Most likely everyone has a personal answer for this one, and that's great. There are some basic principles I go by when deciding when to photoshop a portrait and how much (actually, I always do some photoshopping). The truth is everyone wants to look good, and everyone wants to look like themselves in the picture. The problem is that these things don't always go together well, and it has nothing to do with the attractiveness of the person. A photo is an image of a specific moment in time. It captures things that are ephemeral (like sunburns) and presents them as if they are eternal. More importantly, the light and the physical position can exaggerate qualities unfairly. Short lighting, for example, brings out imperfections in the skin that might be otherwise unnoticeable. Wrinkles that only appear when you smile are now continuous, and were probably not very noticeable when you smiled in life. So in a way we are obligated to do a certain level of re-touching in order to present something closer to the truth. Sounds like a huge contradiction, doesn't it?
Here is how I put it to use.
- Temporary blemishes like acne, stray hairs, and red noses. I always re-touch these. They are here today, and gone tomorrow.
- The "everyone" re-touches that all images receive for things like color tone, sharpness, removing glare, increasing vibrancy, etc.
- Wrinkles and skin issues that are strengthened by the lighting. These I will do moderate re-touching. I won't eliminate them, but I'll soften them so there are closer to how I remember them in my mind's eye, not the camera's.
- Moles and permanent marks. These I pretty much leave alone.
- Slimming. I also avoid slimming whenever possible. Unless it's clear that bulge was the result of me posing them in an awkward position, or "slimming" if it is for commercial purposes. Truthfully, if I shot the image I should have corrected that during the session. See my post on posing plus sized models.