Photo Editing: Before & After, Truths & Trickery


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I’ve been having a great time tinkering with my new Lightroom 3 photo editing software and working some editing magic on my photos.  However, it’s gotten me thinking about the future of photography.

Here are some before and afters of what photo editing can do:

No Bake Toffee & Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls


No Bake Toffee & Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls before editing


No Bake Toffee & Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls after editingGot accepted into Foodgawker!


And spunking up the Cinnamon Sugar & Ginger Roasted Potato Sticks with editing


Cinnamon Sugar & Ginger Roasted Potato Sticks before editing


Cinnamon Sugar & Ginger Roasted Potato Sticks after editing

And from my earlier recipe post with these Cinnamon Sugar  & Ginger Roasted Potato Sticks, thanks for letting me know you liked the looks of them and for filling me in on how you like your taters.  Lots of you said you like sweet potatoes.


And brightening up Raw Pasta Salad with Creamy Lemon & Herb Dressing


Raw Pasta Salad with Creamy Lemon & Herb Dressing before editing


Raw Pasta Salad with Creamy Lemon & Herb Dressing after editing

And this picture made it into Foodgawker! I resubmitted it, and they took it!

So that’s two pictures now that I have edited and were accepted on the second go-roundSame composition, just some brightening, tweaking, and editing. I am now a Lightroom believer.


However, all of this has me wondering what will become of the future of photography.  More on that below.

But first, dessert: Vegan Fudge (No-Bake, Vegan, Gluten Free, Soy Free)

Close up of Vegan FudgeIt just happens to be vegan.  It just happens to taste amazing, too.


1. I’ve been thinking about how photo editing can effect the future of photography.

When I was growing up, looking at pictures in an album was a physical record of a snapshot in time of something I saw that really existed.  It was not a stylized or “airbrused” or edited version of something that really existed.  What the pictures showed is what existed or happened.  What you see is what you get.  Those 1982 Poloraid shots don’t lie.  Nothing edited about those.

Nowadays, what you see is maybe what you get.

Maybe not what you get, at all.

Or maybe a really stretched truth or version of the truth.

In this post, the food I made was all real.   It all existed.  It looked much better in person than it did in my Before shots.

The After shots make the food appear on the screen much closer to what it looked like on my table. And this is why I like photo editing; because it brings back the vibrance, clarity, and beauty that really was present and existed in real life and to the eye, but that isn’t always present or captured properly on camera and thus on-screen or in prints.

However, it is entirely possible to make the food look nothing like what I saw on my table.  Or to take editing way too far.

And you can take this example and apply it to a person’s nose, cellulite, smile, the wrinkles on their shirt, or the color of their eyes.  Everything can be manipulated, and quite far.

Do you think we will one day enter an age where you don’t even know if the photos you’re looking at are “real”?  Or that they’ve been edited to such a degree it’s impossible to tell what things or the person really looked like?

2. Can you imagine how different models or celebrities in magazines look when edited or not?  Would you like to see them un-edited?

My food before and afters go to show you, don’t believe everything you see.  Editing works wonders.  On potatoes, salads, desserts, zits, lumps, bumps, and everything else.

It does sometimes feel a bit like “trickery” when you see these women and they are just too perfect in their photos in magazine or online.  We know intellectually that the photos have been edited after already spending half a day in hair and makeup.  But, I always wonder what they look like after they roll out of bed, or go to the gym, or even just walking down the street normally.  I wish we could see those pictures, too.  Oh wait, that’s what the papparzzi is for.

This Site has 20 great examples and is the source for these photos.

Then again, I don’t mind seeing glossy, airbrushed, edited photos, either.  They are usually beautiful, but I know they aren’t real and that the woman doesn’t really look like that, and that’s fine.  I look at photos like this as art. That they are a representation of what the person looks like, but is not actually just a carbon copy snapshot.  Photography as art and artistry.

However, many women are not able to realize when they look at certain photos that Suzy Q Celebrity really doesn’t have a 22 inch waist with no zits and perfect hair.  She has a 32 inch waist, blackheads and zits, and her hair is full of split ends.

I think as long as we realize that whatever we see is most likely manipulated, to some degree, and you “keep your head screwed on straight about it” (to use my grandma’s expression) you’ll be fine.  But when you’re 14, you don’t know this or can’t rationalize this.  And some women who are 24 or 44 still haven’t learned this and that’s when it can get a little dangerous because all kind of comparisons and self-doubt can occur.

What are your thoughts on photo editing and manipulation?  Do you fall prey to thinking that models or celebrities in magazines really look the way they appear in photos? That even though you “know” they really don’t look like that, you just can’t help yourself and fall for it? I would say most women fall into this category.

Tell me your thoughts on it all!

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Welcome to AverieCooks! Here you’ll find fast and easy recipes that taste amazing and are geared for real life. Nothing fussy or complicated, just awesome tasting dishes everyone loves!

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  1. ok, i know you wrote this post a year ago, but i am now convinced. I AM sooooo GETTING LIGHTROOM! i need it. my photos need some vibrance!

    1. Lightroom 4 was *just released* yesterday!!! I bet LR3 is heavily discounted right now or just get LR4, which I think is like $149 or if you’re a student, it’s possibly less? You will LOVE it and wonder how you lived. Trust me, along with a VitaMix and a great knife, this is a MUST BUY ITEM

      1. i just bought lightroom 4!!!! it was $150 off amazon. my boyfriend is a photo genius, so he is going to help me learn it. i’m going to read a lot of the tutorials online and I hope to improve my pictures to be accepted onto foodgawker. :) Thank you for the advice, Averie. I can’t wait to show you how some of my pictures turn out. :)

  2. This blog mostly focuses on mineral makeup, standard poodles and product reviews.

  3. The picture can change with out the editing. My lil sister has been doing photography at the community college. She brought samples of photo paper to a family dinner one night. I was shocked to see the same modle and or place on five differnt kinds of photo paper. The paper felt different, the kind iof paper change the lighting of the pictures. Icould not believe it as there was a clear difference. I think ppl often for get that everyone is air brused to death. For me I hate the way I look in pcitures. My skin is terrible. Getting professional pcitures, with edting makes me happy. I think sometimes editing can be over done, and there is a way to make it not look so touched up and more natural..

  4. Great post and love the before and after pics!!
    I do hate that we basically ONLY see edited images of women and I don’t think it is really obvious in the moment that what you are seeing is fake. I mean, if you see perfect skin, zero fat, and no creases, it’s hard not to automatically wonder what you can do to achieve the same. They don’t put “these photos are art” on the bottom, so even though as adults we “know” they are manipulated, it’s not what my gut reaction is when I am bombarded with these images!

  5. That is so cool that your pictures were accepted with just brightening them up. I do like looking at pretty pictures, but most of the ones in magazines don’t look pretty to me. They look so inhumane and fake that it just comes off as odd. I wish they wouldn’t do so much to them! But even the prints I get to scrapbook I alter. I crop them, brighten them, take out red eye, etc. Nothing too major. But I remember taking pictures in high school and not getting to know what would come out until after the film was developed.

  6. YAY!!! for getting your pictures accepted!! I love that your playing around with your camera so much! its something I need to work on! So Im learning alot from your blog;)
    I agree with you on the whole model thing.. but sometimes I wish all my photos would magically make me look like Ive been airbrushed;)

  7. I sometimes think that the models bodies look sooooooo perfect, until I realize that they are probably VERY airbrushed and adjusted/lengthened etc..

  8. I totally don’t care about editing, unless it is in a teen magazine. Those girls are so young and impressionable. I see my 13 year old neice and I just want to protect her from all the bullshit. But, then she’ll grow up sheltered and more prone to getting…I don’t know, but something bad is more likely to happen to her. That’s kind of an extreme, not really relating to the question or the post.

    Man, my brain is fried. I can’t talk.

  9. I think we are already in an age where you don’t know if what you are looking at is real or fake. Your photos are looking great! Were your before shots edited with iphoto or totally unedited? Are you noticing a big difference between photos edited in iphoto and photos edited in lightroom?

  10. I don’t mind photo editing if it’s airbrushing or aqdding pleasant effects…but editing to the point where it takes one thing and changes it into something totally different (like..shedding 20 lbs instantly) isn’t right.

  11. Photo editing is awesomeeee!! i love picasa (use it for my school photography class) and windows live for blogging!

  12. your photos look fabulous. Congrats on Foodgawker! My 15 yr old daughter is in Art School for Visual Arts. One of her focuses is in photography. She’s doesn’t like using editing programs – but I think she’s too young to understand that it’s not “falsifying” the art, which is her complaint about it. I think it’s an enhancement. I wear makeup to enhance my appearance sometimes. Nothing wrong with a little photo editing to do the same!

  13. Love this post, I wrote something similar today. I wish the media would start portraying REAL women, but it seems like we are far away from that.

