I regularly get asked on Instagram how I edit my studio headshots and yet keep them looking natural. In truth I’ve spent years learning the intricacies of Capture One Pro, Photoshop, and the various retouching techniques that are frequently discussed.In fact, Fstoppers was a major resource in my education. Articles from master retouchers such as Dani Diamond and Pratik Naik massively opening my eyes to the power that our digital tools bring to the table.
As I look back at the time I spent learning the tricks of the trade, I realized that the better my techniques became the less I used them.
Of course, heavy hitting tools such as frequency separation and dodge and burn still have their place in my toolkit. But these days they fall behind more important aspects of a portrait shoot such as the hair and makeup, choosing the right model (if that is an option), and using the right lighting setup for the shoot.
I spend so much time trying to get perfect skin tones and lighting straight out of camera - lenses like the Nikon 105mm f2 AF-D DC help - all in an attempt to bring to life the personality of the subject. Making heavy use of tools such as frequency separation tend to pull me away from the human connection being made.
So what do I mean when I say less is more? I mean putting the big techniques away and only using them once you've tried everything else.
I have a priority system for dealing with skin imperfection:
- Try to select people who already have great or perfect skin.
- Find a good make-up artist you trust.
- Zoom in and take the time to handle blemishes individually. This can take a while so get a good music playlist ready! I sometimes spend a good hour or more on this stage but in doing so the blemishes are taken care of in a localized manner without affecting the underlying tones.
- Now you have a good base to fix any remaining issues such as patchy tones. Jump in and utilize the power of frequency separation.
- Finally, subtly sprinkle some dodge and burn to enhance - and not change - the already great existing light.
Yes, it’s way more time consuming but by avoiding reliance on heavy tools you keep the beautiful natural tones you’ve worked so hard to capture.