my coworker is angry that I photoshopped her staff photo

A reader writes:

I am the marketing/communications assistant at a small nonprofit (around 30 people). We recently had new staff photos taken for our website, and the lighting was terrible. The lighting, combined with the location we shot the photos, made everyone’s teeth look horrifically yellow and sort of washed everyone out.

Since I am in charge of editing the website and used to edit photos as a side job in college, I went ahead and made the following changes to each photo:
– Whitened anyone’s teeth I could see
– Brightened up the photo and balanced out people’s skin tones so no one looked like a ghost
– Edited out flyaway hairs and airbrushed out obvious blemishes (My boss, for example, specifically asked if I could edit out a large zit that appeared overnight.)

I did not:
– Slim faces
– Edit out wrinkles
– Drastically change any facial features

I also changed the color of one coworker’s sweater, as her blue sweater blended in with the blue wall and made her look like a floating head.

Most of the people in the building appreciated the editing, including the woman whose sweater I edited.

However, one person has been loudly complaining to anyone but me that I “really overstepped” the boundaries of professionalism. She approved her picture but apparently me editing it is insulting. The only things I did were whiten her teeth and balance her skin tone.

This is my first job out of college and I am worried about making mistakes like that, but I don’t think I did anything wrong here. I didn’t do extreme photo editing to anyone. She still looks like herself. In fact, I think she looks more like herself in my version than in the original, because her teeth aren’t yellow and her skin isn’t sallow like they were in the original photo because of the bad lighting.

Is there something I should do here? She isn’t saying anything to me. We weren’t close to begin with, but she has been more chilly than before and I don’t understand what I did wrong.

I thought about just changing her photo back to the unedited version, but there will be a noticeable difference, as her photo would look much darker than everyone else’s and her teeth would be bright yellow.

I am trying to ignore it, but she keeps bringing it up (to, once again, anyone who’s not me!) and it is really stressing me out.

It’s very normal to color-correct photos and do the sort of editing that you’re describing here,  as long as you didn’t air-brush people to the point of looking like they were covered in skin-colored ganache rather than in actual skin.

Is there any chance you might have taken it a bit far? For example, if you gave her teeth that look more like Hollywood-style veneers than her own teeth, she could reasonably object to that (since you’d be signaling that her actual teeth need improvement).

If that’s the case, though, then she should be an adult and say something to you directly. It’s not cool for her to just complain about it behind your back.

Either way, since you’re hearing secondhand reports that she’s unhappy, you could approach her and say this: “Hey, I heard a few secondhand mentions that you weren’t happy with your photo. I’d be glad to change whatever I can if there’s something specific you didn’t like.”

You could also say, “I did some light color correction because the lighting on the originals wasn’t great, but I tried to use a light hand.”

Really, though, if she has a problem with the photo, she should come talk to you directly.

{ 442 comments… read them below }

  1. caryatis*

    What does it mean that you “balanced” skin tone? Some people are going to be sensitive about any changes to the color of their skin.

    1. Myrin*

      The first time the balancing of skin tone is mentioned, it says “balanced out people’s skin tones so no one looked like a ghost” so I take it that that’s what’s meant by that (caused by the terrible lightning).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Right, sometimes lighting makes people look sallow or washed out or otherwise not like they look in real life, and that’s what the term generally refers to in a photography context.

        1. Myrin*

          Aaaand, I just realised that I mixed up “lightning” and “lighting”. Oh my. Although if your coworker was struck by lightning, you’d probably have to retouche her skin tone as well.

            1. Gene*

              This comment instantly brought a Terry Pratchett quote to mind, from Wintersmith

              ‘Cackling’, to a witch, didn’t just mean nasty laughter. It meant your mind drifting away from its anchor. It meant you losing your grip. It meant loneliness and hard work and responsibility and other people’s problems driving you crazy a little bit at a time, each bit so small that you’d hardly notice it, until you thought that it was normal to stop washing and wear a kettle on your head. It meant you thinking that the fact you knew more than anyone else in your village made you better than them. It meant thinking that right and wrong were negotiable.

              Not calling you a witch, though on Discworld, that’s an honorable profession. That’s one of my favorite quotes from him.

              1. Czhorat*

                My daughter [now 10] has read all of the Tiffany Aching books. I’ve not graduated her to the adult Discworld stuff yet, but she likely can.

      2. LabTech*

        For a person of color, I can see this being a big deal. Skin tone and colorism are very loaded topics, historically in institutional discrimination, in the media, and in both white and POC culture. So lightening or darkening them without permission can understandably be harmful.

        But POC or not, displaying someone’s image authentically (even if only by that individual’s standards) is as important as calling them by the right name. Ultimately, I think showing the person in question the original photos and letting them chose if they’d prefer the original (or request some less edited compromise) is the way to go.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Light balancing is something that even POC may appreciate when compared to the original—it really just depends on what happened here, and unfortunately we have no photos to compare, so we have to take OP’s statements on faith.

          But I agree with you that the important thing (and probably best practice) is giving people the opportunity to approve/reject those changes.

          1. LabTech*

            Absolutely. Don’t want to imply light or color-balancing is bad for people of color. Just if it’s done in such a way that it changes their skin tone, that could be a problem (with the caveat that it doesn’t sound like that’s what OP did here). Just another perspective to consider.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I hear you, and I agree (as a WOC who has had her skin lightened in a photo and did not appreciate it).

          2. Artemesia*

            This is such a standard thing that I think it is silly to expect the person putting the web site together to have to get specific approval of each corrected shot. If the individual is upset then offer to post an unedited version. In this case, I would go see the person and say ‘I hear you have been complaining about your head shot on the site; I would be happy to substitute the unedited photo if you would prefer. Just say the word.’ And then do it. If she prefers being faded with yellow teeth, so be it.

            If this is a case of a minority person whose skin tone has been drastically changed, it is trickier, but then color correction doesn’t usually mess with that. If so then tread more lightly, perhaps sit down with them with the editing suite and show them the process. A person of color should not appear darker or lighter than their natural skin tone and if the color correction process did this then that is a problem that needs correction.

            1. Anonymoose*

              “I would be happy to substitute the unedited photo if you would prefer. Just say the word”

              I would normally agree with this 100%, but if for some reason the original doesn’t look professional (standards set by the employer), I think the employer has the right to suggest that the employee provide their own (professionally shot) photo. It’s like $30-100 on Living Social to find a photog to do a 30 minute photo shoot. If the employee doesn’t like what the OP did (which sounds like it’s on the up and up to me), then the employee can pay for her own damned retouched photo.

              True story: last year my department got professional photos taken, both group and individual shots. The same thing happened – lighting wasn’t even within our group shot so the photographer (who happened to be an employee with professional chops/gear) retouched the lighting in photoshop, and made very minimal changes. My director hated the changes (why, I’m not sure, she look great), and my associate director insisted that the photo be retouched even more so that he didn’t look cross-eyed (he, ahem, happens to be just slightly cross eyed normally). My point? YOU CANT PLEASE EVERYONE. Sometimes you just need to eat a little crow to efficiently get through your day.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Yeah, the person who did my recent headshots had tales of this happening to her. I ended up being dissatisfied with her pics except for one I put on my business card, though not because of her photography or touch-ups (the light was beautiful). It was because I looked like a fat heifer wearing a sweater. That totally wasn’t HER fault. :P

              2. Chaordic One*

                The eating crow part sucks, but yeah, sometimes you have to do that to get through your day or your week.

              3. Sleeping or maybe dead*

                What? No!
                If the employer wants a picture, then they should be the ones ones paying for it. Most people don’t even want their picture taken and or published. Demand the employee arrange and pay for professional pictures is just???? 30-100 bucks is a lot of money. Do people have to pay to work for their employers now?

                I like to think there are better ways to solve this kind of issue.

                1. Yorick*

                  Here, the employer did pay for a photographer. If the employee doesn’t like it, they can pay for an alternative.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I guess I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have approval of the final version? I don’t need to see all the edits, but it’s one thing to approve an unedited photo and another to approve the post-edit version.

            1. fposte*

              It looks like it was the unretouched versions that got approved by people, not the retouched ones.

          3. justsomeone*

            But she did! From the post” She approved her picture but apparently me editing it is insulting.”

            The complainer DID approve the picture.

          4. Not Rebee*

            LW did mention that the person in question did approve her photo. So it seems like LW made changes to the photos and then they were all sent out for approval prior to being posted, and that the person in question is complaining about it after having approved it.

            1. Frances K R*

              I honestly read it as the reverse – “She approved her photo and then the letter writer edited it.”

        2. Sk*

          I’m a person of color and a magazine art director / graphic designer. This is a good thought to keep in mind and definitely something we think of in our industry. Most photos do need color correction for lighting and display.

          There’s rarely a photo that’s taken that has perfect light or is ready to print or place online. Professional photographers and designers adjust for that. Especially now that it’s so easy to post produce

          As Allison said, it’s a good idea to ask ourselves if we’ve gone to far. Allison’s advice is spot on in that the coworker would be better helped by asking directly and privately. The LW says they don’t see anything that they’ve gone too far. So asking the if the individual involved has a specific concern sounds like a great course of action.

          (I often think of the Nelly Furtado song Powerless which opens with the lyrics “Paint my face in your magazines. Make it look whiter than it seems. Paint me over with your dreams. Shove away my ethnicity.)

          1. SallyForth*

            I was featured in a local paper’s first day back to school photo. I won a grant that gave us a beautiful rug and new books in our school library reading corner. The photo had me surrounded by the kindergarten class I was reading to.
            I am rather round. I jokingly asked the photographer to make me tall and thin. He did! Problem was it looked like I was reading to a circle of alien children with long thin heads! That photo stayed on the staffroom bulletin board for a long time.

        3. Abby*

          I find this very offensive. I am very pale. Remarkably so. However, it is who I am. I would be greatly troubled by this. Additionally, teeth whitening seems offensive as well. I think you should ask each person and do so in a manner that DOES NOT suggest that you find something unattractieve in that specific person’s photo.

          I understand if you are using models, etc. but when you are talking about real time photos or photos of staff, I would be very cautious.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The OP isn’t saying she made pale people darker. She’s saying bad lighting washed everyone out and she tried to make them look like themselves.

            1. Czhorat*

              Yeah, I read this as fixing what looked like washed-out ghost-faces.

              We can’t know without seeing the photos, but OP’s description makes me think that the original photo was so poor that it couldn’t be put on a website and look professional. In that case even if editing without getting permission first was a misstep, an edit WAS appropriate and necessary.

              1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

                I read it this way too. I am olive skinned and fairly tan…when our unedited headshots appeared, I asked if they had overdeveloped the film as the lighting was so bad I looked yellowish-beige.

                I appreciated that our designer took the time to correct my skin tone back to its natural shade and took out the yellow tint that made us all look sallow and jaundiced.

            2. Artemesia*

              This. White balance is standard as often the lighting gives a distorted color balance. And toning down highlighting or otherwise correcting the effects of bad lighting is just standards when dealing with portrait photos.

          2. Elizabeth H.*

            I agree in general but the issue isn’t whitening people’s teeth so that teeth seem whiter than they are in real life, it was that the weird lighting in the place where the photos are taken artificially yellowed teeth.

            I understand the idea of there being a basic psychological difference between an edited and an unedited photo. However, I think in most cases it’s an artificial bright line, because by using a different camera or different lighting you can make a picture of someone look even more different than you could by editing after the fact, but it’d still technically be an “unedited” photo. Like how you look really different in the front vs back camera of your phone.

            1. denise*

              But what doesnt make sense here is that if you correct the lighting and white balance, you shouldnt need to target teeth specifically. In fixing the overall lighting, the teeth should become the natural color. Targeting teeth sounds like a similar enhancement (not correction) to removing flyaways.

              1. Annonymouse*

                Not necessarily. If you correct the lighting it doesn’t fix red eye for example.

                Also it’s not like fixing it in real life where everything changes in real time. It printed/digitised in that colour so you’d need to manually correct it.

          3. AD*

            This is reading way too much into what the OP did. As she did, the lighting was poor and editing was done to amend that. I don’t think it sounds at all like her changes were editorializing on people’s skin tones or appearance (of teeth and anything else).

          4. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            “Very” offensive? Seriously? Unless it actively made you look bad, I really don’t understand the source of the offense here.

            1. Lissa*

              Yeah, I don’t get it. This is nothing like the link here to the letter where somebody’s coworker made them look thinner/younger, and I actually think that’s a good contrast for when this type of thing is appropriate and when it’s not. But I think people might be just seeing that photoshopping happened at all and assuming it *is* like that other letter? It’s a sensitive topic.

          5. Marcy Marketer*

            Yeah, no. Post-processing photos is very normal, specifically because if you don’t bring in professional lighting equipment or shoot in a natural light setting, the color is all wrong. I often reduce the yellows (I’m partial to blue undertones) or add warmth to a photo and especially on a website, I’ll want to make sure all my photos have the same or similar color balance (again, referring to the white/yellow/red/green hues in the photo, not people’s skin colors).

          6. Jessesgirl72*

            I am very pale too.

            So do you know what bad lighting does? It makes me appear yellow or red, depending on the color of that bad light. I do not look pale or having any skin tone found in nature.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              I am very pale and always look super red and blotchy in photos. I wish someone had color corrected our staff photos before posting them on our website.

          7. Bend & Snap*

            I’m super pale…like there are 2 foundations in Sephora that match me pale. Making a photo look professional doesn’t erase anyone’s identity. It just looks polished.

            Editing does not = the subject is unattractive. It means that they photographer is ensuring the best work product possible for the company’s image.

            I had two sets of headshots taken recently and even though I have good skin, there was a little editing involved. It’s not insulting *to me* and I’m happy with the results.

          8. Kathleen Adams*

            I color correct my photos all the time. My goal is always to make the photo look as much like the actual person as possible. About half the time, the flash or strobes get it right, but it’s amazing how often something subtly awful happens, e.g., a weird bluish tone from fluorescent lights that makes everybody look like zombies or a weird yellowish light that makes everybody look kind of orange or a mysterious light that drains nearly all the color out.

            The same things used to happen with film, BTW, but it was a lot harder to correct for.

            1. Siberian*

              Yup. The first thing I do when I open up my photos is hit the Auto Tone and Auto Color tabs to see if Photoshop thinks it can do better on the color. If you’re shooting under florescent lights, hoo boy, people are going to look weirdly green or yellow. Photoshop has auto filters for different lighting conditions for just that reason. It’s not just that the person is now yellow or green, it’s that the white wall, their white shirt, their white teeth, whites of their eyes, etc. are all yellow. Back when my brother was learning the photography trade, he has an assignment to use colored filters over his lights to learn how to counteract the effect of fluorescent fixtures. It’s a thing, people.

              I’ve had to color correct hundreds of photos (maybe thousands) and what the OP did is standard practice to correct the deficiencies of the medium, not of the subjects. I hope if the OP does speak to the coworker and show her the before and after that she’ll understand.

              1. Searching*

                standard practice to correct the deficiencies of the medium, not of the subjects

                That is a great way to describe it!

              2. sstabeler*

                well, the airbrushing to remove obvious blemishes wasn’t, but it sounds like it was more removing zits and the like, so is probably harmless.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  I feel like a zit is a temporary condition, as is a stray hair, so it’s OK to remove. If the picture were taken on some other day, it might not have been there.

                  A scar, or a mole, or a tattoo, or a nose or tooth shape…those are permanent.

              3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                I do a lot of photography (I have a small business) and while what I am photographing is jewelry and paintings, not people, it’s the same kind of thing – I need to make sure the colors actually look as good in the photo as they do in real life, and I don’t have a pro setup so I have to color correct. Obviously it’s less of an issue – I’m not going to inadvertently whitewash someone – but it’s still about flaws in the process and the camera’s eye versus mine.

          9. Annonymouse*

            OP is saying they made people look like themselves in the photos – most people aren’t walking around with sallow skin and yellow teeth.

            They adjusted the lighting and colouring so that people looked like they’re supposed to.

            I’d be offended if it was a major change in colour for white washing reasons but that’s clearly not the case.

          10. coffeeandpearls*

            I am proud of my pale skin as well ( I idolize Dita Von Teese). My last professional headshot was lit in a way that had a grey cast and washed out the blush and bronzer I was wearing. I looked exactly like a marble statue- it was very aging and sad-looking! I’ve also had headshot a taken outside with less makeup than the previous example and my face looks glowy and more life-like. My personal taste is geared towards warmer lighting for website pics as it makes staff seem more approachable.

