Updated: Feb 3, 2020
In 2019, we know not to look at women in magazines and think they're real. We know to think critically about what we're being sold, but somehow, we tend to forget that when we're scrolling through Instagram. This is something we see in our industry as well; there are many tattoo artists who edit their tattoos before posting photos of them on social media. Is this lying to your clients or is it just business?
Removing or blurring a background to draw focus and adding watermarks are universally accepted as fair, and even recommended to keep the artist's credit, prevent theft, and promote the artist's brand overall. What we're talking about here are the artists who change or remove the colours in their images, bump contrast to the extreme, and add filters. The artists who change the image overall to be a completely different tattoo. So, where is the line drawn? How far is too far?
As a client, we recommend checking out the tagged photos on artists' Instagram pages to avoid getting catfished by an overly Photoshopped tattoo. Many clients tag the artist in their selfies or personal photos on their own accounts, which allows you to get an idea of how the tattoo looks without hours of editing, professional lighting, and filters. If you can't find these photos, you can always ask the artist to provide unedited or healed shots. Some artists will be more than happy to send you photos, while others may ignore you completely.
You have the right to ask questions as the client. If you find an artist who isn't willing to help you feel comfortable about booking them for a tattoo, move on to the next artist you have in mind. It doesn't necessarily make that artist a bad one; it just means they may not be the artist for you.
As an artist, what are you supposed to do?
All the shared pages online and sponsored artists are editing their tattoos. You want to be honest, but how can you compete with unreal tattoos?
The trick is moderation. There is nothing wrong with editing a tattoo to look more like it does in real life once the swelling and redness goes down. There is also nothing wrong with making slight adjustments to the contrast, brightness, or sharpness of an image, but it's going to the extreme of changing the tattoo's appearance entirely where the editing becomes an issue and the final image becomes a false advertisement for potential clients.
At the end of the day, your job is to be honest as an artist, because a client is trusting you to permanently change their appearance. Be proud of your work! If you're not quite there, work harder on improving your abilities so that you do feel a sense of pride. Sure, using Photoshop well is a skill on its own, but the false advertising will come back to haunt you.
Full disclaimer, the tattoos that we share from Grim City are edited, but we make sure to never alter the tattoo's appearance. We add a watermark or a fancy black/white layer around the tattoo to keep our brand consistent (if you missed it, check out my other post about this and other ways to improve your brand as an artist). If we feel that the photo isn't clear enough, we will sometimes run the Sharpen Tool over the image at 15% capacity.