Let’s talk about Photoshop fails. I don’t mean the kind you see from Instagram influencers who reshape their waist and leave the wall curved. I want to talk about the professional grade, graphic designer-caused Photoshop fails and why they happen.

Designers make mistakes all the time for a variety of reasons, and sometimes Photoshop fails can be tricky to spot. Photoshop fails typically happen because of time constraints, low skill levels, no proofing, or following unrealistic directions. Now let’s try to understand exactly how and why those situations happen.

Deadlines + Time Constraints

Designers deal with ridiculous deadlines all the time. It’s just part of the job. If you work for a really well organized company you might have to deal with this less often, but it won’t be entirely gone. These ridiculous deadlines can often cause a lot of mistakes in projects due to the rush and lack of proper proofing.

When in a time crunch, designers will usually opt for a quicker way to edit a photo rather than the better one. This might mean that image is harder to make changes to in the future, or it could mean edits look much less realistic than they should. Unfortunately, Photoshop takes time and if designers aren’t given enough time to make photo edits, it just won’t be as good as it could be.

Low Level Photoshop Skills

Having poor Photoshopping skills usually makes for some pretty blatant Photoshop fails. It’s hard to make realistic edits to a photo if you don’t know what you’re doing. Agencies will often give the menial photo editing work to new designers, despite the fact they might not be very skilled at it. This results in some pretty obvious mistakes.

Things like changing an object’s colour to something too different that is becomes noticeable or liquifying areas of a photo without proper smoothing are easy mistakes for new designers to make.

In my early days as a designer, despite having used Photoshop for years, I was still not great at photo editing. Photoshop is an enormous program and there’s just so much to know and so many features. Many of those features are mandatory for making specific edits look realistic.

My Early Photoshopping

This was some Photoshop work I did for a magazine over a decade ago. The image on the left was slightly wider than it’s cropped here, so I was able to sample the cobblestones from the right. The rest of the image was retouched using the clone tool. It’s not too bad at first glance, but if you really zoom in and take a closer look you can see the issues. Fortunately, there’s a lot going on in the photo, so as a whole, it looks okay.

Before-after-Photoshop-hotel

Lack of Proofing

Regardless of skill level, designers often make simple Photoshop mistakes that would otherwise be easy to fix. We spend a large amount of time at a desk starting at a single image, making minor tweaks. After awhile, we stop seeing the image for what it is. Then mistakes happen. Unfortunately, when a project is being rushed out the door those mistakes just aren’t caught.

Designers who work in small firms or in places that lack proper project workflow often have to proof their work themselves. This can make it hard to catch errors before a project goes live or to the printer.

For instance, a designer might be working on a photo edit for hours, trying to improve the look of an old building. They fix cracks, increase saturation in the sky and grass, then add flowers and trees for atmosphere. Three hours pass, but the design is done. The designer looks over the image and sends it to the social media team to post; then goes to get some coffee with strained eyes. The next day the designer is made aware that they forgot to remove the white background of one of the flowers in the image. It’s subtle but easy to spot with fresh eyes.

Let’s also not forget that some Photoshop fails aren’t even spotted until hundreds of people have looked at it online because they’re so subtle. In that case, a proper proofing process might not have even caught the error.

One of the Famous Photoshop Fails

One famous Photoshop fail is of a poster for the movie Takers. I’m not exactly sure what the situation that caused this was, but it’s obvious something went wrong here. My guess is that a designer worked on it who simply didn’t know how to match to the correct colour and lighting to make it realistic. Next, there may have then been a rush to release the poster so the proper proofing stage was rushed.

Unrealistic Expectations

In some cases, designers are asked to edit a photo in a way that simply isn’t possible given what they’re working with. For instance, we might be asked to merge two photos together that have mismatched angles; like replacing a face with another one from a different photo but the angle is slightly different.  The designer might be more concerned with getting the skin and hair to blend perfectly than the angle looking realistic. Often, it will look okay, but you can still tell something is off.

An experienced photo editor might know how to make the angle work better, or they might just say it’s not possible and request a new photo. Unfortunately, they’re probably under a time constraint and getting a new photo might not be an option.

In the cases where designers are asked to retouch photos and get rid of blemishes, wrinkles, etc., this can go too far. I’ve been asked by clients to retouch their photos and get rid of wrinkles, crows feet, and frown lines. When they were happy with the photo they no longer looked anything like their real self, or even a human being in some cases. But if the client is happy with it, we go to print.

An Assortment of Photoshop Fails

In the example below you can see a poorly Photoshopped image with the original image below it. Can you catch all the badly edited areas? These are examples of Photoshop fails you will see all the time. Things like the overly smoothed faces, badly liquified waist & limbs, misplaced hands, and awkward colour changes on objects.

Photoshop fail - the fail

The Photoshop fail: too much smoothing, poor use of liquify, and more.

Photoshop fail - the original

The original, unedited photo

Why Photoshop Fails Happen – In Summary

As someone who has worked in fast-paced, unorganized design environments before, it’s easy to understand how these kind of Photoshop errors happen. Most often, a poor project workflow is to blame. A poor workflow combined with designers who aren’t experts in photo-retouching who have unrealistic deadlines will always create mistakes. In many of those cases, those mistakes are Photoshop fails. Fortunately, they make for pretty hilarious internet content.

Where To Find Photoshop Fails

There are a bunch of great sites online where you can see the best of the best of Photoshop fails. Here’s a list of my favorites.

  • Bored Panda – 97 Photoshop Fails That Are So Horrible It’s Hard To Believe They Were Missed
  • Insider.com – The 54 worst celebrity Photoshop fails of all time
  • Seventeen.com – 19 of the Most Epic Celebrity Photoshop Fails of All Time

Do you have a favorite Photoshop fail? Have you ever made a massive Photoshop fail? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

Photo Credits

Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash