from an unbiased standpoint, but let’s face it, I’m taking my gloves off. Bringing photo retouching (or lack thereof) into this election has brought things to new heights of absurdity. I thought it was customary to slam the Photoshoppers for going too far overboard with their retouching, sometimes to the point of not even being able to recognize the person in question. Now a lack of retouching and showing the natural portrait is considered slanderous, when it’s beneficial to say so of course. I for one don’t believe that the American voters care if this image was retouched or not, nor would it have any political effect if they did smooth out her natural facial features.

Let’s look at the flipside. Rather than smoothing out the image, some folks have said this image was purposefully oversharpened and enhanced to make the photo less appealing. Again, does this really matter? As a photographer and Photoshop user who is constantly striving to learn and improve, I just find this whole issue a bit silly yet interesting still.

So taking all of this into consideration and moving forward as digital photographers, image retouchers, and Photoshop gurus let’s ask ourselves… Can Photoshop really have any impact on this election? How ethical is it now, to over retouch or to simply not retouch at all?

About the author

Dave Seeram is the Editor of PhotographyBB Magazine, photographer, Canucks fan, Lostie,  fanboy, Dad, blogger, entrepreneur, and part-time superhero. Dave is the owner of this blog, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the PhotographyBB Magazine and CLARITY: PHOTOGRAPHY BEYOND THE CAMERA
7 Responses
  1. Tybeck

    I try to re-touch as little as possible. As to how much to re-touch I think it depends on the venue. If you are looking for something artistic or are making a specific point I say do all out. For something like the news, that is supposed to reflect fact and reality (or a least try to be slightly based in it) I would favor not extensive retouching. People should see the image as close to what the journalist saw as possible. As for the photo of Gov. Palin (leaving out my own political views) I think it captures her very well. She seems to be and presents herself as a very “real”, down-to-Earth person. To me this photo shows all of the “blemishes” and signs of aging you’d expect for a woman in her early 40s who has clearly taken care of herself. She could be your next door neighbor or the mom of your son’s soccer buddy.

  2. Frances

    Sarah looks good re-touched or not.

    I believe the point that they are trying to make is that the media is favoring one candidate and trying to always put their choice for President/Vice President’s best face forward, while for the other party the media wants to show the flaws.

    I say be fair. Either retouch everyone — or show them all o’natural!

  3. Diane

    When I heard about the controversy over this Newsweek cover, I thought, “what’s all the fuss about?” I hadn’t given it a second thought as to whether or not this photo was touched up. Actually, I thought it was a lovely photo of Gov. Palin as I think she is a very attractive woman, and a few character lines or blemishes does not detract from that (and they are hardly noticeable unless you take a magnifying glass to them!).

    So in answer to your question, “can Photoshop sway an election?”, I say NO, because retouched photo or not, it would not sway my opinion one way or the other; and I would hope most Americans would not be so superficial as to let such a thing determine their choice–there are more important issues to worry about!

  4. Flacker

    Interesting post. I’m with Diane about not understanding why the Republican campaign was in such a huff over this image. This is what people look like up close, right? If the photo had been retouched to the point where Palin had perfect, super model skin, it would’ve been more of a turn-off in its attempt to cover up reality.

    I understand what Frances is saying, too – either re-touch everyone or no one. But as a jouranlist, I tend to disagree with this notion. Every story has its own tone or mood and part of an editor’s job is to find photos that evoke feelings to mirror the words in the article. In this case, I think the editors have done a great job matching the picture to the headline. If the article’s goal is to portray Palin (granted, I haven’t read the piece) as “one of the folks,” then this picture is spot on.

  5. Clairbear

    If a single photo was all we had to rely on to judge some then image manipulation with Photoshop would make a difference. I think in the news media image manipulation aside from very basic correction, can be used promote one bias or another and should not be used. A creative PS artist can make someone look evil or angelic. The old adage or photos don’t lie does not apply when you can manipulate image with the ease of today’s software.

  6. kazure

    Well, all the candidates seem to wear a good bit of makeup and Biden’s white teeth are less than natural. But makeup is self-inflicted.

    I am no fan at all of retouching portraits so as to “erase” existing flaws, enlarge eyes/pupils, etc with the intent to pass off as natural. However, I see nothing wrong with post processing that which can be created beforehand, say, with studio lighting, etc. I believe the impact on our young girls, especially, is very detrimental to a healthy sense of attainable aesthetic beauty when images purported to be real are really unachievable “renderings.”

    As far as swaying the election? If people are that darned distracted then this country deserves what it votes for.

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