What is Reality in Portraits

Today I thought I’d talk a little about how much “tweaking” should really go into making a portrait.  For the past few days I’ve been working on images from a shoot I did last year with a wonderful young model named Sara.  She is trying to get into modeling and I’ve been helping her with some head shots for her portfolio.  Back in 2010 we did her first shoot complete with hair and make-up artist by the name of Allison Carroll.  She a fantastic job and the images turned out great.  I ended up doing very little to achieve the final images.  A little exposure adjust.  Tweaked the color temp and a little highlight and contrast play.  That was it.  The shoot I did with Sara last year (the images I posted the other day and today) we didn’t have the budget for Allie.  We decided to go for something that looked a little more natural look.  In the intervening time my Photoshop chops have gotten better and I’ve added a few more plug-ins to my collection.  Feeling a little adventurous I decided to play around a little with digital make-up on these new shots.  I also had added Portrait Pro 10 to my collection and thought I’d give it a try as well.  That brings us to the sowing of the seeds for this blog.  While working on these images I showed my girlfriend a before and after comparison of one of the images.  Her reply was “I doesn’t even look like her (Sara) now.”  This got me wondering.  Had I taken it too far?  How far is too far?   I honestly don’t think I’ve done anything too outrageous or beyond what I’ve seen other photographers do.  This is not to mention what I’ve seen touch-up artists do to images of models for commercial ads.  So I’m posting a before and after shot of the latest image from Sara.  I’d be very interested in hearing comments regarding this.


5 thoughts on “What is Reality in Portraits

  1. I think it all depends what you’re trying achieve. I think Sara would probably want to buy these pictures because she looks flawless and beautiful. On the other hand, it doesn’t look quite as natural. I think if you toned it down a little bit (to get a mix between the two), you can get a photo that people will think is flawlessly natural. (I’m not an expert or anything, just my two cents)

  2. I wish I was an expect to give you a good feedback though sadly I am just a beginner. Though I think the editing done it the final pic is fantastic.

  3. Sometimes the simple removal of a mole, over-smoothing freckles or even the removal of eye bags causes the final portrait to look “not like” the original subject. Retouching is largely subjective, but it’s good to keep the image as close to the original as possible, while highlighting and accentuating the subject’s natural details.

    I think you did a great job on the eyes, which accentuates her beautiful baby blues. The lip burning is nice, too. I think the neck smoothing is a little too much (I often smooth at 20% less than what I smooth the face at). In fact, instead of over-smoothing the entire neck, I might use my spot healing brush set at content aware fill to remove some of the more obvious lines. Or, you can use the patch tool and then go to Edit–>Fade Selection to fade the lines to a point where they’re still there (and therefore still look natural), but much softer. Skin softening is a bit challenging with freckles, but I’d err on the side of preserving those freckles as much as possible. My wife and sister-in-law have lots of freckles and say something to me every time I go heavy-handed on the skin smoothing/softening.

    With all of that said, you’re going to have clients that want to be dramatically changed. I have had several clients request to be made to look 20 years younger. I actually once did the same with another client (who didn’t ask me to) and they asked me to reverse it! Just make sure you know what your client wants and, if you take artistic liberty with their image, be ready to change it back if need be!

  4. I love this post and I am so glad that I came across it today. Over the weekend I took some portraits of my wife for the first time. Actually it was the first time I have ever done any portraits. I like the before and after shots above. In my lowly opinion you did a fantastic job. On the edits I did I of my wife I did not care too much for the completely air brushed look so I limited the air brushing effect to no more than 40%. If you get a chance to look at the very last pic in my post “Portraits 1” you will see for that shot I did not limit the effect at all. Again I like your edited photo a lot and I agree with the opinions of everyone that commented above. Since you are actually working with paying clients I guess listening to them and feeling them out will be important if you want to please them. In regards to your girlfriends comment she sounds like my wife. My wife did not like the completely airbrushed look of her pic but she did enjoy some the benefit of some airbrushing hence why I tried to limit that effect on her pics except for the very last one. Thanks again!!

    • Hey MD. Overall nice work. As others have mentioned it’s a fine line when retouching a portrait. Overall I would have to agree that it’s just a little on the “plastic” side. Two suggestions. One get Scott Kelby’s book “Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques” It’s great and has a lot of good tips. Two. I wouldn’t go overboard when purchasing lighting. I use a lot of natural light. If I were you I’d start with a Speedlite and a small softbox. Look at Photoflex, Westscott, and Calumet for your softbox. They all make small ones in the 24″-30″ range. These two items will go a long way in improving your images. Overall though not too bad. You have a great girl willing to pose for you.

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