For Daniel Young’s parents, it was unthinkable. How could their son, a senior at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, Conn., shave his head just before yearbook portraits were taken?

So when the portrait company told them it could use computer imaging to restore his locks, they jumped at the chance.

The Youngs are among high schoolers and their parents who are exchanging traditional photorealism for such radical enhancements as replacing hair, removing braces, and changing attire.

Doctoring of senior portraits raises ethical questions for some photographers. But the digital process used by Young’s portrait taker, T.D. Brown, has also been placed in the Smithsonian Institution as an example of how technology is changing day-to-day life.

Retouching photos is hardly new. Manual touchups to correct “red eye,” remove scratches on a negative, and eliminate blemishes are a venerable practice. Even more elaborate tricks, such as removing an entire person from a picture, also have been available—but usually at a price of several hundred dollars.

The digital process used by T.D. Brown is quicker and far less expensive than traditional photo doctoring. T.D. Brown charges $19 to $49, depending on the complexity of its retouching work. If the customer is spending $250 or more on a package of photographs, the retouching is free.

Of course, not everyone is pleased, including Young, now a 19-year-old sophomore at Keene State College in New Hampshire. “He did not like it one bit,” said his mother, Toni. “We didn’t mind, because we were paying for it, after all.”

The Youngs gave the company an idea of Daniel’s hair color, where it parted, and its length before he shaved it off. The company then added hair in addition to doing traditional touchup work.

The resulting portrait, both Daniel and his parents agree, was pretty convincing.

“It’s not dead on—I mean I look a bit like Superman—but they did pretty well with it, considering the circumstances,” Daniel said.

The technology behind T.D. Brown’s photo enhancements derives from its ties with Eastman Kodak, vice president Craig Brown said. Through a partnership, T.D. Brown was able to build computer programs for image-altering technologies developed by the company.

T.D. Brown’s process involves taking photos of a person in various poses. The company puts the images on its web site for inspection by the customer, who then notes any changes he or she would like to make.

“People come to us and say ‘I like that smile, that pose, that background or those clothes.’ We take those bits and pieces and make [a unified image],” Brown said.

Digital photo technology has been around in some form since the early 1990s, and Brown said 65 percent of students now opt for touchups.

This is cause for alarm, according to Bradley Wilson, executive director of the National Press Photographers Association.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” said Wilson, a former yearbook adviser. After spending several years at a yearbook publisher himself, Wilson said he came to believe the yearbook should be a record of things as they were, not as students or parents would like them to have been.

“My objective as a press photographer is to depict reality,” Wilson said. “It should be the objective of yearbook editors as well.”

As a third-generation portrait photographer, Craig Brown understands that not everyone is comfortable with enhancing a yearbook photograph to such a degree.

“Before they really understand what it is, they think we are creating false images. We’re not at all. What we’re doing is giving control back to the customer,” he said.

T.D. Brown Inc.

National Press Photographers Association Online