Portraits and processing


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Portraits and processing

9 Aug 2020 7:35AM   Views : 312 Unique : 183


‘Bend me, shape me – any way you want me’ as the song has it…

Now, some of you who know me may feel that I don’t edit images as much as you think I ought to: I know that looking at portraits on Ephotozine over the years I’ve seen a few that seem to me to have been grossly overdone… I dislike ‘Barbie skin’ intensely: real women have pores and hairs on their surface!

Where’s the balance? My own feeling is that it depends on the purpose of the picture. If photographer and model are being paid to make a billboard image for cosmetics, the model will, undoubtedly, have been chosen for flawless skin. The photographer will be a safe pair of hands with outstanding lighting ability, and every tiny imperfection will have been ironed out by the time the posters go up.

If the object is to sell a portrait to the sitter, gentle flattery may be needed. This is where portrait software may excel: the ability to widen eyes and gently ease the jawline may make the difference between a modest and a large order for prints. I’ve tried it, and used it once for images that a lady in her fifties wanted as a record of how she was, to keep for when she’s older.


In my own work, for the sort of images I post here on Ephotozine, I don’t use it. Certainly, I work on spots and pimples: they’re transient, and will be long gone when I see the model again. I tend to leave scars and moles, unless the model particularly wants them removed, because they’re part of the individual’s history and character. I work with one model who views her stretch-marked stomach as an essential part of her as a person and as a mother.

There are many techniques, including high key and soft focus that flatter gently rather than falsifying: lighting can do the same, which is why an overcast day can be far better than bright sun for portraits. And what works for a male portrait is different: drawing out the lines and folds can add character.


The clinching argument, for me, was a model who exuded sex appeal: the sort of woman who draws men (and women) like moths to a flame. A strong woman, with pale eyes and a few freckles. Instantly attractive, the perfect bait for a honey trap.

But not conventionally beautiful: so I put her portrait through specialist software. Certainly, a more conventionally attractive person emerged: but the process extinguished her unique, earthy sexiness. I can imagine the same software making a lady of a tomboy, and (again) putting out the vital spark.

Where do you stand on this? Have you tried the software, or do you use extensive processing to ‘perfect’ your model’s complexion?



dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1698 England
9 Aug 2020 7:36AM
Top to bottom, models are Aimee Is Weirdd, Miki Nightshade and Mollee Melody.

The craggy shot of me is copyright Emma Duder, of Doodah Designs.
Robert51 11 7 106 United Kingdom
9 Aug 2020 8:51AM
First may I say what a great subject and one that over the years has always leads to great discussion. I would like to start by saying that portrait photograhpy falls into four different groups and how you process them. The young, old, men and women.
The main one being women as this covers most portrait images. Their are rules that help like John has said above. Only remove things that will be gone in a week, like spots and things. When it comes to skin always keep the texture of the skin, frequency separation works well for this but can take a bit of time to do well. If you want to slim down or increase the size of the face, never do it more than 10%. Men often look better with a harder look to an image like a b&w image overlayed on the colour one and changed to soft light. Children are great as they often make the picture for you. Try to capture that face they pull that everyone knows and do not try to pose them. This is a big error and will make your life hell. Last we come to our older group and always remember the age of beauty or the beauty of age. Always suggest thing as older people are not good at being told and always ask their advice like "do you think the red or the blue works better" and then you can guide them.

Remember great portraits don't always have to be formal and don't forget the fun.

When it comes to proessing I have not said too much as as I know some people like it, while others not so much. The one thing I will say is don't be affraid to try to give you image a different look.
You can always hit the delete key if it doesn't work.

These are just my thoughts but others I'm sure know far more than I ever will...
dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1698 England
9 Aug 2020 10:14AM
Lots of food for thought there, Robert - and interesting lines of enquiry for those who want to play.

Your own recent series of texture portraits show that there's plenty of scope for people who want to process without messing around with the basics too much. And it reminds me of something I learned many years back: a bit of grain is often very flattering, and can cover a multitude of spots...
chase Plus
15 1.8k 440 England
9 Aug 2020 11:32AM
I haven't done that much serious portrait work but looking at other folks work, the thing that really bugs me is totally flat, ironed out skin with no breathable pores, a little gentle softening can bring out the femininity of a female. Removing spots and pimples is a positive, scars are just that..scars and are real and I would never change the facial shape of a person, male or female, that makes them into someone else and removes their individuality.
Adding an effect/texture to a portrait is not out of the question or indeed changing the bg providing its done gently and can look really good, so can printing on textured paper or canvas.

A model worth their salt will surely portray themselves in the way they are comfortable with or if they are being paid lots of money, the way the client wants them to be....horses for courses as they say.
The lighting is key to a beautiful or handsome portrait and can make such a difference to the look of an image.
dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1698 England
9 Aug 2020 1:13PM
I've valued a Zeiss Softar filter since I got it in around 1980, for gentle flattery: and it can be terribly effective to just tweak down the Clarity and Vibrance sliders in converting from RAW...
dark_lord Plus
16 2.6k 694 England
9 Aug 2020 4:50PM
I too don't go for the plastic skin look. :I have removed blemishes in some images a long while ago bu don't ofen if at all these days. It was a novelty to do it way back then I guess.
I agree about negative clarity being useful, and it's quick too so no need to spend hours retouching especially hen here are dozens of images to process. Life is too short and reality wins (unless you're a politician).
JJGEE 15 7.8k 18 England
11 Aug 2020 10:41AM
Would you consider to even out the skin tones ?
By this I mean, possibly not a technical term, redish patches / skin hue

For character portraits, particularly for men, adding some grain to get that " gritty " feel is possibly acceptable ?

As for special software.... are they really not just presets that could, with some effort, be achieved in Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One Pro, Affinity .... ?
dudler Plus
17 1.3k 1698 England
11 Aug 2020 12:39PM
My own choice - having bought portrait software a while back - is to use cloning and spot healing, to avoid too much global tampering - but each to his own.

I mentioned adding grain in an earlier response (and it's specially effective for portraits of women with less than perfect complexions).

I'll leave the technical ins and outs of what could be achieved in ordinary editing software to those who understand what's under the bonnet: I only know how to drive it, so to speak. (And that, within significant limits).

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