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Appearances Are Everything Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

7 October 2013

Flames. Nikon D300 with 50mm f1.4 Nikkor at f2, 1/250, ISO 800. Processed in DxO Optics Pro 8.

One morning, after waking up from another unresolved bad dream, we resolved to have only pleasant dreams in the future. The dream itself was trivial. A reminder we hadn't performed a particular chore. But we didn't like waking up on that side of the bed.

So pleasant dreams.

Holding an infant for a few minutes was all it took to change channels. We simply envision ourself in his booties when we hit the sack and we haven't had a bad dream since.

If anybody should be worried these days, it's infants. And they could not care less.


The bedside radio this morning interrupted our good humor during an interview with Bo Burnham, an early YouTube sensation, who has written a book of poems that interviewer Steve Inskeep suggested resemble the work of Shel Silverstein (author of The Giving Tree, among other classics).

YouTube, apparently, doesn't deliver on the immortality thing quite like a hardbound book.

The book is titled Egghead: Or, You Can't Survive on Idea Alone after one of the poems, which Burnham read for the interview:

From Egghead: Or, You Can't Survive on Ideas Alone

Little Ashley hung magazine spreads on her wall,
after picking the magazines out in the mall.
Models and actresses, singers and more,
with cleavage and makeup and glamour galore!

All of her heroes were finally nearer.
Her whole room looked perfect -- except for the mirror.

A bit dark, he confessed. And yet, it seemed to be the theme on NPR today with a story of eating disorders, too.


Photographers don't really get to deal with anything that isn't skin deep. Appearances are everything. And yet photography isn't a superficial medium.

When we reviewed Antropics Portrait Pro in 2007, we took Abraham Lincoln as our model and used the software to improve his appearance. Marginally. Turns out, as we observed in our conclusion, "Portrait Pro isn't really about beauty at all, but simple, time-tested flattery."

Portrait photographers need all the help they can get.

Most people simply do not like the way they look in photographs. It's not a carefully weighed opinion, either, but an instant aversion. Even Little Ashley is more discerning in front of her mirror.

The trade secret for dealing with that is to reverse the image so the subject sees themselves in the photo just as they do in the mirror. That does improve the approval rate.

But all this flies in the face of the job. It distorts rather than represents. And despite our happy dreams of only a few hours ago, that rather saddens us this morning.


There's a lesson to be learned, though. And we suspect that, even though it comes from a massage therapist, it reflects what portrait photographers like Kirk Tuck love about their work.

Dale Favier is a Portland, Ore. massage therapist whose What People Really Look Like blog entry would confirm for Little Ashley that nobody looks like those magazine spreads. "Women have cellulite, men have silly buttocks," he writes.

In the Comments section, he notes:

It always grieves me when I hear of people hesitating to get massage because they wonder if their bodies are "good enough." That's just not where we live, not what we're thinking about, at all. Our clients don't come from central casting: they're just your friends and neighbors.

Instead, he frames defects like sagging and wrinkling as normal. "Nobody looks like the people in magazines or movies. Not even models. Nobody."

And yet he finds -- as a massage therapist -- that every body is beautiful. No exceptions. When they start to relax on the table, "a luminosity, a glow, begins. Within a few minutes the whole body is radiant with it." He concludes:

I'll tell you what people look like, really: they look like flames. Or like the stars, on a clear night in the wilderness.

Our mirrors can't reflect that phenomenon but we should aspire to capturing it in our portraits. We'd all sleep better.

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