5 Words Headshot Photographers Should Never Say

One of the biggest mistakes I made early on as a headshot photographer was using the dreaded phrase, “I'll fix it in post.” In today's article and accompanying video, I share five reasons why I never say this to my clients, and why you shouldn't either.

1. Most Issues Can Be Fixed In-Camera

The most obvious reason why we should avoid fixing things in post is that most of the time these things are simple fixes that can be done during the session. As an inexperienced photographer, I found myself saying to clients, "I can fix that hair in post," or, "Sure, I can remove the necklace if you like this photo," or, "I will photoshop out the wrinkles in your shirt," and other similar sentiments. I think I did this in part because I wanted desperately for the client to be happy and didn't have full faith that I could fix certain problems at the session.

In reality, it takes much less time to tell someone their hair is out of place and correct the issue on-site than it does to fill in hair gaps or delete endless stray hairs after the fact. Similarly, it’s much simpler to ask a client to remove earrings or a necklace that doesn’t look good than it is to tell them, “don’t worry, I’ll remove it in post.” And, if you are confident in your method and ability to capture great images, shooting a few more images with a necklace removed or hair parted differently is a much faster and better solution than leaving it for post-processing.

In fact, the very best headshot photographers capture images that already look amazing in-camera with zero editing, and the job of a photo editor is to provide finishing touches, not to do the heavy lifting by repairing mistakes that could have been avoided.

Fixing stray hairs, ties, and collars, is much easier to do during the session instead of leaving it for the editing room.

2. Time is Money

Every one of those “little” tweaks we push off and decide to “fix in post,” ultimately adds up to a huge amount of time, especially if you edit your own photos. And, if you are fairly new to the headshot game, chances are you do all of your own editing. Things like removing jewelry, cleaning up endless clumps of stray hair, lessening shadows on the face, or fixing someone’s crooked smile, for example, seem easy enough to do when talking about them at the shoot, but I can tell you from experience that the minute you sit down to edit those images, you will sincerely regret not fixing it at the session.

Think of it this way. Every minute that you spend in front of your computer editing photos is a minute that you are not working on growing your business by doing things like booking new clients, updating your website and social media accounts, answering emails,  or sending invoices. It's also time that you are taking away from being with your family.

Remember that all of those little fixes avoided during the shoot add up to a lot of your time after the fact.

3. Your Mouth is Writing Checks That Your Butt Can't Cash

When you tell a client that you can fix something in post, you must understand that the average person looks at Photoshop like some kind of magic bullet that can easily fix any perceived flaw in the face, body, and clothing. Those of us who have been photographers for a while know that this is not at all the case. In my experience, even things that seem simple enough to fix can sometimes end up being very difficult to accomplish, so if you promise to fix something in post you risk the client being very unhappy with the results.

Another thing to consider is that when you tell a client, "I will do my best to fix this in post," what they actually hear is, "This will be perfect by the time I'm done with it!" Because of this, it becomes of utmost importance to communicate clearly with your clients and also mitigate their expectations when it comes to what can (and will) be done during the editing process. The extreme vagueness of the phrase "fix it in post" almost guarantees that you and your client will have very different expectations going forward. And this brings me to my next point.

Adjusting hair, makeup, and clothing is something that is best done during a photo session.

4. You’ve Now Opened the Door To Endless Edits

The minute you tell your client that you will simply fix something in post, you’ve put the idea in their head that anything – no matter how minor or major – that they see in the photo, is able to be fixed, and that multiple revisions are just part of your process, i.e., included in your standard fee. 

Endless revisions are not part of any successful headshot photographer’s workflow, because some things take much, much longer to fix than other things. Once you open the door to "fixing it in post," without having very specific guidelines in place for what is to be fixed, this can lead to multiple rounds of editing, and it will ultimately be your fault as the photographer because you did not communicate clearly and set realistic expectations for what can be "photoshopped," without making the subject look like they were accosted by an Instagram filter.

