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Portrait editing. How much is too much? How much is not enough?

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

When your subject is mature, the amount of editing can be a bafflement. Do you smooth the skin, remove most of the blemishes and wrinkles, and risk insulting the person. Or do you minimize wrinkles and uneven patches with good (flash) lighting and then use great restraint on Lightroom?

My opinion is that people want to look themselves at their BEST. It can be a fine line, but in this selfie age of washed-out, detail-less phone pics, sometimes a client is surprised (and not in a good way) when a photographer with a super camera and expensive lens captures every detail. All 24 (or more) megapixels.

“Sometimes, asking a client to bring in a photo of themselves they like (or don't like) provides a nice baseline.”

Mistakes were made

I had a session with an older man (in his early seventies.) He was very handsome but craggy, a face with nooks and crannies. It was awesome. I wasn't about to erase those in the editing process. But, after a number of tries, it became evident that he was just not going to bite. He was not loving the photos. Finally, I asked him to bring in his most recent headshot from a few years before. When he did, I was shocked. He looked 40. There were no discernible wrinkles, moles, bumps, or crinkles. It had been smoothed over. We had another session and I tired to use lighting to achieve most of that. Can you imagine if I'd smoothed away all his wrinkles and showed him the photo?

"Here you go."

"Are you saying I look old?"

"No, I just..."

"How insulting!"

"But I..."

You get the picture. If it's for a headshot, the actor should present - in photo - what folks will see in person. If it's a glamour shot, all bets are off. Turn up that smoother slider and go to town.

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