        4. Mookie*

          There’s also the fact that reference cards and meters traditionally and intentionally balance off of white people’s range of skin tones, which is not optimum for people of color who end up lit strangely or badly. It’s a problem, film stock has yet to catch up, and a lot of the solution relies on post-production editing and clever coloring to render people naturally.

      3. designbot*

        I take it for what it’s meant as far as the OP’s intentions go, but think it’s worth a reality check whether there was a line crossed in that respect. How often do we see magazines taken to task because they changed the color of a model or celebrity’s skin? Those are total pros at photocorrection, and still sometimes overstep. It would be easy for a well-intentioned amateur to do the same. Once lighting is corrected, do a gut check–do the black people still look black or do they blend in with lighter-skinned folks? Do the palest people still look like pale people or do they now have a fake tan?

        1. TL -*

          …um, they generally don’t overstep accidentally. Usually the pros do it because they genuinely think someone is more attractive if they’re paler and more exotic if they’re darker.

          It’s honestly hard to really overstep if you’re honestly just trying to make white look white (which is the point of color correcting.) The OP doesn’t sound like she was trying to “photoshop” people; she was just doing normal post-processing on photos to correct for the camera’s mistakes (and remove acne, which is transient and, I think, different than removing moles or scars.)

          1. Marty*

            Given the details of print processes, and the variation in human skin tones, it is really really easy to do this slightly wrong. That said, I am sure that it is sometimes intentional to.

            1. TL -*

              Slightly wrong, sure, but generally you’ll end up with a skin tone that you would see on that person in some kind of normal lighting. Not more than 1 shade variation either way.

    2. she was a fast machine*

      Probably color balance to remove a yellowish or bluish cast like what you find often in indoor lighting that isn’t for professional photography.

      1. designbot*

        yes but when you start trying to remove yellow, that can dramatically change the appearance of someone with yellow undertones to their skin. Check if the white of a wall or a shirt is white for a good test on whether you’ve gone too far.

    3. OP*

      I could have been clearer.

      The lighting washed everyone out to the point where some people looked like sheets of paper with yellow teeth. It wasn’t as egregious on others, but it wasn’t a good look anyone.

        1. Allypopx*

          Would it be helpful or appropriate for OP to confirm the individual in question’s race, or at least if they’re white or not, since that seems to be a really specific concern across the board here? I’m not sure that would be helpful but it might help contextualize.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, since otherwise we’re focusing on something that not be in play in this particular situation (and if it is in play, it’s important that we not miss it). OP?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But also — it’s totally fine to point out how this can intersect with race and raise the question, but it’s not okay to tell the OP definitely has racial overtones, when we have nothing indicating that so far (just like I’ve asked people not to level allegations of sexism as fact when there’s no evidence of it in the letter).

          2. Elizabeth H.*

            I don’t really think it’s relevant – if it were the LW would probably have mentioned it.

              1. A*

                Commenters here like to argue for the sake of arguing. That doesn’t make what they’re arguing about relevant.

          3. designbot*

            I’m not sure that being white removes the possibility of racial undertones. I once had a makeup artist do a trial for me who insisted she had to correct my skintone to “get the red out.” Well, I have a peaches-and-cream complexion, so correcting the red left me looking like I was in some sort of brownface. It is definitely possible to “correct” a white person into the appearance of another race as well, and even if it doesn’t have the deep cultural history to it as it would going the other direction the person in question sure as heck still isn’t happy with the result.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Ok, but that isn’t what was happening here. So sure, color correcting can definitely have racial undertones (and often has), but there’s no evidence that’s happening *here*.

        2. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Abby, I feel as if you are reading what the OP has written to mean:
          “People had yellow teeth and their skin tone was too pale so I photoshopped them to make them look better and more polished”

          But what the OP *actually* said was (and paraphrasing to make it extra clear):
          “The lighting we used was wonky and made people look *different* than how they actually look, with new skin tones they do not have and more yellow teeth than they really have. So I photoshopped to take away the *effects of the weird lighting*”

          The photoshop wasn’t to fix cosmetic issues with people’s complexions and teeth. It was to fix an issue with the lighting and white balance in the photos.

          1. OhBehave*

            Yes. This!
            OP absolutely made it obvious to most of us that the lighting was horrible and made everyone look so unlike themselves, that she needed to correct the images. She even went as far as to mention that she did NOT remove wrinkles, make people slimmer, or adjust facial features. Inserting race in this instance is not called for. It’s insulting to the OP.

          2. Abby*

            I agree that I did read that the way you suggested and agree that what you restated is likely OP’s intention. I just think that someone should have a right to look terrible if he or she resists the way he or she is portrayed in an edited photo. And, I don’t think the OP is racist, I just think that anyone needs to be very very careful when doing things like this.

            I completely agree the employee was being inappropriately passive aggressive and agree with the suggestions of how to address it. However, I feel that there is some lack of appreciation for the employee’s concerns which are legitimate in my view.

        3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          I still think you need to take OP at her word and give them the benefit of the doubt.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It does not. But if it did, it would be helpful for Complaining Coworker to say something to OP directly instead of whinging to everyone else in the office.

      1. Artemesia*

        What you have there is a bad photographer then who hasn’t set the camera appropriately for the light balance or hasn’t made sure there was appropriate lighting. Luckily these problems can be corrected, but they shouldn’t have to be.

        1. Observer*

          Not necessarily a bad photographer. Lighting is not always in the control of the photographer. We also don’t know what equipment the OP had available, either.

          1. TL -*

            If you have a DSLR camera, you do can do most of the white balancing on camera. The photographer should have gotten them to a reasonable degree of appropriately white balanced – there are tools to do this because postproduction is way more effort than taking the picture.

            1. justcourt*

              I think you can do automatic or manual white balancing on most non-dslr digital cameras.

            2. Artemesia*

              This. Cameras are designed to accommodate light and be set for unusually bad lighting conditions. It works better in the camera than in the editing software usually.

              1. Sprinkled with Snark*

                Photoshop is like a coloring book compared to actual, professional software, which costs in the thousands and is licensed. My husband is a professional production supervisor for a large media company that does advertising for about 30 different newspapers and magazines. Every day, he has to deal with people (other staff at some of the properties), who play around with Photoshop and think they are professional post-production editors. It really is your basic, simple program that can only do so much, and most of the time is self-taught by someone at the company who is a creative type. So it is VERY easy to THINK what you’ve done looks great, and it’s also very easy for others to have subjective opinions on what THEY think looks great.

                I’m not saying this appears to be the case here. I think OP did her best with the limited program she is using, and all of the edits were uniform and consistent. The fact that this woman hasn’t come to OP directly and said, “I look (what? What IS her complaint,exactly?) Can you correct this? tells me that maybe she is just one of those Debbie Downers who will gripe about everything, or is unhappy with her own image and by complaining to everybody about it she is mitigating her own shortcomings. I bet if she was shown the two photos side by side to each other, she would see that one looks better than the other, probably the edited version.

    4. Stellaaaaa*

      The history of photography is actually a bit more racialized than people realize. Cameras and “standard” lighting are calibrated to capture white skin tones. Conversely, settings that flatter darker skin would make white people look really bad. There is literally no way to use the same settings to photograph people of all skin tones equally well, and navigating this is one of the skill sets that makes someone a great photographer. This is why there are always issues when Beyonce or Lupita are on magazine covers and their skin doesn’t look quite right. They’ve been in the in-house studio with the standard studio lighting for white people, and some poor soul had to try to make them look human in editing.

      tldr unfortunately, skin tones will always need to be edited, if only to get them back to the subject’s actual skin color.

      1. TL -*

        Well – you can adjust your camera and lighting settings fairly easily (really easily – 5-15 minutes’ work) for any person, regardless of skin tone, so I don’t really think it’s a technology issue. Pet photographers use the same equipment as people photographers and they don’t have similar struggles with fur color.
        That being said, it does take a little bit of time to adjust if you’re shooting someone with dramatically different skin tones – maybe 5 minutes if you’re casual and probably a little longer if you’re doing intense light work?

      2. Charisma*

        Cool story (of which I can’t seem to find any online supporting evidence at the moment… sorry. So it might be all made up lies). Apparently the Oprah Winfrey show did wonders for the evolution of studio lighting/makeup for PoC. They did a lot of trial and error over the years making her look good on camera (gel colors, makeup tones, etc.). A friend of mine in the industry told me this years ago. I just wish I could find something online to back it up right now.

        p.s. (TL) Skin tones handle lighting VERY differently than hair/fur. Not the same thing at all.

        1. TL -*

          The point is, expensive pro/nice amateur cameras are made to take pictures of all kinds, including all different combinations of lighting and colors, not just white people portraits. While I can absolutely believe portrait mode on your camera is optimized for white people, manual mode can be optimized any which way you want and professionals should be working in manual. The lights are also incredibly flexible, though the gels are only what you have. That’s not even touching what you can do in post-production. The whitewashing of PoC (or darkening) is not due to limited technology – good cameras and post-production software is meant to do vastly wide array of things which will, by default, allow you to reproduce every skin tone I’ve ever seen.

          (A studio set, especially with makeup, is way out of my league and very different from a photo session.)

        2. anonanonanonymous*

          I read something similar in an article about Derrick Rutledge, Oprah’s makeup artist. But I can’t find a link either. :(

          1. Charisma*

            Yes! I just wish I could find something that specifically gives the Oprah Winfrey Show and crew credit so that I know I’m not crazy. The original show was on the air for 25 years and during that time (with the big boss being a very prominent PoC), technology changed a lot and the people working the show had to not only invent their own techniques but adapt with the new technologies (or so I theorize from my conversation with my friend in the industry). I would be completely fascinated by any documentary/feature story that talks about this. Just like I was completely fascinated when I found out about how they did silent/early movie makeup just so that people’s faces and expressions would even show up on film. The whole topic just blows my mind. The slight dissonance between what the human eye sees and what a camera/film captures is just amazing.

        3. Mookie*

          Shirley cards aren’t a lie and this is a well-documented phenomenon in the history of photography.

    5. jebly*

      For a bit of context, color balancing is basically a tool in Photoshop. It’s like, sometimes when you take colors in front of a white wall, you look at the photo and the wall looks blue. The camera has over corrected and that blue tint has been applied to your skin as well. Color balance essentially fixes that correction.

      ^ oversimplification, but vaguely the idea.

      1. jebly*

        People hear Photoshop and assume it means something much more extreme than it often is. It can just be a convenient tool for times when photos very simply did not turn out well. Color balance usually happens when people have weird blue or green or yellow lighting that messes with the temperature of their skin, or is so bright they’re washed out and the shadows and contours of their face need to be brought out. While it is certainly true that the history of photography is marred with racism and that lightening a dark person’s skin would be egregious, none were mentioned and, as someone with experience in photography, this all sounds pretty innocent.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          Yep, it’s why the one slightly pale person in your group always looks like a ghost in quicky instagram pics even though might not look all that pale in person. The way iPhones automate their white-balancing means that it’ll adjust things around anything it registers as a contrast. This feature of digital cameras is often very helpful (if you’re white) but it ends up creating other problems when you need to photograph lots of different people.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          For the record, even things that seem not to have any color can photograph or scan in weird colors. Black and white photographs are not actually literally black and white, and often have to be color-corrected, as well (and we always scan them in color to avoid losing detail).

    6. Dzhymm, BfD*

      An anecdote regarding balancing skin tone… I’m surprised nobody has brought this up yet…

      When shooting the original pilot for the original “Star Trek” series, one of the characters they wanted to show was a green-skinned Orion slave girl. In order to ensure that the color would film correctly, they applied the green body makeup to the actress’ face and shot some test footage. The film came back from the lab showing normal skin tone.

      “Hmmm… maybe we need darker makeup”. So they kept trying darker makeup, applying it thicker, etc, and the footage *still* came back with normal skin tone. Frustrated, the director went down to the film lab himself and talked to the guy there: “Yeah, her skin kept coming out really green… it was a heck of a job correcting it back to normal!”

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        Didn’t they have similar issues with Spock’s skin? Leonard Nimoy wore a light coating of greenish makeup since Vulcan blood was supposed to be copper-based instead of iron, but they had a hard time making it show up on camera.

        Another skin-tone-balancing Star Trek Anecdote–

        Ever wonder why they changed the colors of the uniforms in The Next Generation so that command wore red and operations/engineering wore gold? It’s because Brent Spiner as Commander Data, who was in operations, wore white makeup with green undertones, and it looked terrible against the red. So they switched colors. Which is why Captain Kirk wore gold but Picard wore red. And, incidentally, ended up eliminating “redshirts,” since security personnel who usually got killed off on the original series now wore gold, not red.

        1. SignalLost*

          Data’s makeup also has gold in it that was not, to my memory, actually glitter, but was something similar – the makeup was white with gold flecks in rather than just gold-tinted, as I recall. They couldn’t shoot it effectively for some reason, which is why in still photos Spiner tends to look more gold-coloured than he does in video footage where he basically looks paper-white.

      2. Owl*

        Yeah I think that was in regards to Spock, not Vina. The Orion is full on GREEN, but the half-Vulcan just had very olive undertones, and they kept trying to correct that.

      3. blushingflower*

        I love that story! The poor girl kept getting slathered in make-up that smelled terrible (as I recall from when I read this years ago) and then finally they went the lab to ask if there was a light gel they could use and the editors were shocked that the green was intentional.

    7. Sylvia*

      Yes. People might have accepted or might actually like the feature that you’re editing, and could interpret your changes as indication that these features are flaws that need to be corrected. It’s not an assumption that everyone would reach, but it is one that’s possible.

      1. Sylvia*

        As I read more of this discussion and think over the letter and advice, I realized that I don’t think my comment’s relevant to the letter writer. What the writer has described seems fairly normal and not at all heavy-handed or insulting.

    8. Don't Mess with the Photographer*

      I am a professional photographer who has been working in the corporate world for the last 10 years and I have had the same thing happen to me on a couple of occasions. People don’t realise that there is a level of post processing that needs to be done on all images, otherwise they end up just looking flat. This is no different to the days of film, except that it is now done digitally and there is a significant difference between photoshop and standard post processing.

      My solution, I just put the RAW unedited image into the staff directory. It was amazing how quickly I was asked to replace it with the edited one, pity I ‘deleted’ that image because they were so offended and they were stuck with that photo for the next two year. Yes a bit petty but hey, if you’re going to criticise my professional skill in a public forum you have to accept the consequences.

  2. Leatherwings*

    I don’t think light editing should be a big deal at all, but it also sounds like these photos should’ve ideally been retaken. Not OPs responsibility, but maybe something to consider mentioning if photos turn out terribly in the future.

    1. Antilles*

      It really depends. For a lot of firms (particularly a small non-profit), you aren’t necessarily looking for Hollywood-quality headshots. Instead, you just want something reasonably professional so that people can glance at your website and know who you are. So you hire a somewhat low-cost local photographer to put together a few photos and are fine with “meh, that’s okay”.
      I’d bet that if the website editor was someone with no knowledge of photography, the photos would have been uploaded as-is with no questions asked…and not a single person at the company would have thought twice about it.

      1. Leatherwings*

        I’ve worked for lots of small non-profits and it’s totally possible to take amateur headshots with halfway decent lighting. It doesn’t sound like the photo originals were even remotely acceptable.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. I am a total amateur and have taken head shots for people for various professional uses. It doesn’t take a genius to get originals that are closer to acceptable than this. And then if you haven’t properly white balanced in the camera, you can fix it up a bit in post production. It is more difficult to properly light and edit black people and if that is at issue extra needs to be taken.

        2. paul*

          I tried so, so hard to get ours to take photos outside last time we did staff photos. Outdoors lighting just works best.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          The trick is getting halfway decent lighting, though. It’s not always that simple. My office is all overhead flourescent panels–our choices are “on” or “off”. We could add more lights, I guess, but then it would be really, really, bright.

  3. Newby*

    Did she see the original photo? She may think that more editing was done than actually occurred.

      1. Feathers McGraw*

        Sorry, are you saying she approved the original and didn’t see the edited one before it went up?

        Your letter made it sound like she approved the edited one and we are wondering if she saw the unedited version. Your use of original here has confused me…

          1. Feathers McGraw*

            OP something you need to learn from this: if someone approves something and then you change it, you can’t then say they approved it.

            1. fposte*

              I think that’s just a phraseology thing in writing to AAM; I don’t think it’s staking a claim.

      2. Chickaletta*

        Yeah. Never show a client unfinished work. It almost always leads to trouble because they might like the draft version better and then your stuck delivering a sub-par product. It happens to all the newbies in the industry. Lesson learned, but you’re not alone, probably every designer has made this mistake before.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            For next time, then, if people have seen and signed off on the original, make sure people understand that their photos will be color-corrected to fix issues with lighting (maybe don’t say “photoshop,” as you can see even from this comment board that this brings up perhaps incorrect assumptions about what you might be doing) and so the published photo will look more like them, and less like the original that they saw. (And do it before the photos get published!)

  4. Rachael*

    Hello, OP. I was wondering if there is any way for you to show her a “before” picture to explain why you airbrushed her. I was in the same situation as an “airbrushee”. I didn’t know that i would have such strong feelings about it until the photographer sent me an airbrushed one. I did feel as if the photographer thought that I needed “work”. I asked for the original and understood why it was done and it made me feel better. Nobody likes lighting that makes your teeth look yellow! lol.

    1. Danielle*

      That’s what I was going to suggest. Show the coworker the unedited photo and tell her “I did X, Y, and Z minor retouches, but you’re welcome to use whichever version you prefer.”

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I like that.

        The teeth thing has come up at my workplace, and it’s not a simple issue. There’s an issue of a false normality based on the commonness of lightening teeth in photographs that some people aren’t happy about (and I think it’s weird, but I have colleagues who genuinely dislike it).

        However, I think it’s also possible that this is somebody who generally dislikes pictures of herself and has latched on to this aspect; I think that’s especially true if she approved the edited version of her photograph.

        1. fposte*

          To clarify–I don’t actually think the objection is weird; I think the practice is weird. But I am less vehement about it than some I know.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, this. People sometimes take photoshopping really personally, even when you’re not doing anything nefarious or inappropriate. I think the high road approach would be to send her both photos and ask which she prefers that you use.

      But I do wish she would behave like an adult and bring this up with you directly instead of spewing complaints all over the office, particularly since she’s being frostier than normal. Ugh, I’m sorry, OP.

    3. TootsNYC*

      This was going to be my suggestion.

      Go straight to her (show her that the whole idea here is to communicate directly, not through surrogates). Say, “People have been telling me that you are complaining to them about the color corrections on your photo. That’s troubling to me, so I want us to talk directly about it. Would you come and look at the two images from my work, the before and after? I want to walk you through what I did, and why, and see if we can find something that you’ll be happy with and that will still be acceptable to for the website.”

      If she demurs, say, “Well, you’re talking negative about me to other people, and I think you owe it to me to hear me out, and to spend the time to look at this.”

      Then walk her through it. What you did, why, what its effect is.

      And then get her to OK a version that you can put on the website.

  5. Myrin*

    I’m not sure I’m understanding this quote correctly: “She approved her picture but apparently me editing it is insulting.” – I interpret this as meaning that the coworker saw the edited version and approved of its usage but it could just as well mean that she approved of the original picture. However, if my first assumption is correct (and the rest of the sentence makes me think that it is) then she has kind of forfeited her right to then loudly complain about it. If there was an approval process of the edited photos, she could have complained then and not after the fact, especially since it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal to ask OP to just re-do some of the changes.

    1. Myrin*

      OH NO, closage-of-brackets fail! Obviously, the italics should’ve ended after the quotation marks.

      1. OP*

        OP here. She approved the original, bad lighting photo. Everyone approved their original photos, and I edited the approved photos.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Ohhhh, then I understand why there’s room for miscommunication or upset. I know this is more work for you, but I think it makes sense to have people approve the final version of the photo you intend to use—i.e., the edited version. Otherwise it looks like a bait-and-switch (even if that wasn’t your intent).

          1. OP*

            I’ll definitely do that next time, but I’m hoping we won’t have to redo photos for a while.

          2. Myrin*

            Yes, I agree. For the record, OP, I don’t think you did anything wrong here – and it’s wonderful that you’re here to comment, and so early at that, to clear up misconceptions! – but I’m in general in favour of having people approve the final version of something since, positive or not, it’s a change that people at minimum might be surprised by.

              1. Myrin*

                I meant “you didn’t do anything wrong here” as in “as written, the changes don’t sound egregious so if it was really only that, it doesn’t sound like you made a mistake”, not that there wasn’t unclear usage of “approval” in the letter.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I think it was unclear, but OP has since clarified (which has been so helpful!). But also, doesn’t this get us into nitpicking territory?

              3. Zillah*

                OP wasn’t saying that in a formal setting; it was shorthand in a letter. This is really nitpicking, and I’m not sure what your goal here is.

            1. Emi.*

              But it’s still a good idea to show them the photo right when it’s taken, so they have a chance to say “Oh, no, I meant to smile more/less than that,” and have it taken over. I definitely see how this was confusing.

        2. designbot*

          oh, then this may just be a communication fail. If she approved the bad lighting version and thought it was good enough, then it was edited after the fact, that could feel like someone going over her head.

        3. Feathers McGraw*

          Woah. Your letter made it sound like she approved the edited one. You said she approved it. Clearly what you uploaded was not what she approved.

          1. Siberian*

            Well, sure, but honestly I’m not going to color correct 20 photos for each person out of a big group so that they can pick from color corrected images. I would get the final set of approved poses, do any necessary color correction and cropping, and go with it. That’s just how it’s done. Otherwise I’d never get my projects completed.

            I’m going to repeat what so many who also do this professionally have said above: color correction is a normal thing to do. It’s hard to come up with an exact analogy (especially since I should really be attending to my own Photoshop work right now!) but it’s like saying “I said I’d buy that car, but you’ve now washed it so it’s not the car I approved.” Using a different pose than was approved would be unacceptable, but doing standard fixes is just good practice. We all want clean cars and photos where our skin isn’t green.

        4. LQ*

          Would you be able to offer to unedit it, repost the photo, or re-get approval from people on the edits? I don’t think you overstepped but if someone gave me a photo, said is this approved, I approved it AND THEN they edited it? I’d be given pause. It does feel a little concerning. Yes, this is what I approved, it’s ok. Not it’s ok for you to change it.

          I get that you were trying to be helpful, but it is worth being aware of that generally changing something after approval that wasn’t talked about before/during approval can be a professional no-no.

          1. Allypopx*

            I don’t think it’s necessary to bend over backwards if the problem isn’t brought to the OP directly.

            1. LQ*

              I’d agree. I think it could be useful to reach out directly and say something. Useful in that if it is actually a problem (there was unintentional overreach on skin color correction) it can be resolved, and if it isn’t (this is someone who wants to complain) it will be clearer that is the case.

              I feel like this is a good place to be the bigger person by reaching out and checking in. Especially since the final wasn’t approved and the OP has heard that this person is complaining.

              I once had someone’s name wrong. I didn’t realize it, it was in our official system (which I don’t control) wrong, and therefore in my system wrong. She never complained directly to me, but I overheard her complain to someone else. I stopped and asked her directly. She didn’t even think to actually tell me, most of the time when she complained about stuff nothing happened (most of the time she complained about stuff it was just her job to do the thing) so she got in the habit of complaining to coworkers and not actually doing anything. I fixed what I could and helped her walk through the process of getting the other fixed too.

              Was it necessary to bend over backward? No. But it made the workplace better. (And she complains less overall now too!)

              1. TootsNYC*

                Those are the reasons that I’m suggesting our OP approach her and ask her to walk through all the changes.

            2. Fortitude Jones*

              I don’t think it’s necessary to bend over backwards if the problem isn’t brought to the OP directly.

              Yeah, the coworker is being extremely childish. The last time I got my photo taken at work, when I wasn’t thrilled with the final product, I went directly to the person who took it and asked her if she would be able to color correct it and fix my wonk eye (it was actually the angle the pic was taken from that was off, not my eye). She made the minor tweaks, and we both went about our business. The unnecessary drama of it all from OP’s coworker would make me less likely to want to reach out to her, not more.

        5. Abby*

          Then that isn’t approval for the edited photo. I agree that she should have spoken directly to you or to her boos who would speak to yours, but I still think you overstepped. I would be very offended if someone suggested my teeth were yellow and corrected it without asking.

          1. Leatherwings*

            But I don’t think the editing was necessarily suggesting that the person’s teeth were yellow, merely that the lighting made them look that way. It’s possible it went overboard, but it’s also possible it was just routine correction from bad lighting.

            1. Myrin*

              Especially since the same thing applied to everyone’s teeth; that hardly suggests that one specific person’s teeth are yellow.

          2. Rat in the Sugar*

            OP didn’t suggest that her teeth were yellow, though, the lighting actually made everyone’s teeth look way yellow-er than they actually are. For what it’s worth, my teeth are crooked and yellowish myself and I would be very hurt if someone ‘shopped them to look perfect–but not if they just shopped them to look how they normally do instead of some dreadful shade of orange.

          3. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

            The OP did nothing of the sort.

            From the letter (and AAM has asked us to LWs at their word), it sounds like these photos were taken in bad light, which washed everyone out and made it look as though they had yellow teeth. What the LW did was simply correct the lighting in the photos and make people look like themselves.

          4. A*

            I’ll lay down pretty good odds that if someone had the ability to color-correct the photo but didn’t, you’d be the first to complain that they’d made your teeth look yellower than they actually are.

  6. Anon Anon*

    I wouldn’t worry about it. Just post her original photo if she brings it up to you directly. My CEO had a meltdown a few years ago about how his headshot was cropped. He was being ridiculous, but it’s not worth fighting over. Some people just are sensitive about that sort of thing. And some people just like to complain.

    1. zora*

      Yeah, this^^^^

      A lot of comments are getting off on the photoshopping part of it, but not really addressing what the OP should do now. And since the coworker isn’t bringing it up directly to the OP, I think she just needs to continue to ignore and figure out how to let it roll of her back. Because you can’t make everyone happy, ESPECIALLY if they won’t bring it up and talk to you like a grown-up. If everyone else in the organization is fine with their photos, I wouldn’t assume this is a problem with the color correcting you did, it’s one person being unreasonable. Maybe she complains about everything!

    2. Engineer Woman*

      What is the big deal to go back to the original photo for this woman? I’d go to her and say: “I understand you are bothered by my photoshopping. It was done with a light hand to correct what I felt most people would have preferred – correct yellow teeth and uneven/pale skin due to the bad lighting conditions. However, I will post the original photo on our website as-is without any editing.”

  7. Feathers McGraw*

    Any chance you could send both photos to AAM so she can see for herself if it’s egregious?

      1. Feathers McGraw*

        The OP has also now let slip that the photo she approved was the UNedited one.

        I’m curious as to whether this changes your advice?

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think she “let it slip”; I think she didn’t realize that her initial phraseology was unclear.

          1. Feathers McGraw*

            Fair point. But it also suggests that OP doesn’t quite get that there’s a difference between publishing a picture someone approved and publishing a picture you’ve changed since someone approved it.

            1. fposte*

              I don’t think it suggests that; I think it just means she didn’t phrase her initial statement clearly.

            2. Callie*

              The one time I had a headshot done at my last job, the photographer took some shots, sent the unedited pics to me to pick a shot, then she took the one I chose, touched it up (basically the same corrections OP made), and posted it on the website without further input from me. So I really don’t see what the problem is…

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, that seems adversarial, and please don’t jump on her for it. She wrote me a casual email; she’s since clarified. It doesn’t change my advice.

        2. Whats In A Name*

          I actually read the letter that she approved the un-edited one. I think the OP wasn’t clear but I took the correct meaning from it; I think it could go either way and we don’t need to nitpick her for it.

        3. Not A Morning Person*

          Regarding the “approval”…there may have been multiple photos of each individual and those individuals picked the one they wanted to use on the website. It sounds the first approval was from the photographer’s session and would be basic stuff….does my hair look alright, are my eyes closed, is my smile normal, is my head angled naturally on my body/neck, is my pose normal, etc. Then ALL the “approved” photos were turned over to the organization. OP took all those “approved” photos and had to do a COLOR CORRECTION to all of them in order fix the issues caused by bad lighting and make all the photos look like the subjects were living, breathing people and not some weird pale and yellow version of themselves. It’s so very normal. Still, it sounds like it would be a good idea to invite the complaining employee to view both the original un-retouched version and compare it to the corrected version, along with demonstrating how the un-retouched version will look next to all of the corrected versions of the other employees. Perhaps that will help the complaining employee see what was actually done versus assuming what was done and will satisfy her complaint.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Or, maybe the employees (since there are a lot of them) can just see the finished photo on the website, and if they are REALLY bothered by them, they can directly approach our OP to talk about it.

            Like a grownup.

  8. Kyrielle*

    I wouldn’t be bothered by what you describe doing to hers, but the “minor blemishes” would bother me depending on what you’ve counted. I’ve had people airbrush out natural wrinkles or my moles – and I promise you it doesn’t look to me like myself without those, especially the moles, and does feel rather critical.

    But correcting for horrid lighting? Yes, please.

    1. OP*

      I feel you on moles. I have a prominent one that was edited out of my high school senior portrait and it was upsetting! I only edited out zits.

      1. Emi.*

        I think that’s a good line–leaving in things that are permanently part of the person’s face. I’ve had moles edited out, and I was pretty irked (although that was cosplay photography, so not a picture of me in the same sense).

      2. Acne Prone*

        I’d be pissed off if you edited out my zits, frankly. I don’t have perfect skin, and I’m ok with that. You don’t get to decide what my skin should look like.

        1. Allypopx*

          It sounds (based on comments below) like OP edited zits out for the boss on request, and just auto-piloted making that correction across the board. Not the best decision but an honest and well-intentioned judgement gap, I think.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            That’s exactly how I read it. And as someone with chronic, cystic acne and horrible scarring to match, I love when people ‘shop those things out of my photos – I always want to present the best version of me to the world, and IMO, scarred up is not it. But that’s just me.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Plus, sometimes those kinds of things look more prominent in your picture than they do in real life, so I’d want them fixed in a picture even though I don’t care that in real life, my skin isn’t perfect.

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          Same here. If you asked, I might even say yes, but doing it without asking feels like someone declaring that my appearance is so unsatisfactory that they’re going to erase all evidence of it because of *course* I want to have perfect skin and hair.

        3. TL -*

          Eh, I think it’s more like acne is temporary/transient. Scars/moles aren’t so they’re part of the way you look all the time but a scab or some acne or a red spot in general (if you’re not red cheeked) is just something that was there for the day and not necessarily part of how you look.

          (You might have acne consistently, of course, but the photographer probably isn’t going to know that.)

        4. zora*

          Ok, but even if you were pissed off, would you approach the editor like a professional, or would you be passive aggressive like the OP’s coworker.

          The point is that OP didn’t do anything wrong, this is how photos for a professional website are usually handled in most of our offices (as many of us have commented) and there’s nothing the OP needs to do now to “fix” it. There isn’t really anything she should have done differently, in my opinion.

          I think she followed a pretty typical procedure and did what her boss asked her to do, and if anyone ever doesn’t like the final photo that ends up posted in a situation like this, what they SHOULD be doing is coming to the person who posted the pictures and politely mentioning what they don’t like and asking if there is any way to make adjustments. OP shouldn’t feel bad about this complaining she keeps overhearing, and should assume that if anyone didn’t like the final product they would have given her a chance to make it closer to what they want.

          I have often had my boss/someone above me, pick a photo to post on the website or whereever that wasn’t my favorite of the options, and I didn’t really like how I looked. I did not get offended or angry or complain all over the office. I shrugged and sucked it up, because it’s not my own personal Glamour Shots portfolio, it’s my employer who gets the final say. The OP Has NOTHING to feel badly about here. at all.

        5. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          Conversely, as someone who popped her first zit at 11 and has, in the 25 years since then, NEVER been without acne, I’d be pissed off if OP DIDN’T edit out my zits, because I am sick to death of everyone only seeing my ‘pizza face’ when they look at me, and seeing my acne in photos brings back years of horrific bullying.

        6. Annonymouse*

          I think there’s a big difference between zits that just happen to show up on photo day and someone who regularly has them.

          I mean if I had to have a photo on a website for a long time and a zit made an appearance is want it gone.

