The Art of Photoshop

We have recently heard of (likely from multiple news, social media, and other sources) the story of Nathan Steffel’s touching internet request to have the medical tubes removed from a photo of his infant daughter. I originally saw the story posted via PetaPixel, which also links to the original request post, showing the outpouring of support (and digitally altered portraits) in the comments. The response was indeed heartwarming.

This sad story is a great example of how “just photoshopping something out” isn’t necessarily an accurate description. Not only is a task like this is not as easy and fast as it may sound. People not familiar with the process also tend to overlook just how much it requires artistic interpretation to recreate parts of the image.

We are bombarded with things like magazine covers with Photoshop-manipulated pop icons. Many of us probably know someone who will not willingly appear in a photo without a request to “photoshop” something about their physical appearance. Photoshop has cemented itself in our vocabulary not just as a software tool, but as its own verb. We “photoshop” images, much like we “google” things we’re looking for, “xerox” our documents, “YouTube” our videos, etc.

As a photographer, I have also seen photography and its corresponding editing used in a multitude of symbolic, kind-hearted situations that are meaningful for different reasons. The Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep organization is one stunning example of the healing power of professional photography in situations similar to the one listed in the article.

The Art of Photoshop

A good retouching artist can make digital illusions very believable. It takes knowledge of art concepts in addition to knowledge of Photoshop (or equivalent) software to make those illusions appear seamless.  What we don’t think about is that there isn’t one right answer to challenges such as this. Removing the tubes in this photo required recreating significant portions of her hand and chin. Anyone who’s struggled with trying to draw people knows that is not an easy task without practice and effort. Doing so in a believable, authentic looking way is even harder. The different results that these volunteers submitted show the variety of interpretations to that challenge. It’s particularly visible in how each person recreated the shape of the fingers and side of the jawline/neck.

photoshop results

Photo posted by WhatsUpMyNinjas via Imgur

Posted by JustSomeEnglishGuy via Imgur

Photo posted by JustSomeEnglishGuy via Imgur

Photo posted by noomzeu via Imgur

Photo posted by noomzeu via Imgur


If we only saw one of these finished pictures, it would be hard to notice all the artistic choices that were made throughout the editing process. Because of the wide outpouring of effort to provide so many answers to this request, we can see the individual creativity that went into each interpretation.

That, and the Steffel family now has a whole album of pictures to help them remember their daughter.