Instead of the open-ended "fix it in post" phrase, I tell my clients that basic retouching is included, and that this amounts to cleaning up stray hairs, blemish removal (no moving eyes or chins, for instance), as well as other minor fixes like removing dust and small wrinkles from clothing. It does not, however, include moving eyeballs, fixing crooked ties, changing background colors, compressing heads to appear thinner (yes, I've been asked this before), changing nose shapes, or anything else that is not typical cleanup work. As a photographer, those additional services cost me time and money, and if the client requests any of this, I am very happy to accommodate them, as long as they understand that there is an additional editing fee involved. A clear and fair editing fee immediately tells your client that endless revisions are not part of what they have paid you for as the photographer. 

5. There is a Better Way

The solution to your fix-it-in-post-itis problem begins with you becoming a better photographer. The better you understand things like lighting, posing, makeup, hair, clothing, and a host of other issues, the easier it becomes to fix things during the session, and to do it with confidence and ease. But you can’t do what you don’t know, and the best way to learn is by getting as many people in front of your camera as possible. Each unique face that you photograph creates a cumulative learning experience, and the more people you capture, the easier it becomes to see and correct potential issues in real-time.

My next suggestion is to take advantage of the many amazing tutorials available here on Fstoppers, like Peter Hurley's Photography Tutorials, or The Cinematic Headshot with Dylan Patrick, for instance. These tutorials and others featured here are invaluable learning tools, and I find myself watching them again and again because I learn something new each time.

Finally, I recommend joining an online photography group where you can post images and receive critique and guidance on lighting, posing, gear, and more. Those who know me best know that I learned everything I know about headshots in Peter Hurley's Headshot Crew, so that is always at the top of my list when it comes to online communities (and for the record, I am not endorsed in any way by the Headshot Crew). I've also learned so much about lighting from Felix Kunze and highly recommend his tutorials as well as Lindsay Adler's wonderful educational resources. The best part is that all of these photographers offer a ton of free content on their YouTube channels, so I suggest that you start there.

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27 Comments
J Barber's picture

As with so many other endeavors, get it right the first time.

Pete Coco's picture

Yep!

Lee Christiansen's picture

mmm... true... ish...

I don't offer retouching as standard with 2 of the 3 packages I offer for headshots. The decision / option is always there of course, and my clients can decide at any time whether they want retouching or not.

But I'll ask them at the start of the shoot, because sometimes those small details ARE easier in post than at the shoot.

Take hair for example... I can spend an eternity getting someone's hair just perfect - at the expense of having them relaxed or getting the right expression in their eyes. So getting the expression, getting the actual shot is where I'd rather spend my time. If I or someone is constantly running in and tweaking stray hairs or combing out those annoying "breaks" in the hair - it can be very distracting to the subject and it can destroy their confidence.

Things like clothes - well I'll emphasise the need for pressed shirts and the ability to tie a tie properly - but some clients just don't get it. Now I can make a big fuss about how we need to have it picture perfect, but 100% of the time I can reassure them that with retouching, I'll help smooth a few things a little.

Unlike many headshot photographers, I've learnt how to do makeup. Not full-on, but remedial makeup skills for men and women - and my makeup kit is comprehensive. This reduces time in retouch, but it also allows better images straight from camera. And it has an added benefit of relaxing the client and making them feel pampered by a photographer who will make them look amazing.

Retouching is not a bad thing. And time in post - if chargeable, is a good thing. I can easily double my £££ on a headshot shoot when a client wants retouching. But because I charge, I can do retouching properly, and not just a check run over with Portrait Pro. In fact, this is a big sell point with my work.

Of course, images should look great without retouching or fixes. That's why I have a steamer, some combs, and clothing brush, and a BIG collection of makeups (brushes, powders, face cleansers, blot powders, primers, colour correction...)

But the emphasis of a headshot shoot is the expression. Anything that distracts from getting that fleeting moment should be avoided.