          But if my skin normally has a few I wouldn’t bother.

      3. many bells down*

        Every professional photograph I’ve had, they’ve edited out a prominent scar on my chest if it was visible. It’s upsetting to me, mostly because no one’s ever ASKED me if I wanted it removed, they’ve just done it. I’ve had this scar since I was a toddler, it’s part of me, I don’t want it edited.

  9. kb*

    I don’t think you overstepped here at all, especially because you were mostly rectifying issues with the lighting, not trying to change people’s faces.
    Perhaps in the future you could send an email explaining the types of minor adjustments you plan on doing, then send the unedited and edited photos to each person for their approval before putting them up. That way they can see what was done and even ask for a heavier hand if they want it (like your boss asking for a blemish to be removed).

  10. GreyjoyGardens*

    I’m not a photography expert, but it doesn’t seem to me that you, LW, have done anything wrong. And I’m really NOT in favor of rewarding passive aggressive sneaky behavior by giving in to it; if this person doesn’t like her photo retouching, then it’s her responsibility to adult up and talk to you directly. Complaining loudly to others about you in your hearing is a big jerk move and should be ignored, unless she way outranks you and/or is in a position to really damage your career if she feels like being petty.

    But otherwise, argh! I hate passive-aggressive, underhanded complaints, and feel that if you have a problem with someone, you need to talk to THEM, and you can do this gently and tactfully. Unless ignoring Retouchee might have Bad Consequences, I’d ignore her complaints and wait for her to approach you like a colleague.

    1. OP*

      Fortunately she is close to my level, seniority wise, and we don’t work in the same department. However, she is 10+ years older than I am and that was what made me worried.

    2. MoinMoin*

      I agree with that logic, but I think I’d still argue that it’s worth it to be reasonable and ask her about it anyway. Maybe there’s a good explanation the OP hasn’t thought of, or maybe she’ll realize it’s not a big deal. I know for myself when I’m forced to reason out my complaints or suggest alternative resolutions, my complaints tend to quiet themselves down and I realize I’m just hungry.
      If nothing else, OP is getting some experience in taking on these kinds of things in a partnering way, which is nice for her reputation and experience, and might help the coworker change her perspective away from “OP is doing this thing to ME!”

      1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

        I agree with MoinMoin here. I don’t think the OP did anything wrong, but I think that this is a situation where a little sugar goes a long way.

    3. msmorlowe*

      “passive-aggressive, underhanded complaints”

      Maybe I’m being too cynical, but I think it’s possible that she actually doesn’t have a problem with the new photo? We’re not told what she’s been saying to others, and I have known a good few people (I may have done it myself on occasion) who would have shown others a particularly flattering photo of themselves, saying“This doesn’t look like me at all! I don’t know what they did!”, meaning “Tell me how you recognised me immediately and I look just like this in real life all the time.”

      It could be why she hasn’t said anything directly to OP.

  11. Whats In A Name*

    OP, if she thinks you overstepped with the teeth-whitening and balancing the photo to look like it was taken in better light I think she has that right. I think it’s a little odd but definitely OK.

    I think the co-worker, though, needs to stop being passive aggressive & if she really had a problem needs to talk to you directly.

    I think Alison’s advice to approach her is good. Just say “hey, I’ve heard through the grapevine that you are unhappy with the touched up photo, can I show you the changes? If you aren’t ok with them we can adjust them in a way that still looks uniform with the others but is more to your liking.”

  12. Feathers McGraw*

    This letter made it sound like she approved the edited one.

    She didn’t. She approved the original.

    Changes a lot.

    1. Amy*

      Yeah, the OP essentially made unauthorized changes to the already-approved photos and uploaded them to represent those people with no further approval. That sounds like a big mistake to me. I realize she was trying to do everyone a favor but you just don’t edit photos of people’s faces without their approval! Simple color correction is one thing (i.e. shifting the color balance of the entire photo if the white balance was clearly off) , but to photoshop people’s teeth, and *edit out blemishes*? Yikes!

      1. Amy*

        Also, presumably everyone was OK with the crappy photos if they approved them, so this does read as almost personal in a way.

        1. Feathers McGraw*

          And it kind of changes how anyone judges the colleague e.g. whether she forfeited her right to complain.

        2. Myrin*

          I gotta say, though, that since I’m not a model, in an industry where looks are important, or even particularly photogenic, I’d likely approve every photo unless it was totally abominable. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t appreciate someone balancing out the colour; so, just because someone approves of one photo doesn’t automatically mean that they won’t be fine with a retouched one.
          (Although, as I said elsewhere, I’m 100% in agreement that it would have been wiser to show people the photoshopped pictures and have them approve those since they were going to be used.)

          1. Abby*

            My office used to publish a directory and while we took some photos (which were not retouched) some photos were submitted to us. It was a joint director between three separate entities. One woman every year submitted a photo that all of us agreed made her look terrible, much less attractive than she actually was. She insisted it was the one we use. We respected that.

          2. Newby*

            I’ve approved photos I hated because the problem was the lighting and retaking it would not make it better.

        3. Rabbit*

          I’ve got to say that if I go to a company’s website and find it full of sub-standard, poorly lit, unedited photographs I mentally categorize it as being, well, kind of ignorant regarding technology and the internet. I’m absolutely less likely to do any kind of business with them as a result.

          OP did nothing wrong. This kind of photo retouching is standard and should be encouraged.

      2. Amy the Rev*

        It sounds as though “simple color correction” is what she did, though- she shifted the color balance so that people weren’t over-exposed, and in so doing, the teeth looked more natural (which in this case means they looked whiter because the original lighting/color balance had made them look unnaturally yellow)

      3. Not A Morning Person*

        But we don’t know what is meant by “approved.” In my experience, it means selecting from a few poses of the same person and saying, “use that one.” In that case, there could still be color problems that need fixing, but the person selected which of several they “approved” for use.
        And it sounds like every edit other than “shifting the color balance” was requested by the subject. OP didn’t make those edits and decisions on her/his own; she did what the subject asked her to do.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It doesn’t change the answer though. Can we not jump on her for that, please? (You’ve posted 5+ comments criticizing her for that and I don’t think it’s warranted.)

    3. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I’m wondering if “approved” in this context means that the coworker was given 10 photos options to choose from, then she picked the one she liked best, and then OP went to work editing it. That’s how we do headshots here. The photographer sends the photo subject their 10 “best” shots, you pick your favorite, and then that one pic gets edited. It’s a better use of the photographer’s time.

      1. OP*

        That’s exactly how it happened. We all took around five photos and picked the “best” one.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          Given how you describe the pictures, that makes a lot of sense, and it makes sense that most people didn’t mind your edits. From how you describe it, this wasn’t “glamour” Photoshop (which I too would object to), but I’m guessing that’s how the person upset about you took it. I agree with Allison’s advice for sure.

        2. Emi.*

          Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a level of “approval” that requires you to go back and get “approval” for white balance. I see why she misunderstood, but I don’t think you did anything wrong!

          1. Taylor Swift*

            This isn’t a hill I would die on, or anything, but it would also look weird to have a webpage full of staff photos where the wonky white balance is corrected in all but one.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Very much agreed. I think this is one of those things where the terminology might mean one thing to a professional with photography experience and another thing to a passive-aggressive grouch who’s going around creating a complainado (that is a tornado of complaints).

            Again, I don’t think OP did anything wrong, and I don’t think OP is obliged to go back and try to address the coworker’s issues, now, either. But if OP is feeling very generous, then I think there’s a fairly quick, no-drama way to do it.

        3. Aurion*

          In that case I really don’t see how this is really your fault. Of the five pictures everyone picked their favourite (more natural smile, eyes not half closed, whatever) but the colour of said photo still suck due to the lighting. Your coworker can prefer the unedited version, but frankly I’m side-eyeing your coworker for being unable to have a direct, grown-up conversation about it.

      2. bridget*

        That’s exactly what happened to me when I got my photo taken a few weeks ago; I picked my favorite. I, unlike the coworker here, assumed there would be some light touch-ups. I said “I pick that one, assuming you’ll clean up that weird flyaway hair,” and the photographer assured me that they would clean up minor things like that. I assume there was some light adjustment and that they brightened up my (very pale) face a bit so I wouldn’t be washed out by the white background of our website, where the photo would be displayed.

        1. kb*

          Right, this is what I assumed “approved the original” meant too. For professional photos I feel like there’s an assumption of very light editing/ color correction these days, so by approving I’d just be saying, “Yes, I do not look like I am farting or want to kill someone in this photo.”

      3. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

        This. I know when I select the headshot of my choice from the photographer, it’s not in fact, the final photo. I am just choosing the photo I want to move forward with.

        It’s the same process at work as it is with family portraits or wedding photos.

        1. zora*

          Word. I’ve only had photos by photographers taken a handful of times, but this is still exactly the process I was imagining from what the OP wrote in the original email.

          I don’t think it changes anything at all.

          Most importantly: If the coworker had a valid complaint about the pic on the website, a grown-up would politely approach OP and say “Hey, I’m not super loving the way the final picture turned out that’s on the website. Is there any way we could make some adjustments?” and then be specific about what you don’t like and give the OP a chance to explain what can be done or whether it’s even possible to change what they want.

          Since no other coworkers have expressed concerns about their photos, I think this person should be ignored. She probably just always finds something to complain about.

          1. Not A Morning Person*

            Great point, and on that same note, others did ask for changes and OP obliged, like the manager requesting the pimple be removed. So if others were grown-ups who could ask directly for the “corrections” they wanted, the complainer needs to do the same.

    4. Whats In A Name*

      On my first read I read it as she approved the unedited one based on everyone else saying they appreciated the edits except this one person. Maybe I’m backwards too. But it doesn’t change my opinion.

    5. Nobody got time for that*

      I feel like this doesn’t change much. At my work, if our picture is taken for something low-key (as in, not a magazine shoot), they don’t need 18 steps of approval for whatever they do to the photos. To make things look normal, uniform, and professional is…. typical and expected. If someone has a problem, they can take it up with higher-ups, but we don’t approve every little thing that happens to pictures. Who has time for that?

    6. Not A Morning Person*

      Perhaps the “approval” was to select the one photo out of several that were taken of each person. That makes more sense. Then the OP did perfectly common color correction on all to make them look human.

    7. SystemsLady*

      Approval to confirm the photos don’t need to be completely retaken (doesn’t like the face they made/etc.) which I imagine this was is a different thing.

  13. The IT Manager*

    I just want to note, she’s not exactly being professional complaining to many people who are not the LW and not speaking to the LW about it. I think Alison’s advice to take control of the situation and speak directly to her about it is good advice. Give the co-worker an option to use the original if she wishes, but clear the air.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Well, if its already published she might feel there’s nothing to be gained by talking to OP. People complain to colleagues at work.

      1. Artemesia*

        Nothing on a web site is published in the sense of unchangeable. It isn’t a printed book after all. (I never use my middle initial and have had several publishers insist on inserting it in to the author name on things I have written. When I get galleys I change it and made sure it got changed properly on books; if it is an article and goes to print, I am out of luck. This is not true of something on a web site which can be relatively easily changed.)

      2. Aurion*

        If it’s published to a hardcopy publication I could see your point, but it’s a website photo. Anyone who has a Facebook knows they can be swapped in five seconds.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          That’s true. I just mean that it might not rise to the level of wanting it fixed, and I wouldn’t put too much stock into people complaining to colleagues.

          1. Aurion*

            I still think this colleague is being incredibly childish. Per the OP, the coworker is “loudly complaining” that OP “really overstepped”; she refuses to talk to OP about it directly, she is being “more chilly than before” toward the OP, and “keeps bringing it up” with other colleagues. If it’s a irritation so minor that it’s not worth bringing it up to the OP, then it’s minor enough to not repeatedly complain about it to other colleagues.

      3. Siberian*

        Agreeing with Artemesia and Aurion. I put up and take down content every down on our website. That’s another reason why I support the OP in making this basic change. If they don’t like it, you can swap it out in five seconds. Problem solved.

  14. InTheLibraryWorld*

    I think what I would have done would be to ask everybody if I could do this and explain my process and maybe provide an example. Because I would have been upset if someone had edited my photo without asking. Maybe she liked the original.

    1. Artemesia*

      This is simply part of the process of putting together a professional web page i.e. editing of pictures is bog standard.

      1. Nobody got time for that*

        Exactly. Explaining things to each individual in a big group, showing them each an example, getting permission X number of times…. that just seems silly and wasteful when making things look professional is an expected norm.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Especially because if one of the colleagues didn’t like the edit, they could be a grownup and go to the OP and say, “I didn’t like that, can we change it?”

          Though she may not realize that this is possible, which is why it’s good for the OP to approach HER.

          (plus it would be good assertiveness practice for our OP)

  15. Katie the Fed*

    I don’t love this. If the pictures were that bad, I would have requested they be retaken. Changing the lighting is one thing, but skin tone and teeth color is tricky. For example, a lot of darker-skinned minorities sometimes find their pictures lightened, and that’s not ok.

    1. TL -*

      I mostly do group photos but for what it’s worth, generally I find the lighter skinned the person, the more their skin tone changes with smaller edits. (This can be a big challenge with editing group photos!) So if the OP really was just correcting white balance, and especially if she applied the same/similar settings to all photos, this should be easy to avoid.

    2. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

      The creative director in me really, really wishes the photos had been retaken if they are all this bad…too often people accept bad design and photography work because they feel stuck.

    3. Notorious MCG*

      But as an entry-level person do you think they are in the position to request re-shoots?

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I don’t know the specific cirumstances well enough, but I think it might be worthwhile to approach your boss and say “oof, this whole batch is a little off – is there a way to do it again?”

        1. Fiennes*

          I worked in an office once where handling employee website photos was an ongoing nightmare. It was a very large company, and they wanted photos for everyone, but they’d only approve a photog coming in twice a year. The hiring seemed to be done at random, bc a set of great photos would be followed by a terrible batch. And the higher ups would NEVER approve extra retakes. They’d force design people to retouch and retouch again, bc those people were in-house, rather than hire a new (random?) photographer to come in. It made absolutely no sense, but there it was.

          Tl;dr – if the company has an in-house person to retouch and not an in-house photographer, retakes may not be a realistic/timely possibility.

  16. cdd89*

    I have to say, if it’s not a uniform change (general colour correction), I think that’s pretty unacceptable. These people are not celebrities who want or asked for your hand of editing, they are professionals who perhaps want to convey that appearance isn’t their overriding priority, possibly especially so if it’s a non profit depending on their mission.

    I think I’m in the minority here, and perhaps if I saw the photos I’d feel differently. But that’s my take.

    1. Amy*

      Yeah. It sounds like for some reason OP didn’t do a simple color balance shift on the photos, which would have taken care of the lighting issues (maybe she doesn’t know how, or they were SO crappy that this didn’t fix the problem)? So, she individually changed the color of everyone’s teeth, and everyone’s faces, and even someone’s shirt! And she photoshopped out pimples! This is really such an overreach and I can see why people are offended… I certainly would be. Sure, next time they should get someone who actually knows how to use a camera to take the photos, but no one asked for OP’s airbrushing treatment…

      1. OP*

        A single lighting shift wouldn’t have fixed the problem, unfortunately.

        To be fair, I started editing zits because my boss asked me to on her, and I didn’t think to not do it on others. I overstepped there. But I didn’t edit out any blemishes on the coworker in question.

        1. Marcy Marketer*

          OP, I commented elsewhere but just want to say again that you did not overreach. I manage the website for a company and especially when I use shots on the website, I always clean up blemishes, adjust the color, and whiten teeth. I’ve always known someone might complain, but honestly, I just think it’s more professional. If your company were to have outsourced the photography with a professional headshot company, they would most certainly have done the same. I doubt employees would have even seen the original, so rarely do professional photographers include them in their final deliverables.

          1. Marcy Marketer*

            I should clarify that I thought people might complain specifically because we use candid photos of our students on our website to market our school, and cleaning up blemishes or whitening teeth might be a sensitive subject for any student where it would be noticeable from knowing the student that it was touched up, but again, I do it anyway and would be prepared to deal with complaints if they happened.

      2. Rat in the Sugar*

        OP has specifically said that they only did a simple color balance on the photos. She also changed people’s teeth to match the color they should be, she didn’t go in and give everyone teeth whitening just for kicks. And while a lot of people might have problems with something like a mole or freckle being shopped out, most people would not consider it a huge overreach to get rid of a zit. It does not sound at all like OP gave them an “airbrushing” treatment.
        Also, I don’t get the “even someone’s shirt!” comment–OP specifically said they changed it so that it was not the exact same color as the background, which seems pretty normal to me. What’s more, that particular coworker said she was fine with it.
        I’m not saying the coworker has no right to be miffed, but your comment seems to be a very uncharitable reading of OP’s letter.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is not an overreach. OP is responsible for organizing external marketing materials—in this case, photos for the website. It’s 1000% within the range of normal conduct to edit photos to balance the light and ensure that the photos looked like the employees (which apparently they did not when unedited). Additionally, the shirt color-change was at the request of the person in the photo.

        There’s no indication that OP doesn’t know how to use a camera or airbrushed employees, and frankly, misrepresenting what OP wrote in this manner is attacking, unkind and unhelpful.

    2. OP*

      This was uniform. I edited everyone’s photos to correct for the poor lighting, which included editing any visible teeth, because they all came out yellow.

      1. Amy*

        FYI, in a program like Photoshop you can adjust the color balance of the entire photo. That should take care of any white items that look yellow or blue due to an incorrect white balance. There’s no need to go in and select someone’s teeth specifically and edit them to look white. I think this distinction is important here and that is part of the reason why people are offended.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          It sounds like the OP knows how to photo edit and use Photoshop . . . I don’t get why people are trying to give her instructions on how to do her job. It seems condescending.

          1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

            Thank you.

            The OP mentioned that editing photos was her former job. I don’t understand why people refuse to take her at her word that it was done professionally or keep trying to tell her how to do it.

          2. Allypopx*

            Thanks that was grating me a little too but I couldn’t figure out how to phrase it.

          3. Elise*

            I agree. It sounds like OP was correcting the photos to look closer to the actual people.

          4. MuseumChick*

            Agreed. Thank you. I see people jumping on her for editing out zits, but she was very clear that her boss asked her to do that. Also, people are jumping on her for editing the shirt color, which was done for a totally legit reason that it blended into the background and made the persons head look like it was floating in space AND the person was happy she did that.

            From what I see in the OP’s letter and her comments it is clear to me that she 1) Had no ill intent 2) Did something that appears to be totally normal in the photography world 3) Did not dramatically change the photos, only brought them in line with what people actually looked like. I don’t see anything she did that was bad. It sounds more that this co-worker is somewhat sensitive/unreasonable.

          5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes, and thank you. There are several posts that read as condescending, although I’m sure that was not those commenters’ intent.

    3. TL -*

      Honestly, I’m a photographer and this is all very light editing that I would do before sending any photo out (including, occasionally, photos I’ve taken on my phone). And I do sports photography primarily so it’s not like I’m trying to make people look like the media ideal – all of them are sweating and making weird faces anyways.

      I don’t touch teeth, generally, unless they look way off-base, but I always check for white balance/color correction and if I’m feeling up for it, I totally take out zits without asking. The shirt thing is also reasonable. If someone asked me to give them a photo with obviously off white balance, I would straight up refuse.

      1. Bonky*

        This is all stuff I would totally expect our two company photographers to do. Perhaps the word “Photoshop” is scaring people, who immediately go to egregious examples of face-changing, body-altering and skin-lightening. Professionally, at least where I work, it’s not used for that: it’s more akin to a good darkroom process.

        I’m occasionally photographed for magazines and newspapers. (I hate it. I am unlovely. But it’s good for my company, which is currently young and sexy – unlike me – to get the coverage, and it’s good to have a woman front and centre in our press.) Filters and other exciting stuff are very often applied, especially in magazine shoots – some can look quite weird. It has never bothered me (not even the one in a national magazine which made me and my colleagues interviewed for the article come out looking as if we had amazing sun damage). It has never occurred to me to be offended by having my zits removed or teeth made less tea-coloured. On occasion I have wished that someone *would* edit my pictures to make me have fewer chins or a more defined waist, but I’m aware that’s very silly. Much of this comment thread strikes me as deeply weird.

  17. New Girl*

    When I was in High School, the company my school used for photo day had photo shopped the arms off one of the girls in my class. She had a dark background, with dark hair, and a black shirt so the computer (I think it was a computer?) had seen her pale white arms as a blemish and removed them completely.

    1. fposte*

      Hah. If that were me, I probably would have prized that picture, probably more so if there were any parental fury.

    2. kb*

      A middle school yearbook photo of a friend of mine featured his fully bloody nose, lol. How did neither the photographer or editor catch that, haha.

    3. Thumper*

      It probably was a computer. I work for a photography company that uses green screen to place customized backgrounds on the portraits, and we have a Wall of Shame full of kids who happened to wear green shirts and then turned into a floating head after going through the computer program we use.

  18. Maaike*

    I definitely think you overstepped – I would not appreciate it at all if an editorr changed my teeth colour and changed things on my skin, like they’re something bad. Especially if it’s done after I approved the photos. I think it’s completely inappropriate and somewhat insulting. She’s not handling it correctly either of course, but that’s my 2 cents.

    1. Natalie*

      But the LW didn’t change anyone’s tooth color – the photos portrayed their teeth as a different color than reality, and the LW adjusted them to be closer to reality.

      It seems like the “yellow” aspect is throwing people off. If it were somehow possible for a badly lit photo to turn someone’s teeth purple, would it seem odd or insulting that the teeth were photoshopped back to tooth color?

      1. kb*

        Right! The color correction the OP did falls in the same vein as red eye removal, which I don’t think anyone would be opposed to or think twice about doing. The removal of pimples and flyaway strands of hair is a little bit of a step toward vanity editing, but standard practice for professional photos. It’s not misrepresenting or changing the subject’s appearance to something they’re not, but trying to capture what they look like on their best day.

      2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        And what the hell, I have tetracycline staining on my front teeth, so they are actually yellow and have brown spots (not a good look, but it’s permanent, and I have weak enamel so the time I tried bleaching was just incredibly painful and won’t be repeated). If someone photoshopped my brown teeth to tooth-colored, I wouldn’t be upset. It wouldn’t really look like me, but I’d be ok with that as long as my teeth weren’t glow-in-the-dark bright.

  19. Czhorat*

    The good news is that this is on a website. It IS possible to change it in such a way that makes everyone happy. If it were for printed material you’d have a larger and harder to fix issue.

    I agree with those who say to ask her. I’d also do two-step approval [this is how my last firm handled staff photos]

    – first show the complete set of photos [or a reasonable sample] and note which ones are being considered for use. Give a time frame for any comments [so you don’t have to wait for approval].

    Afterwards, send the final, touched-up version for final approval. Your co-worker might even have been OK with it if they didn’t feel surprised.

    In the future, you should perhaps make a suggestion that a professional photographer be hired to take staff photos, and either do it in a studio or bring in some portable lighting. The way this was handled strikes me as fairly amateur and lacking in the kind of solid professional process one would expect for an official website.

    1. Allypopx*

      I think this is a great process for the future, but I’d call it a lesson learned for this one and try to move on.

  20. Murphy*

    Is it widely known that everyone’s photo was retouched in the same way? If she only saw her original photo and then her final photo, she may not realize that everyone’s had some color correcting done and she may feel singled out.

    1. OP*

      I think she knows. Another coworker told her I edited all of them, but I can’t be sure.

  21. whichsister*

    Honestly, sometimes I think people make stuff up to be offended by. I thumbs up AAM’s advice to go directly to the person and ask if she would prefer the original be put up. No matter her answer, tell her that you are assuming this will be an end to the issue and if anything else comes up she should feel comfortable coming directly to you so it can addressed .

    1. kb*

      I think sometimes people without experience in a field hear “photoshop” and think of over-editing, while people who are familiar with photoshop know that it’s a ubiquitous tool that can be used in many ways. It’s possible the coworker is just angered at the concept of being “photoshopped,” but will be appeased when they realize the lighting was just corrected.

  22. Chickaletta*

    I clean up photos of people all the time. It’s part of the job. Headshots for websites, photos placed in magazines… I’m not talking about fashion magazine or beauty editing – that’s a whole other ball of wax – I’m talking about adjusting the lighting and color correction. Again, it’s part of the job. Getting upset at a designer for doing that is like getting upset at your secretary for left justifying a letter that was centered by the drafter.

    1. Abby*

      But sometimes adjusting the justification is also inappropriate. People sometimes do things for a reason and you can’t assume that you know why or that the person is wrong.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Photo editing to adjust lighting, etc. is a completely normal thing that photographers do as a matter of course.

        If the coworker doesn’t want it, that’s fine. But the OP didn’t do something outrageous (based on what we know).

        1. AD*

          Agreed with Alison. At my last job, we actually outsourced to a local photographer’s studio to have staff photos retouched and adjusted for consistency in lighting/etc. It’s normal, and not nefarious at all.

          1. Czhorat*

            If we go back to a discussion from yesterday, this is an example of “showing initiative” which is positive.

            – the edit was an implied part of the OP’s job, even if not explicitly stated
            – the OP had relevant expertise
            – the result made the firm look more professional.

            There was a misstep in communication, but otherwise it really seems to me that the OP was right and made the best of a bad situation.

            1. Sarah*

              It’s also not even an “implied” part of OP’s job — it sounds like her boss specifically asked her to edit the photos, not that she randomly did them all without consulting anyone. Keep in mind the complaining person is not OP’s manager, just someone whose photo was corrected along with all the other ones.

              1. Czhorat*

                The way I read it the OP was assigned website duty, which included uploading the headshots and formatting the page. Photoshopping was, if I read it correctly, on their own initiative because they knew how.

                If so, it’s a smart and reasonable show of initiative, and the kind of thing that should get them noticed in a good way.

      2. Rat in the Sugar*

        “People sometimes do things for a reason”–but the coworker didn’t put herself in wonky light that washed out her face and made her teeth look bad, that was the photographer.

    2. NP*

      It sounds to me like this kind of editing is about the same as a proofreader or layout designer at a magazine or newspaper fixing obvious typos before an article or other material goes to print. I’m pretty sure most authors would appreciate someone finding that they typed “asses” instead of “assess” before it goes to print.

      That is an actual typo I caught once in a proposal.

      1. Chickaletta*

        Yes, this is what I meant. Color correction shouldn’t be viewed as optional, it’s an essential part of doing the job correctly.

  23. Czhorat*

    One more thought: the coworker didn’t say anything to you. This could be all letting off steam, general dissatisfaction with the process, or something completely different and unrelated. There is a danger in ignoring the “word on the street”, but there is also danger in reacting to hearsay and third-party comments.

    1. Allypopx*

      Agreed. If there’s a change in how the coworker interacts with OP I’d address that with a “you seem standoffish towards me, what’s up?” or “Is something bothering you?” But otherwise I’d push it out of your mind until this coworker decides she’s professional enough to address you directly. The gossip mill can blow things out of proportion and it’s not worth stressing yourself out over, OP. It’ll blow over on its own.

  24. Adam*

    I’d love to see her reaction to a version of the photo where everyone is corrected except for her. Where she’s the only badly-lit troll-toothed blotch on an otherwise well-done photo and asked “I undid your edits, is this more to your liking?”

    1. Adam V*


      (Except I think they’re all individual photos; still, she’d stand out being the only one with the bad lighting.)

    2. Hotstreak*

      Oh my gosh, it looks totally ridiculous when that happens. My company instituted nationwide standards to prevent this sort of thing. The background color has to precisely match, everyone wears black, etc. These are done at department store photo shops.

    3. Crafty*

      Yup, I’ve seen this happen. I’m a graphic designer who freelances for a legal firm. They hired various photographers who went with completely different styles for their different branches so my job was to make lighting adjustments and even them out for the website. One guy heard the word ‘Photoshop’, imploded, freaked out on his boss, and insisted no changes were allowed to be made. His boss acquiesced so now there’s just one guy with a weird unadjusted photo. Honestly it reflects poorly on him!

      Echoing what many others have said that correcting for lighting/red eye/photo errors/teeth color is super super common and the nitpicking is frustrating.

  25. CAinUK*

    My petty side wants to upload her original photo immediately. Meet passive-aggressiveness with more passive-aggressiveness.

    But the professional thing to do would be approach her as AAM says, but I’d also tell her: “And in the future, you can always feel free to complain or ask a question to me directly.” This isn’t middle school.

    1. Green Goose*

      I don’t think it would be all that petty. If that woman has voiced her displeasure of the edits with multiple people in the office, it should be a good thing to do. She certainly couldn’t complain about the reversal (at least I’d hope not).

  26. Bwmn*

    I have to say, I’m really surprised by the people who think this is overstepping. I have worked for nonprofits my entire career and cringe when I think of the photos that have been published online from different workshops/conferences/meetings where issues in lighting make me look dreadful. Standing underneath a light and being washed out/yellow while the person standing next to me looks “normal” skin toned. Or photos outside where there are a few stray shadows streaking across people’s faces. The grit of “yes, sure, I’m so happy to be featured like that…..” is a feeling I’d be more than happy to avoid.

    What I do think that this debate shows is that some people clearly have a negative reaction and if a decision like that is going to be made – it should be made as a “business” decision as opposed to a “helping everyone out” decision. I also think that should there have been any comments or concerns about colorism or putting Hollywood veneers on anyone – then those conversations should be held at a more senior level .

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Yeah, I generally agree. And I hear you on the lighting issues – I once worked in an office where a booklet was set out each year with photos of the staff. They just had one of the assistants take pictures with their phone and they always looked atrocious.

      1. Bwmn*


        Having worked at many small organizations, I can also appreciate a feeling that as “small nonprofits” we’re not that image conscious or superficial and a change to photoshop might rub some people the wrong way. For reasons that will run the spectrum. That being said, I think it may just be necessary for someone in a senior leadership position to speak up and say that the purpose of this photo is to present a professional image and therefore having people be overly washed out, have sweaters that blend into the wall, etc. photoshop will be used.

        1. Marcy Marketer*

          Totally. I work for one now and we get constant pushback when it comes to making materials more professional looking because “it’s just not ‘us'” even though it’s part of our strategic plan to do so. It helped when our head of the company spoke up and tell everyone that cleaning up our image, even if we didn’t in the past, is important for our future growth.

    2. Allypopx*

      Yeah the unfortunate combination of fluorescent lights and amateur photographers makes some candid and even staged shots very cringeworthy. Probably across the board, but this has also been my experience in non-profits.

    3. efb*

      I agree. I wondered if part of the coworker’s frustration stemmed from that fact that she was blindsided by the edits, and doesn’t generally approve of them — did editing get mentioned before she was presented with the final picture?

      How she’s handling her disapproval is definitely inappropriate though.

      1. Bwmn*

        I say this with great respect to all of the super passionate crunchy older activists that I have had the privilege to work with and learn from over the years…..but provided the issue at hand is not one of colorism, I can think of a few that might object to any photoshopping for an assortment of philosophies. Personally, I think there comes a point where professional photos have a value, but if that the direction that’s being taken and it’s a first for someone – it’s possible there will be some blow back.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I’m thinking that as well. All the information about what’s standard is news to me, and whenever I’ve seen my office images they’re post-production anyway. So I think the OP can be operating absolutely correctly and still leave somebody kind of flummoxed. (However, the co-worker needs to raise the issue directly with the OP or put a lid on it.)

    4. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

      I’ll never forget when I moved up from small non-profit life to working at a major University where we actually got professional headshots ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ

      No more washed out photos taken with a crummy cannon sureshot against the breakroom wall!

    5. Mustache Cat*

      Honestly…I’m willing to bet that many of the people who feel that this is overstepping have had this kind of light editing done on their own pictures without even knowing. It’s just so standard.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Seriously though. If you’ve ever had a photograph taken by a professional, I would be willing to bet every dollar I have (which is like a whopping $62) that your photographs were touched up. This was even common practice back in the 90s when I had senior pictures taken.

    6. Lissa*

      I think this is the type of letter where people see the title, have an immediate emotional reaction, and go from there. People think “photoshopped staff photo” and are picturing something like in the linked article about making the employee look younger and thinner.

  27. AnonyMouish*

    Something that hasn’t yet been mentioned is that this feels to me like the kind of thing that could become a mountain out of a molehill. “OP takes liberties with other people’s appearance” or etc.

    It depends on the culture of the office you’re in, OP, but I would be proactive in heading this off with your boss, and explaining that, in conjunction with her request to clean up blemishes, you gave all the photos with the same treatment.

    I could be wrong, and may be influenced by coming from a workplace where this kind of thing could form a big fat kerfuffle–but I would be up front about what’s going on in case she doesn’t come to you to complain, but puts you in a situation in which you are suddenly on the defensive.

  28. NutellaNutterson*

    Something to have as an overarching framework is that different monitors and devices can make images look drastically different. I had a surreal conversation over the shade of green I was seeing, with a patient and understanding designer I’d hired for a logo. Even “color balanced” monitors can change from the top to bottom of the screen, and depending on your angle.

    (If you have a smart phone or tablet and a regular monitor handy, pull up the same picture on different screens, and really look at the color differences. It’s mind-blowing.)

    So it’s entirely possible the picture looks absolutely true-to-life on every monitor except hers, or only okay on yours!

    1. the gold digger*

      My brother, sister, husband, and I bought my mom a new computer a few years ago. She has some dinosaur that is probably 15 years old.

      She will not get rid of the old computer. She has the new one next to it. She has been scanning and cleaning old family photos for genealogy research and says that the color balance on the new computer is all wrong.

      (And she uses juno for her email and her archives, apparently, are all on the hard drive or somewhere impossible to recover on the old computer.)

  29. Sarah*

    We just had headshots taken and honestly I wish the photographer had done more Photoshopping on mine. :) So, perhaps I’m biased in that direction!

    In any case, it sounds like the photos are for a website and thus a new one could easily be uploaded. I would just say something directly to the coworker to get things out in the open, along the lines of, “Hey, I heard through the grapevine that you weren’t happy with the edits to your photo — unfortunately the lighting in the photos was pretty terrible which is why I did some color corrections, but I’m happy to change anything if you prefer!” Ultimately, if this one coworker is the only unhappy one, I suspect it has more to do with personal dislike for having photos taken (I know many people for whom this is true) than anything else.

  30. Kat A.*

    I think you did exactly what you should have done. You made the photo, a hence the company and its employees, look much better. Everyone except one person likes it, and that one person isn’t even discussing it with you to let you know why she’s upset. I say brush it off. If she comes to you, then listen to her concerns and calmly explain why you improved the photo and that you’re sorry she’s upset but that everyone else has been happy with the adjustments.

  31. Stellaaaaa*

    I feel like this letter is a good extension of the previous “small business” letter. OP isn’t a photographer and wasn’t hired to do photography or even editing, even though she does have a bit of experience (though I’d need more info before calling it relevant to tastefully editing photos of non-models for their public employee profiles). Now she’s getting flack for using her best judgment and falling back on her experience because the company most likely does not have someone else to do or help with more nuanced/skilled photoshop work. I’m not comfortable calling her a racist because of that especially since it doesn’t seem like she has the authority to buy a better camera, call everyone back together and move them to a better-lit location, and redo the pictures. This is just what happens when a small business hands “photo editing” duties to the person in charge of back-end website updates.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I think this is a good point. You get what you pay for, after all! If the company really, really wanted a *professional* photo shoot with a polished result, then they should have hired a professional photographer. If you put an amateur up to do a job and then complain when it doesn’t look like something a professional would have done, or handled in the perfect professional way, then it’s not really the amateur’s fault.

      I’m reminded of the letters where an HR department or some other department badly mishandles something (not that I think OP mishandled things here!) and it’s because the person in charge of the department, or the person who *is* the whole department, doesn’t have the necessary training or experience.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        Additionally, I wonder if OP would have gotten a whole other round of criticism from her company if she had uploaded the photos as-is and then the site didn’t look nice.

    2. Sarah*

      Wait, what, how does racism come into this? Do we even know the race of the person complaining about her photo???

      1. Allypopx*

        We don’t. But a lot of commenters have brought up race as one of the biggest issue surrounding the concept of color balancing photos, so it’s been part of the discussion.

        1. Zillah*

          Jumping to “I’m not comfortable calling her a racist” is a huge leap, though, especially given that there’s nothing supporting that race enters the equation. It’s a good possibility to raise, as other commenters have done, but that’s taking it was too far. Nothing the OP has said suggests that she did anything unusual or that she doesn’t understand how to use photoshop.

  32. Little Bean*

    I am totally shocked by people’s strong reactions against this. Any professional photo I have had taken over the past decade is retouched – that is the point of hiring a photographer. Especially if the photos have poor lighting, this is standard operating procedure. When going through and selecting an image from a list, I know that after that point there will be retouching and standardizing so the photos look normal when grouped together (lighting, etc.). Perhaps since this is a non-profit where this isn’t done frequently the colleague was just unaware that this is something done… all the time?
    OP, there are always things we can do better. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things others can improve as well. There might be a better way to approve photos, but there was also a better way for this colleague to bring their concerns to your attention.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I feel really bad for the OP too. (There seems to be a trend where commenters assume the worst of letter writers.) I don’t think they did anything wrong at all, and think the coworker is 100% in the wrong especially for being passive-aggressive and whining loudly instead of bringing her concerns to the OP.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes that I feel bad for the OP (both her experience and now her treatment in the comments), yes that there’s been a rough couple of weeks in which commenters assume the worst of letter writers. It’s been very draining and disheartening.

        1. lionelrichiesclayhead*

          I’ll just express that I really appreciate how involved you have been in monitoring the comments and interjecting where needed. It can be tough to read these comments but I always feel better when I see that you are trying to keep people in the level-headed range.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Thanks, I really appreciate hearing that!

            I think I’m at the point where I’m going to officially stop encouraging letter-writers to read/interact in the comments, which is really too bad.

              1. Allypopx*

                Also I want to second (third?) that all the time and energy you take trying to keep the tone of the space constructive and on topic is very much noticed and appreciated.

                1. PB*

                  Co-signing. Thank you for the work you do, Alison. I’m a pretty new reader here, but I really enjoy reading your advice. I’m sorry the moderating duties have been so tough lately.

                2. Emi.*

                  Fourth! The specific things you say make a difference, and I also appreciate the overall tone of you caring how we treat each other in the comments. :)

                3. Rat in the Sugar*

                  Yah, I was actually planning on making a post to that effect on Saturday. I have sometimes joined in nitpicking or off topic posts, and I always feel grateful that Alison takes the time to clean up the comments and embarrassed that I took part, and never have I thought of Alison as the tyrant she says she feels like sometimes!

                  It’s a lot of work and we appreciate what you do, Alison.

                4. Juniper Green*

                  Ditto. It’s one of the many things I value about this site.

                  I do hope letter writers do continue to update us, either in the context of comments or dedicated posts, as it’s so nice to hear how the advice is applied.

                5. V*

                  Yes, thank you Alison. This site has always been my oasis in the sea of internet negativity. I’m sorry that you’ve needed to expend so much energy keeping commentors civil and on point lately, but I deeply appreciate your commitment to keeping the focus on helping the OP.

                6. GreyjoyGardens*

                  Adding my thanks to the chorus! It can’t be easy moderating all the comment threads here, and you do a great job!

            1. N.J.*

              So very sorry to hear that. I like seeing the letter writers’ responses and perspectives. Definitely understand if that’s how it has to be, just bummed.

            2. MuseumChick*

              I’m really sorry that it has come to that but I understand. The comment section has recently gotten really aggressive. There just seems to be a lot more of reading ill intent into letters than there used to be. Even here people have jump on the OP for the editing the zits and sweater when both there very clearly explained.

              1. AMPG*

                I think it’s sort of a human nature thing WRT advice columns, but I personally hate it and really appreciate all the work Alison does to discourage it. Carolyn Hax is my favorite advice columnist, but I would NEVER write in with a question because the commenters on her columns are both cliquey and merciless in how they nitpick letter-writers and assume facts not in evidence.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  It makes me sad, though, because it’s not always this way on this specific site. But it’s been dark days for the past few weeks, and I’ve felt so deeply bad for the LWs. Their participation is usually so helpful, and I feel like we have better “conversations” when we make it easy for them to interact with us.

                  But recently it feels like some folks are circling like vultures just waiting to swoop in and pick the LWs apart. And it’s doubly frustrating because Alison’s rules for commenting are extremely clear about why treating LWs that way is not ok. *deep sigh*

                  I very much appreciate Alison’s interjections, though. They’re very helpful for reframing/taking a step back, and they give me hope that things can get back on track.

                2. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Yep, Princess Consuela Banana Hammock, I agree. But I think, as others have said, that it’s partly from her becoming more well-known. The bigger the audience, the bigger chance you start getting more of people who seem like they go online looking for people to be mean to.

            3. lionelrichiesclayhead*

              While I hate to hear that because I like the instant gratification of hearing from the OP, I will say that the update letters you get are wonderful so maybe the encouragement needs to be focused on getting an update if we can’t remain constructive in the comments. It’s a shame but I supposed it comes with the territory of your site gaining reach.

            4. TootsNYC*

              I like that you speak up in defense, and that has the effect of being a way you can set rules for OTHER people.

              But have you thought about deleting comments sometimes? Every faint now and then, I have a wish that you’d just delete someone’s third unfair criticism of the OP.

              1. Natalie*

                One potential issue I see with this is confusion, either by the person who posted the comment (we see this with comments about ads or another comment that got stuck in moderation) or readers who saw the original comment and notice it is gone. One potential option to avoid that is disemvoweling, which some moderators seem to really like and others hate. I don’t moderate any blogs or forums so I can’t provide strong arguments for or against, but it’s interesting. (There are scripts that do that actual vowel removal, so you don’t have to do that by hand.)


                I must say that it seems to me there are some regular commenters who are quite argumentative and might benefit from being put on moderation or communicated with directly more often. Much like the all-staff memo, these broader general discussions about commenting don’t seem to register with them.

            5. VivaL*

              Havent commented in a while, but came across this thread and had to say +1 for all your effort moderating. This is one of *very* few sites where I actually read and learn things from the comments (in recent cases, it has been very enlightening about my own biases and prejudices! So I consider it a win to be a part of this community).

              I hope the ‘believing the worst of the OP’ is just a weird phase and that you dont have to discourage OPs from responding!

            6. New Bee*

              Aw, that’s unfortunate. As someone who always reads threads in their entirety a bit late, I appreciate your moderation (and definitely don’t think you’re a tyrant). If I’m being generous, I don’t think people realize the impact of posting (esp. critical comments) without at least skimming the thread, and similarly they sometimes don’t realize how aggressive it comes off to post the same comment, albeit in response to different posters, multiple times. That’s still no excuse to break the commenting rules though.

            7. CaliCali*

              As as daily reader and very occasional commenter, I think what’s happened is a kind of tribe mentality that tends to happen with every Internet community. People come to think of themselves as part of the site rather than a participant on the site, and therefore, they are trying to kind of embody some sort of site ideal — and when someone comes in not knowing the “rules” of the tribe, people start knit-picking. You can see this on nearly every post involving some sort of workplace “norm” that’s not really a norm, just something that people on this site take as truth. And additionally, some people get into Teacher’s Pet mode, trying to show how much they’ve learned from Alison by out-Alisoning Alison, picking apart letters to catch every single nuance and sussing out every unknown through extrapolation (rather than deduction). It happens in every single Internet community I’ve seen. It does mellow out over time, but it’s tiring in the meantime.

            8. spocklady*

              Oh wow, I’m so sorry it’s come to that :(

              You’ve always done a great job, and I’ve been in and out from my usual lurking the last few weeks, but I have noticed a lot more of this lately too. Support with whatever you decide you need to do.

        2. Kate*

          I really want to thank you for all the hard work you put into AAM and especially the comments section.

          I have been really shocked at how mean and aggressive commenters have been lately to LWs, and how often bad intentions have been assumed on the LWs.

          Do you think it is because of a lot of traffic and new commenters from another site who don’t know the rules, or something else maybe?

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      Glad it’s not just me! Over the past few weeks, some commenters – more than usual – just seem determined skip over the main point of certain letters and then just gnaw and gnaw and gnaw and *gnaw* on one tiny little thing, and they’re never putting a kind interpretation on that tiny little thing, either.

      The OP said she color corrected all of the shots. That’s so completely normal and also, BTW, helpful, assuming it’s not overdone and we have no reason to think it is. I color correct photos all the time – you might be surprised how often this is necessary even when the photos are taken in the studio – and never have I had anyone say “How dare you make my skin the color it actually is and my teeth white or whitish instead of banana-skin yellow? Change it back to the original, unaltered image immediately!”

      1. MuseumChick*

        Agreed. There has been so much nit-picking, hair splitting, and a lot of what seems to be people not reading the letters in their entirety lately. It’s disappointing.

  33. amysee*

    Head shots worked essentially the same way at my office. The photog took a bunch of shots of each of us and let us pick the one we wanted, and then that photo was retouched by his assistant. We did not get to give feedback on the professional retouching, and the final photos were uploaded to the website without us seeing them first.

    The only difference from mine and the OP’s scenario is that the retouching step was communicated as an official part of the process. So that’s a small but useful thing for OP to learn in terms of how she could do some expectations management for similar future projects.

    But I don’t think that’s the actual problem here. The problem is that one coworker is passive-aggressively complaining to everyone except the person who can do something about her problem. I wonder if this is something the coworker does with some regularity, and if it’s perhaps magnified here because photos are a very sensitive thing for a lot of (most?) people. Regardless, I think addressing this sort of thing head-on is the best course and I like Alison’s suggestions.

    1. WerkingIt*

      Letting everyone approve every single part of the process can be a nightmare. I can only imagine standing there while two dozen people look over my shoulder and point out things they want me to fix or change. As it sounds only one person seems to be dissatisfied, and frankly I think she’s being unreasonable.

      1. TL -*

        But also, your editing style is part of your photography style (or part of the house style). The OP might not be a professional photographer, but she is probably still invested in maintaining a particular style across all the photos. I don’t let other people have input into my editing style unless they’re mentioning that something looks “off” or asking me to photoshop something out (and even then, it’s limited to acne, sunburn, ect…)

  34. lina inverse*

    Alison, thank you for being so level-headed and involved in the comments. I’ve found it really appalling how folks are jumping all over the OP in this thread.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Agreed, and I’m sorry you got stuck moderating everything! I have a suspicion that many of the people upset at the OP haven’t had professional pictures taken in a work context before and are thinking of this in terms of “glamour Photoshop fails”, because this sort of retouching is just so very standard and unremarkable. It is incredibly common for law firms to post headshots of attorneys online, and it would be a huge breach of professionalism to post something without proper color adjustment and retouching.

  35. Here we go again*

    It sounds like your coworker is just someone who wants to complain and likes drama. There is nothing that I am seeing from your letter that indicates you did anything wrong, especially since no one else has a problem with it. You did your best to product a good and professional work product.

  36. animaniactoo*

    OP, I suspect that the reason that she’s not coming to talk to you is that she thinks this isn’t a big enough thing to make a deal out of it. So, she’s trying to deal, but it really gripes her and she’s failing all over the place.

    Given the additional info here that the approval was on the original unedited photos (for everybody, not just her), I would do a few things:

    1) Check in with your boss about what you did and why – as part of the overall project. Because if boss wanted those kinds of changes made, that’s a company call and not an individual call on whether the editing is going to happen. I’ve seen and can understand the argument that you’re looking for a cohesive kind of image so that when somebody is looking at these, they don’t look like a slapdash slapped together kind of thing.

    2) Discuss with your boss that while most of the feedback has been good, you have heard that there are some people who are unhappy that their photos were edited, and you’d like to see if you can resolve that with a little effort.

    And then either you or your boss (preferably your boss), sends out an e-mail that says something along these lines:

    “Hi all,

    OP has been working hard getting our website updated and it looks great. As part of that, she did do some basic photo-editing and we’ve heard that most people are happy but a few are not. If you’re unhappy with the changes, please let us know and we’ll work with you on correcting that as best we can while still preserving the overall image of the photo section of our website.”

    This does a couple of things. First – there may be other people who weren’t happy (or not entirely happy) but didn’t feel it was worth raising a fuss over and it gives you guys the opportunity to correct that. Secondly, it makes the changes *with their input* which is what was missing both with the first round and with the initially suggested “fix” of just uploading the untouched image. Finally, it preserves a little distance between a “personal” affront vs a professional business plan by your department.

