Portrait photographers routinely deal with an issue I am going to call “honesty in portraiture” - it has to do with the answer to the questions “How faiththfully does the image capture the subject’s personality and uniqueness? How true is the portrait?” - the answer to this question has a couple of angles.
First, the photographer strives to capture expressions and a “persona” that honestly reflects the person being photographed. That is, the photographer makes it possible for the subject to be genuine in front of the camera. While this may sound easy and obvious, it is not simple at all. The reason is that, in general, people behave differently in front of a camera manned by a stranger. It is the photographer’s job to put his or her subjects at ease in an artificial situation and make it possible for them to show their true selves.
This image below of a father with his boy, which I created just a few days ago, does convey a sense of authentic and genuine closeness. I used a white background to eliminate all distractions and added the bright colors to help convey a sense of upbeat energy. I worked on making the boy and the Dad comfortable, and I believe the images does show them as they are:
The other important aspect of honesty has to do with digital manipulation. We photographers are expected to make our subjects look their best, within the parameters of an honest, genuine portrait. But “making our subjects look good” becomes a very open-ended task with the many digital manipulation techniques we have available today. Not only is it possible to remove skin blemishes but also change bone structure and change skin texture. While these techniques make it possible to make anyone look younger and healthier, they also move against the spirit of genuine honesty that a good portrait should have. My personal reference is to use light to accentuate or “hide” my subject’s body features, and to use digital manipulation in a very limited manner, so as to maintain my subject’s genuiness.
Of course, it’s possible to move from making a portrait of a specific individual to making an illustration of an idea. This illustrative approach removes all the constraints and replaces genuine honesty with an idealized depiction of the person. I tend to use this approach when the image is no longer presented as or expected to be a portrait of an individual - for example stock imagery.
Here below is an example of a photo illustration that uses heavy use of postprocessing to convey the image of beauty over 30: