BARCELONA - The couple looks in love and relaxed. The evening twilight gives the picture perfect lighting and the background is idyllic. But right next to them, in front of the Alpine range, there's a herd of tourists with their horrible fluorescent bobble hats.
You know them – the photo bombers, the people who just won’t leave that spot you’re trying to take a photo of – they are legion. Then there are the red eyes, the ungraceful bottle of Coke on a beautiful table, the electric poles, the shadows and of course… the “exes.”
Despite software available online, and software provided by Canon and other digital camera manufacturers, as well as the editing tools integrated to most digital cameras, many amateurs still aren’t able to fix their problematic photos themselves.
But now there’s help! Based in Catalonia, Spain, the company Muchbetterpictures will fix their photos for them. After Spain and the UK, the company is now expanding to the rest of Europe. “People in this business always work in fashion or advertising. We work with photos from private individuals and they’re usually pretty bad,” admits Felix Tarrida, the company’s founder. “It’s not very glamorous but everyone deserves pretty pictures, right?”
On the website, there are numerous examples of photos that have been more or less saved from mediocrity. You have the classics – erasing cranes and signposts that ruin the landscape; a white sky turned blue; bright lights dimmed. Then there’s your more sophisticated fixes – a divorced son-in-law eliminated from a family picture; a bonnet falling from a baby’s head put back in place; baby drool wiped off; two group portraits merged together to please everyone. “These are souvenirs of a lifetime. So if everybody looks great on them, it’s worth the 30 euros,” says Felix Terrida. The cost of a photo fix ranges from 15 to 45 euros depending on the degree of adjustments to be made, and delivery is guaranteed within three days.
The modifications can go very far. For instance: this shot of a wedding in which the missing groom was added afterwards and where plates were emptied of their half-eaten food. In effect, photography ceases to be a document. “We are going back to the pictorial logic of photography. The composition depicts an event, but is not a snapshot anymore, while the models are made better,” analyzes image sociologist Gianni Haver. “The photo is turner into an idealized souvenir, not a real one. This is somewhat problematic for us because photography is considered as an imprint of reality.”
Portraits of dead people
Most people want people erased from their photos, not added. Laura Stucki lives in Lausanne and used Muchbetterpictures to clear the background behind her at the London Olympics last summer: “I was at an Athletics final and wanted a nice memory of it. The guy behind me, an organizer, was spoiling the shot. The two pictures are completely different, I look so much better without him!”
At Muchbetterpictures, fixing holiday pics comes first in the list of requests. At Studioregard, in Geneva, a company that provides editing services in addition to their traditional photography activities, they don’t get many requests, but when they do, they are very specific. “We restore many old photos but most of the time, we are asked to cut deceased people out of a recent group shot to paste their portraits onto a more neutral background,” says Carmelo Azzarello. Photograph David Maréchal, on the other hand, says that his job for Swiss company Altitude Pictures is mostly about fixing red eyes and removing dust-spots.
Sometimes, it’s about making the subject more presentable. For instance, Muchbetterpictures offers “virtual thinning.” “The dating sites and social networks that require photos have opened a whole new market of digital enhancement,” explains Gianni Haver. “More and more people have their first meeting via a photo, and there are lots of other profiles competing with you, so you better look good on that photo.”
Should this be considered as a kind of manipulation? “The photo has to be believable; the person needs to be recognizable. But we use make-up and dye our hair, which is pretty much the same thing. There’s nothing shocking about this,” says Felix Tarrida. Loïc Olive, founder of Photograpix, based in Brittany, France, agrees with him: “As long as the person is okay with it and gave the green light for every modification, there’s no problem. My limits are technological; there are things we can’t do, like erase someone if he’s standing in front of a very complex background.”
Felix Tarrida has already had to turn down requests. “During the campaign for the secession of Catalonia, we were asked to dress a political figure in a way that was offensive.” And while websites specialized in fixing photos for the larger public are still rare, it is better to check first before you send them your most precious memories. Recently, clients who had sent pictures that where too blue got them back unaltered, but with lovely little fishes swimming in the backround.