  14. I love when someone says 1980s and Polaroid in the same sentence. I agree, pictures used to be real; a document of history; a frozen story in time. But with heavy editing, it can pervert the truth and rewrite history.

    There’s a fine line between drastically altering and restoring what is actually there. I know that magazines and other print, movies, TV, etc. are all edited to look like “perfection” in its finest form, so I expect that. But I will not alter MY reality. I want a real representation of my history. I will enhance and restore my photos; help bring back what was lost in digital camera translation, but I also don’t want to misrepresent anything I eat. If it looks like crap, I won’t say it tastes great and make it look better than it is. Honesty is important, perfection is not. Food is art to me. And I do enjoy bringing out the best in it and making it look pretty, but I also want to be realistic and let it represent how I live, which is definitely not a flawless life. Some of my food pics naturally come out great, others need help, but it’s the balance. I am not obsessed with every photo being magazine-worthy. Heck, a month ago I already thought my pics were fabulous, lol. Now, I’m just improving my skills and having fun learning. :)

    I think it sucks that this generation, for the most part, won’t know unadulterated images, like Polaroids and grainy home movies, lol.

  15. I think I’m going to get Light Room… lookes awesome, are there other things you can do with it too?

  16. Great post!

    I think we have already reached that point of TOO much photo editing for just the reason you mentioned — it’s not just mature women in their 20’s and above looking at these magazines. I remember looking at my first Seventeen Magazine when I was ELEVEN years old. Even if someone had explained to me that day that Mandy Moore or Britney Spears or whoever was on the cover didn’t ACTUALLY look like that picture, I wouldn’t have been able to rationalize it, and I am sure that my early exposures to photoshopped, airbrushed women in magazines, ads, etc has lodged inside my brain somewhere, even though NOW I know better. If that makes sense.

    ANYway thanks for the advice yesterday! All my meals today have been a success. Mostly I’ve just been making the same things I would normally, minus the chicken or beef or what have you (substituting in lentils mostly) and TRYING to limit egg whites, eggs and dairy. One thing at a time though haha.

  17. I love the after picture of the dough balls :)

    I think that photography is art, but photo editing in the media takes it too far in my opinion. When you change the model’s body so much that it is a. ridiculously fake and b. no longer even resembles the person then it loses its respectability as an art form…it is done strictly for marketing purposes to make people feel bad about themselves so that they’ll buy a product. That is certainly not art that I can appreciate.
    Besides, I think that people are more beautiful the way they are, with all their unique “flaws”. If I could afford a better camera and could invest in the time to learn about photography (which I really want to do some day), I would love to do some kind of photo project that captures what people might consider “flaws” and shows how beautiful they can be.

  18. Awesome about Foodgawker! Gorgeous pics!

    1. In a way, we’re already in that age. I don’t trust really any of the model shots I see or at least view them knowing the actual person probably looks nothing like that. Same goes for food shots in restaurant ads, etc.
    2. Sure, I’ve seen many before and afters and know most of the ads in Cosmo are fake or seriously doctored photos. And most fast food ads are phony pics too trying to make the food look more appetizing. My thoughts are it’s a drive to perfection that isn’t realistic, but perfection sells and advertisers will keep doing it. I don’t like and I hated the social beauty pressures it put on me asa teen and feel for teens today since it’s probably many times worse.

  19. Thanks so much for posting this. I just started up my blog after months of thinking about it, and my main issue is that I’m not so good at taking and editing pics. This post is so encouraging. I need a better camera, but in the meantime I guess I just have to keep practising with what I’ve got! And by the way, that fudge recipe is definately a keeper!

  20. Your photos keep getting better and better!! I love it :)

    I think there’s a time and place for photo editing. If its on the computer screen or in print, I just assume its been edited. I still love raw photography though :)

  21. I really like this post! I think magazine photos and ads should come with a little warning or reminder that it has been edited and is not really what the person looks like. It can be easy to forget and think that what we see is natural. It makes me so sad that so many people, like easily influenced young girls, are unaware of the photo editing that goes on!

  22. Congratulations on getting your photos accepted! That is way cool. I admire your photography skills a lot.

    As for photo editting, I know it makes a lot of people upset, but I just take it as a reality of today’s media, which will always be subject to skewing. It’s just a form of propoganda, and it’s a byproduct of our culture.

  23. This is a really good topic for discussion. For me, I can generally push out all of the messages that our popular culture sends me and everyone else about how women should look because I know they are fake. I always hated wearing makeup, tweezing my eyebrows, and wearing cute hairstyles. It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable to stop doing all of those things. I now feel really happy about my body and how I look. However, when I am standing in line at the grocery store and I see the images of women on the covers of magazines, even though I know they have been manipulated, I feel self conscious for a moment.

  24. Congrats on the photos being accepting Averie!!! That is a huge compliment to your growing passion.

    I agree – I don’t mind seeing the airbrushed photos, but we as a society have to REALIZE that these are not reality. When we get so caught up in making every little “flaw” disappear, we start to expect that in the real world…. NOT true. I love walking around a city and people watching just because everyone is so real and so unique. In a magazine, that’s fine to touch things up, but in the real world, I want REAL.

  25. I like both the real and edited pics—the edited/airbrushed pics are beautiful…but the non-edited faces/flaws are a great reminder of exactly what you said.

    The whole topic reminds me of the Dove Evolution video that came out several years ago, showing the progression of the editing!

  26. Never, NEVER believe what you see in magazines! As someone who has photoshop, I know first-hand how easy it is to get rid of wrinkles, stains, etc.

    You can make Danny Devito look like Brad Pitt! ;)

    I definitely edit my food photos… but I’m up-front about it. Someone commented the other day on how beautiful my spinach ice cream photo was, and I sent her the first one (un-edited). It was an ugly beast!

    But lol, after the editing, both foodgawker and tastespotting took it!

  27. I am so jealous of your editting program! Someday I will have one…a girl can dream, can’t she?! Potato sticks look tasty! I think I may make some (sweet potato ones) to go with our veggie sloppy joes tonight. Thanks for the inspiration!

  28. Living in New York, I’ve seen a fair number of celebs out and about, and while they’re attractive in person, they’re not the perfect, alien women we see on magazine covers. Personally, if I were on the cover of a national magazine, I wouldn’t say no to some skin retouching, or whatever, either….I mean, who wouldn’t? I think a lot of older women understand this, yet still beat themselves up for not comparing to the photoshopped version of what a woman “should” be. That’s a bigger issue than just editing pictures, though; it’s society as a whole. What really scares me is the young girls who don’t know about photoshopping, seeing all those images. For that reason, I think that campaigns like Caitlin’s Operation Beautiful are absolutely invaluable to educating young girls and creating confident women!

  29. Congrats on food gawker! I like photo editing, but not when it alters the person so much that it isn’t really them. I don’t like that models can be edited to fit a form of world beauty, rather than appreciating the beauty that they have…(IE making them look skinnier with flawless skin)

  30. To be honest, I prefer the “original” versions of the photos that look less airbrushed. I’m not a fan of airbrushing. To me, it looks too fake and kind of freaks me out.

  31. Congrats on the foodgawker pics! I saw them on there and I thought they looks so familiar. When I saw they were yours I was so excited for you! I got a few pictures on foodgawker and tastespotting, now neither seem to be accepting me lately. They can be so picky!
    I kind of like edited photos – like you say, they’re art. But yes, they aren’t an accurate representation of a person and I try my very best to not compare myself but it doesn’t always work. I try to remind myself that if I’m going to compare myself or be jealous of something someone has I have to actually see the person in person and see what they actually look like on a daily basis. Then I’m usually pretty happy with myself, haha

  32. I don’t think there is anything wrong with brightening pictures — of people, things, places, food, etc. To me that isn’t a big deal. I like pretty pictures — and adjusting something like lighting or brightening/darkening things up is fine to me.

    I don’t like the cut/paste in magazine ads though — reshaping someone’s jaw, changing eye color, etc. I don’t think those are healthy images for us (me?) to see.

  33. owww- I want those potato sticks! What a great combination of flavors. I’m always amazed at what editing can do. I often wish my photos looked better…I wish I had more time to edit away! It is scary sometimes to look at the before and afters of edited photos in magazines. Reminds you that no one is perfect! Any weekend plans??

  34. I don’t mind photo editing. It’s not a shocker that it’s done anywhere. After looking at Food Gawker, I realize most people that get accepted on there must use the same software on their photos. I guess you do what you want. The one thing about food blogging that I liked was that it was more real, but I guess it’s up to the blogger how they want to show their stuff. What you see in food magazines is mostly not even food.

  35. I am with you on the dual opinions…I like seeing pretty pictures, but I dislike the negative body images that may occur due to comparisons…

    and to answer your earlier question, I think we already live in a world where we cannot tell what’s real from what’s been manipulated

  36. Averie!! congrats on your foodgawker photos! :) your photos have been beautiful lately.

    as far as the last photos, I’d much rather see the unedited of celebrities – they look FINE.