ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained, From Shoot to Site

Since we signed The Heroes Pledge For Advertisers, we’ve received an outpouring of love from across the globe, echoing our challenge to the fashion industry – ditch the dishonest and dramatic airbrushing of photos. While we’re thrilled to be leading the charge, we also realize that this is just the first step towards a more inclusive and truly inspiring shopping environment.

In order to give you a behind-the-scenes understanding of our take on Photoshop, we sat down with Carrie the Head of Retouching at ModCloth – to talk process, Photoshop, and image in the fashion industry!

ModCloth: What does retouching really mean, and how does ModCloth differ from other fashion retailers?
Carrie: Some form of photo editing has been around as long as film and cameras; it’s an artform that starts with adjusting the technical aspects of an image – like light exposure, color balance, and sharpness – the things you used to do in the darkroom. Then you head into creative territory, where retouchers can combine images or create entirely imagined scenes. Whether spotting dust on a negative or clicking a pixel, it’s always been part of the storytelling process.

ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth
ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth
ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth

At ModCloth, our goal is to depict the merchandise and the models wearing it in fashion that’s aspirational and high-quality, but always attainable and realistic. It’s a stance that reflects our larger mission to help each customer feel like the best version of herself – I think of our approach as fine-tuning things that the photographers may have missed on the set. They may not see the reflection in a model’s sunglasses or notice the scuffs on the sole of her heel!

M: So you’re not anti-Photoshop as much as you’re anti-digital plastic surgery?
C: Yes, we still use Photoshop ! It’s the go-to software for professionals in the image industry, whether they’re making crisp nature photos or dreamy creative stuff. It’s a powerful tool, certainly – so we try to wield it with care.

When we sit down in Photoshop, we all start with a series of fundamental, natural choices. I crop and make sure the colors look true-to-life, removing fly away hairs or a wrinkle in a garment – I’m not jumping in to give someone a thigh gap or reshape their hips.

M: So what does The Truth in Advertising Heroes Pledge or ModCloth’s standards boil down to for your team, in terms of dos and don’ts?
C: The don’ts are easy. We don’t smooth skin bumps or rolls, and we don’t remove natural freckles or moles. We refuse to enhance or diminish bust, thighs, arms or buttocks. We don’t do ‘airbrushing’ with the paint tool, and we avoid over-using the stamp tool.

On the other hand, as I mentioned, we want the models to look their best! So we do remove zits and stray hairs, lighten under-eye circles, and even skin tones or tan lines. We also have to consider copyright issues with some tattoos or do some work to preserve the model’s modesty, particularly with sheer products or intimates. At the end of the day, it’s the product that’s on sale, and we want our talent (who are community members) to feel respected while looking realistic.

See more before-and-after photos from our product pages:

ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth
ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth

ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth
ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth

ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth
ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth

ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth
ModCloth’s Photo-Editing Process Explained | Story by ModCloth

+ Have a question about how we edit imagery? Comment below and we’ll ask Carrie!

About Chris

Every day, Chris gets one to three scoops closer to his dream of an ice cream-only diet. If he's not indulging his sweet tooth, Chris is using his child-like energy levels to play rubber snake pranks, converse with countless puns, and capture the world in photos as he walks. If you aspire to have a perfect Pittsburgh accent or have a passion for periodicals, he would love to talk over afternoon coffee.

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  1. Jenny 09/23/2014 at 9:13 am #

    I really love this. In my own blog, when I have photos of myself, the only thing I want to change is the brightness. I want it to be real, I want it to be attainable… I don’t want women to go to my site and feel like they could never attain a look I post. I may have some wrinkles and blemishes, but that’s me and I’m proud of it 🙂

  2. Jerry 09/23/2014 at 10:47 am #

    That is a great step in the right direction!! If you can’t live with what you have, without having to “enhance, enlarge, cut, etc.,” then you shouldn’t be in the business (modeling).

  3. Lauren Brown 09/23/2014 at 1:19 pm #

    I didn’t think it was possible for me to love ModCloth more, but then you guys signed The Heroes Pledge For Advertisers and my respect went through the roof. However, as a woman in her 30s who still struggles with fairly severe acne issues, I am disappointed to read here that you still correct a model’s skin imperfections. Just as digitally slimming down someone’s body implies that bodies of a larger size are undesirable, covering up acne blemishes perpetuates a myth that adult women all have perfectly clear and even-toned skin. The Heroes Pledge states that you want to ensure that your consumers “do not confuse an advertising “ideal” with what’s real.” While blemishes are not ideal, they certainly are REAL.

    • Leah 09/23/2014 at 4:17 pm #

      I agree with Lauren. I have terrible self esteem when it comes to my skin because advertising and entertainment portray women with perfect skin 24/7. Sure, I like to see my face blemish free through photo shop, but I know it’s not real when I’m looking at myself.

    • ModNatalie H. 09/30/2014 at 6:01 am #

      Hi Lauren! Thanks so much for voicing your concern – we love to hear any and all feedback our fantastic customers have! I completely understand where you’re coming from. After high-school, I always thought my troublesome acne would disappear and, as with most, that wasn’t the case. Trust me when I say we are not trying to misrepresent our models in any way. The covering of acne is decided upon by our creative team and is definitely not executed 100% of the time. We definitely hear your concern though and will take your comments extremely seriously. We truly want your ModCloth experience to be the best it can be and for you feel completely inspired when visiting us!

  4. marie 09/23/2014 at 4:39 pm #

    Yes I agree this is the start in the right direction … but all the makeup they cake on their models contradicts this.

    • Pathios 09/24/2014 at 4:03 pm #

      I’m curious how makeup is considered a different form of self-expression than clothing…

    • Jackie 02/24/2015 at 8:40 am #

      You might be happy to learn that ModCloth is now going for a much more natural look that involves far less, and much more natural makeup!

  5. Alexandra Marie 09/24/2014 at 11:59 am #

    Such a neat post 🙂

  6. ValleyCat 09/24/2014 at 1:55 pm #

    This is excellent! My only thought is on the treatment of wrinkles in clothes. The first image of the girl in the red pants looks fine with most of the wrinkles still there. The vertical wrinkles at the fly look better removed, but the horizontal ones at the groin (and maybe even the hip too) look like the pants are just doing what pants do. Without them it almost looks like she’s wearing tights.
    Thank you for this Modcloth!

    • ModNatalie H. 09/30/2014 at 6:19 am #

      Thanks so much for the feedback! Trust me when I say we definitely hear your concern! While we would hate for a wrinkle here or there to distract from the product itself, we primarily want to represent our products in the most accurate way possible. As with all editing, the final decision is made by our wonderful Creative Team and can change with every image. That said, we’ve received lots of feedback regarding editing clothing imperfections and are absolutely re-evaluating our current practices. We always want to make sure that we do everything we can to inspire your unique personal style and help you feel like the most remarkable version of you!

  7. Jessica B 09/24/2014 at 3:06 pm #

    It’s wonderful to see this, from a photography stand point. That a commercial business is taking this stance is refreshing to hear. I love that modcloth is trying to accurately represent women!

  8. SF Girl 09/24/2014 at 3:10 pm #

    Please don’t smooth/edit the clothing in Photoshop? In the first example, you’re taking out how the cardigan sleeves bunched, and how the jeans creased. In the fourth photo down, you pushed in the top right edge of the tote bag. We’re here to look at the clothing, not the women. Complete truth in advertising regarding how the fabrics really move would be nice, and rare.

    • ModNatalie H. 09/30/2014 at 6:27 am #

      Thanks so much for voicing your concern! We always want to make sure your ModCloth experience is the best it can be and that we’re doing our part to inspire your personal style 🙂 Without feedback like yours, we wouldn’t know how to do that! While we would hate for a minor imperfection in an image to take away from the product itself, our top priority is representing our products as they truly are. As with all editing, the final decision is made by our wonderful Creative Team and isn’t always implemented. That said, we hear you! We’ve received lots of feedback regarding editing clothing imperfections and are moving forward to re-evaluate our current practices!

  9. Leanna 09/25/2014 at 5:18 am #

    Thanks for sharing this! I digitally edit photos but I also want to support women and I have been wondering where to draw the line. I think this is a great example and I am happy to see the transparency of the retouching department.

  10. Leigh McKeever Jones 09/25/2014 at 8:15 am #

    “So you’re not anti-Photoshop as much as you’re anti-digital plastic surgery?” = QUOTE OF THE ARTICLE!!

    I loved this – loved loved loved…thank you to Natalie H with ModCloth for directing me to the blog. I had gotten worried that ModCloth was headed in another direction. She confirmed ModCloth is still right on goodness!!

    Did not know MC had signed the pledge. YES!!

  11. Likeabyul 09/25/2014 at 11:04 am #

    What an admirable post ! Smart move from Modcloth, I love your company even more.

  12. Molly Pfaff 09/25/2014 at 11:11 am #

    Love that the women’s bodies aren’t altered, though I’d prefer it if the clothing weren’t edited as well. From a consumer standpoint, it changes our perception of how they sit on a real person’s body, which is why I look at the models in the first place. Removing the wrinkles from the sleeves of a cardigan isn’t going to make me more likely to buy it, just more likely to misjudge the length of the sleeves.

    • ModNatalie H. 09/30/2014 at 6:40 am #

      Thanks so much for sharing your feedback, Molly! We take the feedback from our amazing customers extremely seriously so that we know how to make your ModCloth experience the absolute best it can be. Right now our editing practices are decided on a case-by-case basis by our amazing Creative Team, and are definitely not implemented 100% of the time. That said, we definitely hear your concern and have started the process of reassessing our current practices! We always want to represent our products in the most accurate light possible and would hate for any editing to take away from that!

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