    1. Marty*

      To be frank, that isn’t really what was missing, this comment about complaining is what was missing. There is no good reason to get pre-approval, as photo adjustments are bog standard practice, necessary to do a good job and actually make pictures look natural (color and contrast rarely come out quite right without a bit of a human touch.)

      That said, it is also easy to get slightly wrong, and therefore is makes sense to offer to fix instances where that bothers someone.

    2. girlonfire*

      I think, though, that this script might have a possible effect of people thinking OP did something poorly, when they did not. I think the suggestion for OP to go directly to the one complainer and deal with her is a better idea, although I do like your suggestion to check in with the boss for air cover in case the complainer wants to use the unedited photo only, which would then look odd on the website.

  37. Student*

    Offering to re-take her photo seems like a simple and appropriate step here, along with asking her what specifically she was unhappy with.

    If all the photos were taken in terrible lighting, that might point out a need to do this better the first time and find an appropriate photo nook / buy a light. For 30 people, seems like it’d be faster to just retake all the photos than to do so much custom color-balancing and editing.

    1. Dankar*

      It usually has a lot more to do with cost than the amount of time it would take. My org is currently stuck with an awful promo that would have been way quicker to re-shoot than it was to edit, re-edit and agonize over a sub-par product. But there wasn’t room for the budget to film another one, and all of the editing was done in-house for “no cost” beyond wasted man-hours.

    2. Morning Glory*

      This really depends on the organization, the seniority of people, and travel schedules, if a backdrop and light get set up, etc. A lot of organizations may think it’s better for a junior-level person like the OP to fix extra time making edits if it means sparing higher ups the hassle of reshooting.

  38. LQ*

    OP (hopefully this isn’t a duplicate and is just a fail because I’m still sick)
    Thank you very much for responding in the comments.

    I think it’s great that you asked the question. The coworker clearly isn’t that concerned about professional behavior because the professional thing for her to do even if you had totally done something horrible (which I don’t think you did) would be to come directly to you and try to resolve it. Speaking of which…yeah do that :) I’d go directly to her (which is the professional thing to do here) and use one of the scripts. I’d go a step further and kind of assume I’d unintentionally screwed something up and wanted to fix it.

    I mentioned above a story about something I didn’t realized I’d done wrong. Someone’s name was entered into the system I maintain incorrectly. It came out of another system, which I assumed was correct. I really care about getting people’s names wrong so when I overheard (I was in the cubicle across from them working on something else) that it was wrong I was horrified. Especially because it had been that way for maybe 2+ years? I went over and talked to her right away, she’d never brought it up because she assumed no one would fix it. (She’d brought up the formal thing with her supervisor who hadn’t had it fixed…which is…a different issue.) So I worked through it and I worked through the other formal system problem with her too. It was really good and she’s more pleasant to me at work overall. It was entirely worth it. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and I’d say you are likely in the same boat. But sometimes, you do the reaching out to fix things when someone else is just complaining. (And THAT will work well for you in your career and professionalism.)

  39. Mena*

    Geez, I recently had a professional headshot taken at my workplace and was told to select the photo I liked from 15 different shots and that the selected photo would then be touched up, the kinds of things the OP describes doing. I sort of wish my photo had been tidied up a bit MORE – I certainly didn’t complain about what was done though.

    1. Allypopx*

      The difference might be that you were told. If OP could have done anything differently, it might have been to be clearer about the process with everyone so there was no confusion. But that certainly doesn’t warrant the unprofessional reaction from the coworker.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      This would be the best way to prevent a repeat of the situation in the future. Send everyone their headshots, let them pick a pose, and tell them the pose they pick will get minor touch-ups (color correction, glasses glare, stray hairs, idiots making bunny ears behind you). It’s a lot easier than going through two rounds of approval.

  40. Is it Friday Yet?*

    If you are having trouble deciphering whether you took it too far or should have done something differently, I would recommend reaching out to a mentor or someone else in your field. A professor you really liked from college perhaps? Choose someone who you trust will be honest with you.

    If you aren’t questioning your edits, than I would choose to ignore it unless she brings it up with you directly. At the end of the day, it’s only one picture on a website. This isn’t life or death. No one is going to die. I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about it.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      I think there’s a sub-issue where this actually isn’t OP’s field. She’s not a photographer, nor is she a professional graphic designer. It’s not like a trained photographer made flubs that a real photog should know to avoid. The person in charge of HTML was given a bunch of lousy pics to edit and upload.

      1. Is it Friday Yet?*

        I’d argue that there’s a lot of overlap in Marketing Communications ESPECIALLY when you work for a nonprofit or a small business. Just a wild guess, but I’m betting that OP wears many hats and does a lot more than editing the website.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          It doesn’t mean she was ever given proper training though, and it certainly doesn’t mean the company (or we) should be holding her to the standards of a professional photographer while simultaneously not paying her the proper rate for high quality photography. She’s not a photographer or image editor. She did her best and submitted a product of a quality that presumably is usually acceptable. It’s just this one employee who’s having an issue with it because no one in this office knows the proper techniques for fixing these mistakes, and it doesn’t seem like anyone there knows the jargon for expressing what the problem even is. This is what happens when you don’t hire the right person for a specialized task. You end up with someone who isn’t the greatest, KNOWS she isn’t the greatest, and is still raked over the coals for not being perfect at this thing that she already knows is not the skill set she was hired for. It’s not her fault for not magically gaining those skills. It’s the company’s (and our) fault for expecting that of her, if the company even has that expectation beyond a single fussy coworker.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          She says that she edited photos part time while in college. She did not edit professionally, in terms of what that word means in the arts/photography world. I don’t presume that she specifically edited photos of non-model working professionals for company websites, and no one else should either, because I think this is a major factor in the problem at hand. I don’t presume that she edited photos of people at all unless she clarifies that point (most image editing is not of people and if it is, it’s not meant to be hyper-realistic). I do, however, presume that she worked part time for someone who was happy to pay lower rates for a non-professional without a degree in anything, who just happens to have a basic understanding of photoshop. It’s very common to treat professional photographers as unnecessary because “everyone can take pictures” and then get annoyed when the pictures you get aren’t as good as you were hoping for. OP has not ever worked for anyone who had (or should have had) an expectation of top-dollar photography, as she is not a photographer by trade and does not charge professional rates.

          I added caveats to this effect in another comment. Just because she has edited photos before (of what? for whom? How quickly, for how much money, and with what expectations of quality?) doesn’t automatically mean that she ever had the training necessary to take pictures of Phil and Jane in HR and make them look like real human beings while standing in front of a beige wall in fluorescent office lighting.

          It might seem like I’m being fussy, but this matters. OP has amassed a decent working history of being an on-call photo person for people who don’t want to hire a professional. She knows that and likely wouldn’t be offended by my saying this so bluntly. This kind of thing is so common in the arts world. Hell, I have experience taking pictures and editing them. If you asked me to do minor photoshop, I could. But that really isn’t the same thing as what the OP was asked to do in this case. Making people look “realistic” enough for is soooooo not the same thing as editing non-specified photos on a part-time basis, again unless OP is willing to be specific about her exact experience. It’s the trap that her boss fell into. “Oh, you’ve edited photos before. Here, work with these.” It’s just not the same thing, and now OP is under fire because someone complained.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            This comment is a good example of what I mean:

            “She did not edit professionally, in terms of what that word means in the arts/photography world. I don’t presume that she specifically edited photos of non-model working professionals for company websites, and no one else should either, because I think this is a major factor in the problem at hand. I don’t presume that she edited photos of people at all unless she clarifies that point (most image editing is not of people and if it is, it’s not meant to be hyper-realistic). ”

            OP isn’t obligated to present a resume to us to be taken at her word or in order not to be criticized based on speculation.

            I’m turning on moderation for all comments on this post.

            1. Some2*

              I kind of wish your site used Disqus- I think a lot of the more critical or abusive comments would very quickly get downvoted into oblivion by the large stable of positive and professional commenters that participate.

            2. JuniorMinion*

              Yeah…I hurt for the OP when I read this comment. I think you are doing the right thing Allison. I love your site, it has reaffirmed for me when I am on the right / wrong track with things. I would hate to see this OP take something like this as evidence that he / she did the wrong thing by trying to do a good job with this.

            3. SCAnonibrarian*

              As a ‘netiquette’ / preference question, if you’ve announced that comments are all subject to moderation, do you prefer at that point for people to not add to the comment stream to keep the pile you have to approve from growing any larger? I’m very new to commenting and don’t want to add to the load you have, because I really enjoy the commenting atmosphere here – I think in large part because you do keep such a tight rein on things.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Thanks for asking! And no, totally fine to keep commenting; it just means there will be a delay until I see/approve it. There’s a function that lets me shut down comments altogether, so assume that if you can keep commenting, it’s fine to!

                1. MuseumChick*

                  Alison, do you think it would be helpful to do a post refreshing everyone on comment etiquette? I know you will mention them in the comments but I think it might be helpful for everyone to see a more or less comprehensive list.

          2. animaniactoo*

            Considering that most people were happy with the changes, and OP has included enough info about what is “too far”, I feel comfortable that OP likely did a good job on this.

            FWIW, I DID used to photo-edit people pictures for a living.

            If you professionally photo-edit, even as a part time job, it is likely that people are going to be some portion of your subjects, therefore I’d actually say it’s more likely that OP *has* worked on people images before than that she hasn’t.

            If you want to argue that she likely wasn’t a master manipulator, okay, but she also wouldn’t need to be for the basic kind of people editing that she is referring to doing here.

  41. DevAssist*

    From what I can tell, OP took people’s preferred photos, fixed minor issues caused by lighting/location and fixed flyaway hairs and concealed some spots. It also sounds like if OP’s boss asked her to edit out her blemishes, the more general fixes (re: lighting) were such reasonable changes that they didn’t need expressed approval.

    Let’s trust OP, please. Alison’s advice is great, and it sounds like OP was trying to do her job (and that she knows how to use editing software).

    OP- you’re a-okay in my book.

  42. Yet one more lawyer*

    I would be more upset if someone hadn’t color corrected my photo and done the minor editing you described. Especially since some of the places I’ve worked have not had a great setup for picture taking. OP, I don’t think you overstepped if the editing is as limited as you say. Maybe next time a follow up approval request noting that the pictures have been color-corrected (or whatever the photography term is) might help.

  43. Pen and Pencil*

    I am frankly shocked that so many people seem to have issues with the touch-ups that you did. I would be overjoyed that you removed my acne and fixed some fly aways! My current ID photo was taken on day one (no warning) with a shirt the camera couldn’t read the pattern on, under uneven fluorescent lighting, and because I was stressed about new job I had a ton a pimples. It is frankly embarrassing to show people. I understand why someone would get peeved if you changed a POC to a white sheet, but it sounds like you did what is pretty standard editing for photos. Is this someone who wants to be enraged about everything?

    I would agree that in the future you have the final final photo approved since there was an issue, but honestly I wouldn’t spend time agonizing over this. I would do what Allision suggested, and then move on. If she is the only person in your entire office who is annoyed, then that usually means that the reasonable people were fine with what you did.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Re bad ID photos: when I worked for the state I got sent to get my photo ID the same day that all the lobbyists were also getting their credentials issued for the new legislative session. The woman taking the pictures was in no way interested in anything other than keeping the line moving, so the picture got taken before I was ready and I was scowling like I ate kittens for breakfast. Best part: I worked in a secure area so had to have my ID visible at all times. I tried not to look at it.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        My current badge photo was taken in December on an insanely cold day, first thing in the morning when I was barely awake (hadn’t even had my coffee yet) – I look like I snorted a line of coke. It’s dreadful. We also have to have our badges visible for security reasons, and they refuse to let us retake badge photos, even if you lose them. I’m so glad the badge photo has started to wear so no one can see my face, lol.

      2. Dweali*

        My driver’s license photo my face is suuuuuuper red like ketchup colored…I saw it and honestly thought I may need to head to the hospital because of a stroke or something (I’m naturally cursed with perpetual red “drunk person” cheeks and occasional random blushing) but then I noticed my eyebrows are orange….later time I ask the DMV person to make me pretty :-D

      3. Anonymouse for this*

        Lol – I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards for my security id photo thanks to heat, humidity and having to finger comb my hair before the photo was taken. I didn’t bother too much at the time as I thought they’d just retake it a year later and its in my purse all day. Then found out it’s valid for 5 years. And because they are keeping the digital photos as part of our personnel file I can’t even just lose it and get a new one. Well that and being fined a month’s salary if I report it lost or stolen.

      4. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        I am so glad that with 8 years of use, the photo on my ID has faded to the point where you can sort of still see my raccoon eyes (my whole family has dark purple circles under the eyes, not from lack of sleep) and my puffy, red cheeks because it was windy that day, but not much else. Ugh.

  44. Betty Darling*

    Though I don’t think OP did anything wrong, and the coworker seems to have chosen passive-aggressive complaining rather than a direct course, I kind of see where Coworker might be coming from.

    For those of you who work with photography and Photoshop, this isn’t a big deal, but some of us don’t know that stuff. My first reaction to hearing “touched it up in Photoshop” is all the gross stuff they do to make models and movie stars look thin and flawless. Combine that with people’s sensitivities about their looks and it’s a recipe for disaster. I’ll admit that if someone said “I balanced your skin tone and whitened your teeth,” I would be super defensive because I (a) don’t wear make-up and (b)have yellowish teeth due to some crappy genetics. I would try to address it like a grown-up and would probably hear your explanation and be like “oh, okay,” but the initial reaction would be “what, Real Me isn’t good enough for you?”

    1. Allypopx*

      I feel you hardcore on the crappy teeth genetics (God please don’t let me need dentures by the time I’m 40), but even if it zeroed in on your insecurities I have a hard time believing you’d go around complaining to everyone who’d lend an ear. I certainly wouldn’t – especially if I was feeling self-conscious, I wouldn’t want to draw attention to that!

      Maybe OP could have communicated better/differently that this was the result of poor photography but the Coworker’s reaction still feels out of line to me.

    2. Taylor Swift*

      I totally get that, but things like correcting for white balance are to make photos appear more like real life. “Untouched” photos sound like they’d be more true to real life, but what comes out of the camera often times looks nothing like what the eye sees.

  45. Hard Boiled*

    I would love for someone to have done what you did with the photos at my job. They just re-did all the staff photos for everyone. The admin who took them has no photography experience, and the images weren’t retouched at all. Everybody’s a little pink. We joke it looks like we all just got back from a tropical vacation. The photos aren’t used publicly, but they’re used a lot internally in things like email digests about birthdays, accomplishments, and people changing teams. The worst part: the cleaners’ photos were taken at night (everyone else had theirs done in natural light), so they look even worse than the rest. I offered to adjust the levels on just those, so they look more like the rest. My offer was politely declined.

    Anyway, add my voice to the chorus saying you did the right thing.

    1. Salamander*

      At one job I had, all employee photos were taken for a photo book. No one ever saw them until the book was produced. There was no approval, no opportunity to make changes. It was what it was.

  46. LCL*

    OP, you mentioned this was your first job out of college. So maybe you don’t realize that when you do a task that involves peoples’ IDs and identities, a dissatisfaction rate of 1 person out of 30 is exceptional, even phenomenal. (That’s 3%.) You did a great job. The only takeaway from this is for you to realize that when it comes to photos, people are really picky.

    1. Kathleen Adams*

      That is an excellent point.

      I shoot employee photos a lot, and…gosh, it can be grueling. If I got complaints only 1 time out of 30, I’d be thrilled to bits.

      What I mostly get is that people say their photos are fine, but that roughly 25-30 percent are unhappy, and a significant percentage of those don’t tell me they’re unhappy until after I prompt them a lot. I’m not sure why. I always say “If you don’t like these, I’m happy to shoot more,” and I mean it, too. I think some of the unhappy ones don’t take me up on it because despite what I said, they don’t want to hurt my feelings, but I think some just dislike having their photo taken so much that they prefer to put up with a photo they dislike (at least for a while) than to go through the ordeal of having a new photo shot.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      LCL. I just want to note that your comments today have been exceptional. You’re always a thoughtful and interesting commenter, but you’ve been the highlight of at least two posts for me, today, and I’m grateful to you for that. Thank you.

  47. Professional Retoucher*

    Honestly I don’t feel the OP did anything wrong here at all. People are incorrectly fixated on approval here – at that stage you are typically only approving the pose, not the final image. The OP was completely in bounds to make very minor adjustments so the images would like a cohesive set on the site. The reactions to this letter are pretty baffling.

    1. A Non E. Mouse*

      Honestly I don’t feel the OP did anything wrong here at all. People are incorrectly fixated on approval here – at that stage you are typically only approving the pose, not the final image. The OP was completely in bounds to make very minor adjustments so the images would like a cohesive set on the site. The reactions to this letter are pretty baffling.

      They might be baffling to someone who does this kind of thing all the time, yes.

      The last time I had a set of photos retouched was my wedding 7.5 years ago, and we just had some family pictures taken that got some retouching – and the photographer explained very carefully each time what edits they usually make, and asked if there were any they needed to not make because of sensitivities.

      Twice in 7.5 years is infrequent enough for it to be a stressful thing for most people.

      I think the OP can take this information in, and integrate it into how they move forward. As someone who doesn’t do photos usually at all, I’d expect in the original communication asking for approval of the originals indication that editing will be done to correct lighting, remove minor blemishes and color balance with the background. I’d also expect a “please let me know of any concerns about these edits by XX/XX/XX”, to give me a feedback option.

      The photographer could then take a “no new is good news” stance.

      I’d be mortified if my not-white teeth were suddenly whitened. Adjust out an additional yellow tone from the whole picture that also takes a little yellow out from my teeth, sure! But whitening my teeth would actually bother me A LOT. I also don’t wear makeup, so retouching for “blemishes” could make me look completely different if someone were trying too hard.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        The OP didn’t “retouch” the photo. She corrected the color. She didn’t do anything wrong. She says she did remove some blemishes, but not in the photo of the coworker who is complaining.

      2. TL -*

        That’s….really unusual. I would totally tell someone if I was doing major Photoshop edits – slimming/removing wrinkles, scars, moles, correcting hugely uneven skin tones. But I wouldn’t run minor edits that are meant to correct for the camera’s faults by the subject. That isn’t about changing the way the subject looks; it’s about getting the picture to look like the eye saw.

      3. Professional Retoucher*

        Honestly, this comment mostly proves how baffling I find this thread. The OP did not whiten anyone’s teeth because anyone had bad dental habits or overly yellow teeth, it was done to correct lighting/color balance. Your reaction here is speaking to your lack of understanding of what the OP did. She did not retouch anyone’s teeth and furthermore, where you would “be mortified if my not-white teeth were suddenly whitened” maybe people would be equally mortified to have unusually yellow teeth in a photo.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I’m going to go a bit further and say that virtually everyone would be mortified if their teeth looked unusually yellow in a photo. Many people are perfectly happy to have imperfect teeth and are happy to look in photos like their imperfect selves, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that *nobody* wants their teeth – or skin – or hair – to look worse in a photo than they do in real life. Jeez.

  48. Noah*

    To me, OP’s biggest error was having everybody approve the original photo then posting something else. This would irritate me even if I preferred the edited photo. That said, co-worker is totally out of line.

    1. ST*

      Technically, it seems that they were asked to approve the pose, not the finished product.

    2. Kathleen Adams*

      Yes, I am sure (from what the OP said in other posts) that when she said “approve,” what she really meant was “pick.” That is, the subjects were showed 5-6 photos to choose from, and picked – a.k.a. approved – one, or in other words, said “This is the one I want you to use.” All the OP did wrong was not use quite the right word in explaining it to us.

  49. ST*

    OMG! I’ll bet OP even. . .cropped the photos without telling anyone or getting their approval!

    Bring me my salts and fainting couch!

  50. GUMPTION!*

    OP–I think you did fine. Nothing sounds extreme to me.

    For the actual complaining coworker, I’d just send an email.

    I thought I heard you say something about your final picture on the website when you walked by my cube. Everyone’s photos were color adjusted to remove the green/yellow lighting problems from the florescent overheads. This included whitening teeth so that they didn’t look gold after the color adjustment. If you would like to use your original photo instead of the color-adjusted one, just let me know.”

    And then it’s in the open. Note there’s no promise of changing it here–if she comes back and it’s someone else that has to change it, you can forward the e-mail to whoever needs it with the request.

    If she wants to use it (and management doesn’t have an issue with it) then do it. It’s her photo.

    For the record: Person of color (fairly dark) with slightly yellow teeth and acne scarring here–I wouldn’t have cared about the adjustment at all. Now if you started removing scarring or my skin turned beige I’d have said something, but to me it sounds like you did basic “white doesn’t look green” modifications.

    Hope your other coworkers appreciated it! There’s always someone unhappy with the photos.

    1. Natalie*

      I think this is overall good, but I would change a couple of things if it were me:

      “This included whitening teeth so that they didn’t look gold after the color adjustment” – I think you can just leave this out. It’s not a critical detail, and for whatever reason the phrase “whitening teeth” strikes me as something that will get misinterpreted as changing how the subject looked rather than correcting bad lighting.

      And, given how bad the original photos are, I probably wouldn’t offer to use an un-retouched photo. If the LW has time and is feeling generous, they could maybe offer to re-adjust the original with a lighter hand?

      1. GUMPTION!*

        I think there’s value in being transparent since the complainer seems to already think she did significant alterations (though it could be worded better).

        She could also toss in, “Is there something specific in the color adjustment you are unhappy about?”

  51. DMD*

    I agree that it would likely be problematic to use a bad photo on a professional website. I don’t even deal with people (I work with animal adoptions) and I’m always touching up photos for brightness, color, etc. Fortunately, the dogs never complain. LOL But, I think in this context, if the original photo truly were of poor quality/lighting, the only viable options are digital retouching or taking the photo all over again.

  52. Gaia*

    We have our photos taken at work for an internal site (we are spread across so many places that it is helpful to have a face to match a name). I am…not conventionally attractive. I like how I look but I’d never be a model and as I’ve grown into adulthood I’ve become satisfied with that. I would, however, be very prone to approving an unedited photo I hated because some part of me just assumes I don’t photograph well and I would never assume it *could* be edited. So, if after it was edited I still looked like me (as in my skin tone is the same as my natural tone, I wasn’t slimmed down or had natural, permanent, features altered) I would be fine with that and wouldn’t complain. My initial approval wouldn’t preclude these edits, it would mean I didn’t know I could ask for them.

  53. Yet one more lawyer*

    Having been the person whose friends emailed me to say I didn’t look nearly as bad in person as my work photo made me look, I can’t understand the resentment over trying to make a photo resemble reality a bit more.

    Also, w/r/t the tone of comments recently, I am also disappointed. I used to love the spirit here, but it seems to be trending to a holier than thou type attitude. I hope everyone, especially new readers can reframe their perspectives on the purpose of this blog and try to be helpful, not “righteous.” We are all fallible. We all need help. Let’s be more generous and helpful here, people. Think about it: do you want to judge? Or help? I think helping is the goal of this site.

  54. leslie knope*

    i think this is the first time i’ve actually agreed that people need to go easy on the OP…from telling her how to do her job to demanding a full detailed account of her experience as a photo editor…

    1. Lioness*

      Just caught up on the comments on this post and I’m surprised it’s being thought of as the one that finally proves letter writers shouldnt read the comments. Yes some people have been critical of the LW but politely; nobody called them names or anything and there were some concerns it seems because the letter wasn’t so clear about a lot of things.

      I think people here are so used to the high bar of comments that they’re overreacting over some fairly mild criticism. Okay so some people are ‘wrong’ but the coworker is also ‘wrong’ so maybe it’s helpful to actually know some insights into why they might feel like they do which some comments provided.

      By trying to wrap the LW in cotton wool you’re basically discouraging them from learning from some useful feedback. They work in mar comms so they are gonna have to learn to handle sensitivities and egos and could learn from the comments even if they aren’t totally ‘right’ in what they say.

  55. Jessesgirl72*

    Here is what I think- for the most part, this is above the OP’s pay grade.

    No way does she need to get every single person’s approval of their pictures- and there are people who would never approve of any picture- edited or not. Her job is to make the website look as good/professional as possible. So the only approval she needs for any changes made and the final results is that of the Director.

    So Alison’s script works, and if that doesn’t make the complainer happy, the OP should ask her Manager what should be done about it. Hopefully what would be done is the Manager would shut down the complainer.

  56. Chicken*

    I am really surprised that so many commenters think that color correcting a photo requires specific approval. Given the way the OP described the lighting and color balancing she did, I imagine the before/after looked something like this:

    (that’s a photo I found by searching color balance portrait before after)

    I’m very much not a professional photographer or editor, but I do that type of color correcting on my (usually iphone) photos all the time before posting them on social media. I always ask friends/relatives/etc for permission if I’m going to post a photo of them somewhere, but it has literally never occurred to me to ask if they’re ok with the above type of color correction.

  57. Troutwaxer*

    Three things. First of all, if the offended person is a person of color, (apologies if you already posted on this point) try not to use words like “white balance” while you’re explaining things. Say “color balance” instead. And you might say “lightening teeth” or “unyellowing teeth” instead of “whitening teeth.”

    Second, is there any chance your coworker is color-blind?

    Third, I heartily agree that we should be nicer to the OPs.

    1. Observer*

      This is the kind of thing that give the term “PC” a bad name. “white balance” is not about race in any way, shape or form. And, it has nothing to to with the historical racially motivated ways of touching up photos.

      1. AD*

        Yes, it’s a purely technical term that photographers/videographers/etc. use widely.

        Questioning things like this are tangential to helping the OP, and as Observer said it’s more than a little absurd.

  58. Cassie*

    I don’t think the OP did anything wrong. Granted, I thought the retouched photos were approved (not the originals) but I don’t think my answer would have been much different. Maybe an email to the staff stating that the photos have been uploaded to the website and please let us know if there are any issues (which means if you don’t like the photo that’s up there or your name has a typo, speak up!).

    When we had photo shoots at the pre-pro ballet company, the photographer would have a laptop hooked up so we could see the photos right away and make adjustments. These were generally action shots so timing was very important. Afterwards, the director looked over the photos and picked out the ones to use in the program and promotional materials. The dancers had no say whatsover. (Of course, the director picked out the ones that looked best in terms of correct ballet line, and since they weren’t portraits, the photos weren’t too up close where blemishes and such could be seen). That reminds me – she used to post the proof of the program’s cast list for the dancers to proof. If there was a typo in your name or you want to use your middle name, it’s up to you to speak up.

  59. AJ*

    (Sorry if it’s been said before, but 367 replies at this point.)

    Photoshop co-worker’s face into the retouched photo, so hers is the only one looking ghostly/yellowed teeth. Proudly show her and tell her “I understand you didn’t like what I did. and I truly apologise. I’ve fixed your face back to the original photo and combined the two, so your face is how you want it and colleagues’ faces are how they want theirs. Everyone is happy and I promise never to retouch a photo of your face again.” Leave a copy of the photo with her and as you go, say “I’ll be uploading it shortly.” Have camera ready to video her head exploding.

    BTW, when new government ID cards were issued where I live the cameras were adjusted for Chinese skintones (95% of the population). The idea was people didn’t have to wear make-up for the digitised photos. Of course this meant that white-skinned people barely registered on the photo. Even with make-up on, my ID card photo is hair with dots for my eyes and tinier dots for my nostrils! I hardly look human. I think it’s quite funny; I didn’t think I should be offended by it though.

  60. Web Marketer*

    Hi OP – sorry you’re taking such a beating in the comments today. One piece of advice that keeps coming up is offering to post the unedited photo for that coworker, and I wanted to mention that, if I was your boss, I wouldn’t allow you to do that. These pictures are for your public website. It’s customer facing, and it’s 100% reasonable to have minimum standards for your imagery, including normal colour correction. I wouldn’t allow sallow, yellow ghost faces on the website because it makes the organization look unprofessional. It has been stated many times that this is standard operating procedure in professional photography. That is true, and that is part of the professional standards your boss might very well want on your website. If, for some reason, your coworker wants to present an amateurish image of herself to the world, whoever is in charge of marketing online has the right to refuse. I would take down her picture entirely before I let the unedited one be published. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not normal to go through multiple rounds of approval on staff photos. It is normal to correct bad lighting and flyaways. I hope your coworker stops complaining about you, but it isn’t your fault.

    1. Observer*

      Good point about the boss not allowing the unedited photo to go up. When you talk to her, if she asks for you to do that, tell her you need to speak to your boss.

  61. Sprinkled with Snark*

    I worked for a University Co-operative Extension non-profit where I had to do a quarterly newsletter, and it was a HUGE amount of work. Our small team of 8 each wrote their own articles, and then they all submitted their events for the calendars. Not only did I have to decipher chicken scratch, terrible spelling, and very poorly written paragraphs, I had to make their events all fit into a teeny tiny calendar square, AND fit into the limited pages of the newsletter itself. This newsletter was not online–it was printed and mailed to our clients.

    Every quarter, I would beg to have them submit their stuff in time, then I had to type it all out and add the graphics, and I had to add a ton of legal stuff and disclaimers required by the University, and add all the University logos and postal codes as well. For months, work on the newsletter was going fine for a few publications, until in a meeting one day our office assistant asked me if I could do the final edit and approval for the newsletter by Friday, since she would be on vacation the next week, and I said sure, and she handed me the stack of printer proofs.

    For a year, the group of seven had watched me pour over the computer writing this stuff, heard me questioning them about dates and times that were incorrect, asking them what they were thinking of writing about for next month, correcting all the spelling and grammar in their articles, and everybody was happy with the final product. But just because the office assistant used the words EDIT and FINAL APPROVAL they went ballistic! Who said I was “the EDITOR,” who gave ME permission to edit THEIR work, and the best, Why do I get to be the one to “play God?” I was completely shocked at this reaction. No matter how I explained it to them that “editing” meant making it fit and doing all the work (volunteering too – -I still had my own job responsibilities), they were just so angry at what they perceived to be some gross overstep on my part. So I let the biggest complainer take over the “editor” job for the next newsletter, where she screwed it all up, got dozens of complaints, and then quickly gave the job right back to me.

    Now I know this isn’t OP’s situation exactly, but it is very similar. People strongly react to the word Photoshop because they don’t even know what it is, or what it does, or how to make it work for them and have seen people do some really bad “corrections” with it and actually made things worse, or they have dabbled with it themselves and think they are some kind of professional designer. My husband IS a professional designer and production supervisor and professionals don’t even use it.

    OP, I think you have done everything as well as you could have, and have handled the matter quite professionally so far. However, what you may see as standard and simple adjustments, this co-worker in particular may see as a gross overstep on your part. That doesn’t mean that it was, just that SHE sees it that way. Some people get all worked up because they think the term Photoshop has negative results, like just by using it you are implying there is something wrong with their bodies and faces because you get to decide. “Who made you God?” I know, it is absolutely ridiculous in this day and age but it is what it is. I do feel that by approaching her directly and asking, ” I heard you were unhappy with the photo, what can I do to help? ” might get the ball rolling. If she tells you it’s fine, then maybe a prompt would help, like, “Is there something specific you are unhappy with, like the way your skin tones look, or something else?” Then, I think it would be absolutely helpful for you to SHOW her how these adjustments were made. Let her stand next to you and show her the original photo, and say, “All photoshop can do really, is to just brighten up your face so you don’t look like a ghost, or erase this out of place hair right here.” I know it’s kind of pain to do, but it may save you a whole lot of hassle later.

    In my case, when the complainer saw how tedious and tricky it is just to line up the university logo in the corner correctly, she realized it was about using skill and technology to create a finished product, not me being a god and declaring what stays and goes.

    1. TL -*

      Professional photographers use Photoshop (or Lightroom or some program that is similar in functionality but cheaper.) Design and production need vastly different functionality than photography but plenty of professionals who do excellent work use Photoshop.

  62. Mother of Cats*

    I wish people would read carefully before commenting. A significant number of the comments assume the OP was the photographer, and she was not. As her letter says, her employer “had new staff photos taken.” She never says she took them. She later comments that “the photographer” showed people the originals, not her. The OP simply did some light retouching before putting the photos on the website, which I hope is what anyone in her position would do. Other commenters assume she did more than mere lighting correction because she mentions skin and teeth specifically. But if those were the primary trouble spots in all of the photos, it’s possible (maybe even likely) that even a whole-photo autocorrect for lighting would result in noticeable changes only to those two features.

    OP, it sounds like you did a great job and have nothing to worry about. I agree with those who suggested casually mentioning to the complainer that you heard she might not be happy with her photo and offering to replace it with the original.

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