Though I tend to be more of a travel photographer, I still feel that I need to be able to take portraits. Portraits are the bread-and-butter of many photographers’ businesses and having more photographic skills and techniques can never be a drawback.  In this post, I’ll talk about a few tips that improved my portrait post-processing.

This is part 2 of the article on portrait post-processing. Click here for Part 1.

Photo Alyssa

A portrait today of Alyssa. I loved her hair and her striking eyes.

Tip #4: Minimize Adjustments

I tend to have a light touch when post-processing portraits – I’m much more artistic in my landscape and travel photography when it comes to post-processing. In my view, the model should never even suspect the photo has been retouched – it should simply look like a beautiful image of the model.

I usually add adjustments until I can barely see the change – then pull it back a bit – that’s probably just right.

After a studio shoot, the first thing I do is Auto WB for flash – I probably should do this in camera, but I usually forget. I sometimes add just a touch of clarity, saturation & vibrancy, but that depends on the photo.

I haven’t yet found a Lightroom preset that I like for portraits, but Lightroom does have a couple of portrait post-processing features built into the adjustment brush.

Click on the adjustment brush and then on Effect. You’ll see options like “soften skin” and “iris enhance”. I’ve created a few of my own presets and edited the Lightroom presets to my taste. To do this, I moved the sliders around to where I was happy and clicked the “Save Current Setting as New Preset” under Effects.

I really only touch up a few features: 1) soften the skin, 2) brighten the eyes (using the radial filter instead of adjustment brush), 3) add a touch of saturation to the lips, and 4) whiten teeth when visible.

There is another trick to soften skin that I’ve only recently begun playing with. It’s a simple type of Frequency Separation. I make a duplicate of the photo in Lightroom. On this duplicate, I reduce the clarity to -30 (any more and I think the skin starts looking plastic in the final version). Then I select both the original and the duplicate and Photo Merge – HDR. I uncheck the auto-tone box and then merge the photos. This technique seems to soften the skin just enough for my tastes.

Check out this before & after photo of Katelynn. The right photo has skin softened, eyes brightened, and lips slightly saturated. Also, blemishes removed – more on that in Tip #5.

Tip #5: Spot the Spots

Spot removal includes everything from blemishes to stray hairs to stains on clothing.

Look carefully!

I tend to remove spots in Photoshop because I find that the program responds faster than Lightroom, but Lightroom works fine for a spot or two. But if my model has a lot of acne or the like, I prefer Photoshop. I most often use the Healing Brush tool, choosing a bit of skin as close as possible to the blemish that I am removing.

Don’t feel the need to remove EVERY blemish – this looks unnatural. A few freckles add character.

I will smooth a wrinkle or two while I’m here, but I tend leave most – I like the texture. With age, comes wisdom – and wrinkles!

Jennifer Alexandra

I learned some new lighting techniques from Florin Tilinca, a New York based wedding photographer with a ton of knowledge – and his ice lights – to share, and wonderful local model Jennifer Alexandra.

Tip #6: Learn to Liquify

Earlier this year (2016), Adobe upgraded Photoshop adding a Face Aware Liquify tool. This can be found under FILTER – LIQUIFY. The tool is surprisingly easy to use. It took only minutes of exploration to learn how the tool worked.

All sorts facial features can be adjusted including eye height, face width, nose width, etc. There are some safe-guards built in so you can’t go all Picasso on someone’s face, but the adjustments should still be used very sparingly.

If done well, I can’t even tell if I’ve adjusted the face or not  – until I put the adjusted photo next to the original. If I can’t tell neither will my model! I simply want my model to think that I have an amazing camera that magically removes 10 pounds!

I don’t use use this feature with all portraits, but it does help to slim down a plump client or compensate for a less desirable feature. It’s not going to make the average client look like Heidi Klum, but it can make the image into the best possible version of the client.

Once I’ve adjusted one photo, I save the mesh and then apply these same adjustments to all other photos (i.e., load mess). Easy as pie!

Before and after applying Photoshop liquify to facial features. Slightly slimmed face & nose, wider spaced eyes, top lip slightly fuller. Model shouldn’t be able to tell!
Sony A7II 90mm 1/125@f5.6 ISO100

My portrait style is still evolving and I’m always on the look out for new tools and techniques. Let me know if you have any to share!