It's Terrifying How Easy It Is to Airbrush Photos With This Software

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The open-secret weapon of magazine cover models everywhere can now be yours for just $59.99.

You never have to look bad in a photograph again. Seriously. You may look like a cyborg or a mannequin, but you'll never look old or blemished if you don't want to. Let me explain.

A few days ago, I got a random PR email offering me a trial of an airbrushing software package called, Portrait Professional Studio. Now, we get a lot of these kinds of offers, but this one was intriguing. Airbrushing is a gift that used to exist solely in the offices of Vogue, and here these people were offering this elite reality-distortion mechanism to the hoi polloi?! I couldn't wait to get my hands on it and test it out.

I didn't have a great portrait of myself to hand, so I went to the Reuters archive and downloaded candid shots of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. I decided to put Romney through the airbrusher first.

The process was simple. The software leads you through a series of steps in which I identified Romney's facial features ("Click on the left corner of the left eye of your subject," "Click on the tip of your subject's nose"). After I finished -- the whole thing took two minutes -- the software created a map (which I could tweak) of the Romney's face.

The map allows you to "edit" individual facial features, making his nose thinner or his eyes brighter, etc. But I wanted the automagic solution. So, I simply selected a preset profile from a drop-down box: "Man 50+ Glamorous." Then I ran through the same process with the president. You can see the results of this three-minute experiment above. While Obama looks roughly the same, Mitt Romney goes from a well-maintained older dude to a pretty dashing younger man. I'd say it shaved 10 years off of him, which is almost enough to move him from Nixon to Kennedy.

Of course, this software not perfect. Running people through this magical machine tends to make them look a little bit weird, too smooth. It's like approaching the uncanny valley from the other side, dehumaning humans. And this provides a rather depressing conclusion to the long-running saga over airbrushing on magazine's covers. Instead of making the people on magazine covers look more like Homo sapiens, we're going to make ourselves look more like the creatures on magazine covers.

Yet, I'm betting that what is easy to deride in/on principle is difficult to turn down if it's made available to you. People will use this tool to make themselves look good. And if airbrushing your Facebook photo opens the gap between real humans and their likenesses a teensy bit wider, so be it! At least you'll look good.

Portrait Professional Studio retails for $60.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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