screenshot of photographic portrait being edited

Editing Tips for Photographers

How to Edit a Portrait to Create a Great Image

In the old days, you took an image, the film got developed and unless you really knew what you were doing that was that. Yes, retouching did take place but most of the time it was for high end photographers and for magazine publication.

screenshot of photographic portrait being edited

Fast forward to 2021 and my phone has apps that can retouch better and faster than I could ten years ago. We have to accept that retouching, usually meaning photoshop, is part and parcel of daily life as a photographer.  Clients know what is possible, and they expect it! So if you want to be up there with the good ones, you have to retouch.

I’m running an online editing workshop to demonstrate how to edit well. You can find out more about this, and book your place, in my online shop. 

1. Skin Retouching

I always say that a good retouch is one where you don’t know what the retoucher has done. There should always be skin texture in the final edit. Yes we smooth skin and remove imperfections, but guess what –  people have pores, they have wrinkles, they have texture. We can soften them but they shouldn’t be removed completely. As a judge in photographic competitions and qualification panels, I will mark down any image that doesn’t allow me to see texture in the skin. So, be sympathetic with the skin work but leave it looking realistic.

portrait of red head with editing tips for photographers

2. Use Liquify Carefully

About 4-5 years ago ( I’m old so I forget how long things have been around) Adobe added face featured liquify into photoshop, where it automatically selects the parts of the face and you can liquify them easily. This led to a lot of googly eyed people, massive eyes photoshopped to death and un natural looking ‘fine art ‘children images. Honestly, if the eyes are bigger than half the face, it’s not normal. Unless you are aiming for a surreal effect, your subject should look like themselves, with naturally proportioned features.

Liquify certainly has its place and believe me, the fact I can add to a smile has saved me a few times with a difficult child in a session. I also use it to rectify clothing creases and too tight underwear. Using big brushes in liquify means I can smooth clothing without leaving puckering.

3. Be Gentle with the Paintbrush!

The painterly look is another thing. It’s become a part of the ‘fine art’ genre and people think it can be achieved by using the oil paint filter, stacks of dodge and burn ( usually with a neutral grey layer which leads to my biggest bug bear, saturation issues in skin) and over use of textures.

What fine art really is, is an understanding of colour theory, of styling and the use of colour to create tonal harmonies, most of which can be achieved in camera rather than in the edit. Fine art is not making hair look like it is carved out of wax, or faces that glow due to over lightened cheeks.

4. Adding Texture to Enhance a Portrait

I love the use of textured backgrounds, which is why I have created a range of studio backdrops for Click Props Backdrops. Using a backdrop with a texture means one less thing to do in retouch!

I do still add textures in edits,  and Lauren at LSP Actions makes the best I have used (check out her photoshop actions too). If you add a texture, please make sure that you remove it completely from areas you don’t want it to be! Leaving a texture on an elbow or prop where there shouldn’t be, it stands out massively. Also while we are at it, consider depth of field when using textures. I love shooting shallow, so do others. But don’t have hair going out of focus on a portrait but then a super sharp texture in the background, it just doesn’t work that way. I often add my texture then blur it to match the depth of field in the image. Like I said in a good retouch you shouldn’t know the texture wasn’t there originally.

These are just a few things I see time and time again when mentoring or judging, guess what, I have made those mistakes too and that’s why I wrote this to try and point them out. I love a good retouch and love seeing others transforming images with great retouching, So just pay attention to details and enjoy making great imagery.

dog portrait demonstrating editing tips for phtoographers

the lighting set up for a maternity shoot in a photography studio by photography trainer Gary Hill

How to light this portrait - Maternity

How to Light Maternity Photography - how to pose and light this image

This is the gorgeous Tianna Jarrett-Williams, a fellow photographer, who I kidnapped to demonstrate how to light maternity when there was a training session going on at my studio in Preston, Lancashire. This was created and shot literally in a five minutes.

How did I create this?

So the how is very simple, feathered 135 octobox as key light,  70 deep box as an accent. The ratio would be smaller one at 1 stop less, in hindsight a 1/3 rd less than that would have been even better.  The feathering on the key is to just graze that soft light across the front of the bump and also pick out those gorgeous cheekbones, the accent is to prevent total loss of hair against the dark grey background.  Camera height is halfway to prevent any distortion and shot on the 85mm at f5.6, iso 50.

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how to pose and light a maternity portrait in a studio

Why I shot it like this

I am going to talk about not just the shot but to the whole final image presentation.

The pose is very simple, the dress was a touch as it was not for maternity,  so wouldn’t fasten at the back. This meant I was a little limited as to what I could do.  Keeping it very simple with a top and bottom bump hand set up , cheeky angle on the head just looking beyond bump to prevent neck compression then probably said something cheeky to get the expression (Tianna and I are friends so I can get away with it, judge your client before trying it!).  The crop is just a simple half length as the dress fit better that way.

SO, into PS after a simple raw conversion and then skin tidy , some dodge and burn to really pop the cheek bones and localised sharpening to bring out the details. Now this dress I have shot probably 20 times and try and make it different so popped it into alien skin to give a colour grading which you see here ( no idea which preset, probably a mix of 2 or 3 ). A vignette was added as I prefer to shoot with a large light source for the quality of light on subject which causes background spill which I can then pull down with a curves vignette.  That was the retouch finished but I liked the tones and cohesive nature of this so felt the stroke line and border added to the final presentation, the colours of both are sampled from the image to make the tonal range flow through it all.

That’s it really. A simple but effective shot .

You can purchase exclusive access to maternity lighting and posing instruction videos, along with regularly updated content and ongoing support in a members only group.

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the lighting set up for a maternity shoot in a photography studio by photography trainer Gary Hill

behind the scenes image of an outdoor photography mentoring in the UK

Why Choose 1:1 Photography Mentoring

Why Choose 1:1 Mentoring to improve your Photography

I have been training photographers and offering 1:1 photography mentoring for many years – both professionals and beginners. I am passionate about raising the quality of portrait photography for everyone. If you’re looking for photography mentoring, you’ll find an array of different options available – online workshops, in person small group photography workshops, larger group workshops and 1:1 mentoring. Hopefully I can help you to choose what’s right for you. There is some information here, and on the training page of my website, but do get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss it in person.

Gary Hill, teacher, trainer and photorgaphy mentoring coach in the UK

1. Bespoke to you.

Whether you are a complete beginner or a seasoned veteran photographer, you are never finished learning. A 1:1 photography mentoring session with me can be completely bespoke to your needs, what you want to work on and how you learn. Whether you are looking for a day learning about fine art photography, or a half-day in the studio and a half-day editing, or even ongoing support with regular training throughout the year, we can design your photography mentoring to be all about you.

2. In your own space, or in mine

I travel all over the UK and throughout the world to deliver photography training. Coming to you means that you can learn the very best ways to use your props, posing aids, lights and studio space. I can even help you to decide what you may need to buy to add to your studio collection if you want.

If you don’t have a suitable studio then you can come to use mine and I will train you using the very best Elinchrom lighting and modifiers from The Flash Centre, and a fantastic selection of backdrops from Click Backdrops. You can use this knowledge whether you are mobile or use another space to work from.

behind the scenes photograph of photography mentoring for a childrens photographer

3. Find or develop your own style

In a workshop, a group of people will inevitably lead to more generic training, whereas a 1:1 means we can concentrate on your own style of photography. Whether you prefer light and airy, vintage, fine art or high key, we can spend a day working carefully on your style of photography.

4. Concentrate on one genre

If there’s something in particular you want to excel in, in a 1:1 mentoring session we can concentrate on the genre you want to specialise in. If you’d like training in boudoir posing and lighting, we can concentrate on that, or if you’d like to work with younger children, then that’s OK too. You’re in charge of your training and I’ll help you with whatever you would like me to!

5. Some things are just better 1:1!

When we are working together for 1:1 photography mentoring, there are some things that we can do better than in a workshop! For example, I can demonstrate a skill, then watch as you try yourself, and make tiny adjustments to show you exactly how to get it right. We can sit together at an editing screen and I can show you the small edits that will make a huge difference to your image. It’s all about you – and how I can best help you to become a better photographer.

behind the scenes image of an outdoor photography mentoring in the UK