As to Mr Hurley... he seems like a lovely guy, and he markets himself very well. But there are MUCH better headshot photographers out there to study.

Pete Coco's picture

Hey Lee, we definitely agree more than we disagree. Especially when it comes to expression - that trumps everything in my book. Regarding Peter Hurley, he is #1 by a long shot in my book. What he does goes way beyond lighting and posing. He has the ability to pull the best out of people and make them look incredible, and really understands faces. Its pretty awesome to see him photograph people and see the results in real time.

Besides that, Peter has created a system that works for photographers and helps them become successful. I know many, many photographers who have built wonderful businesses based on Peter's methods and teachings, myself included. The Headshot Crew is an amazing place.

nichese nichese's picture

I don't offer retouching as standard with 2 of the 3 packages I offer for headshots. The decision / option is always there of course, and my clients can decide at any time whether they want retouching or not.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Curious... you're lifting my text because...?

Jacques Cornell's picture

LOL! OMG, YES to every one of these points. Been there. Never doing that. Doing high-volume event portraits, the only retouching I apply is minor wrinkle reduction / skin smoothing and cloning out fly-away hairs. And background smoothing, of course. I am SOOOOO over Photoshop.

Lee Christiansen's picture

When I do high volume headshots, I don't do any skin smoothing, as I find it requires an automated process that doesn't look good enough. But each subject gets my details (when I'm shooting for a corporation), and the invite to have retouching done on their dime. Some take it up some don't. The retouching is done by hand so nothing stands out as "different" from the others so we're not worrying about messing with the corporate styling.

But offering retouching as an extra service brings in extra £££. You're doing essentially Photoshop things - just probably using a plugin instead I'm guessing.

I'll do localised dodging / burning and tweaks in Capture One, but that's it. Extra is extra £££ and then it becomes highly worthwhile.

Pete Coco's picture

For me it depends on the specific client. In my article I'm talking more about the one on one client, not so much the high volume corporate gigs. For those gigs retouching is sometimes part of the package depending on the company's needs.

In my studio, I offer retouching as an additional service, outside of the basics (skin cleanup, hair cleanup) which are built into my price.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Lee,
I do skin smoothing by hand after selecting 1-3 images per subject. It takes about 1 minute per image, and I bill accordingly. With events, I get subjects of all ages and personalities, and this extra attention wins the favor of the 10% or so who are sensitive about their appearance. It's really not that much more work than my event coverage, as I adjust WB, exposure and contrast one-by-one on those but can do this as a single batch with portraits in a lit, controlled environment.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

So, how do you normally start ironing your clients’ shirts? With sleeves or collar? ;)

Pete Coco's picture

Alexander, I've got a steamer! And a lint brush. And a comb. And lip balm. And... I could go on LOL. Nothing is worse than trying to photoshop wrinkles out of a collared shirt with a pattern. Sometimes I have them steam their own shirts while I adjust lights or background haha

Paul Trantow's picture

Thank you for posting a written article along with the video. The tunes stop for no man. This is great advice! Powder and a little hairspray for *everyone*. Even if you're only retouching one final file, they'll still see the flyaways in the proofs and you'll look like a hack! Fix everything fixable while shooting.

J Barber's picture

I would suggest a printed guideline (hair, clothes. colors etc as well as things like mood -- formal? casual?) to be given to the client AHEAD of time. Generally the clients are not experienced models and probably did not think all this through.

Pete Coco's picture

Agreed. Be clear with what you offer and don't assume the client understands the nuances of editing. They don't! lol

Roger Knopf's picture

I send each client a guide to dress and grooming ahead of time. It really helps ensure success up front.

Michelle VanTine's picture

YESSSSSS to all of that. I was doing a lifestyle shoot for a lawyer last week and every so often I my client scroll though the pictures on the back of the camera because I would prefer to get feedback while we are shooting than after image delivery. He looked and he saw there were a few wrinkles in his shirt in the images. Not wrinkles from a lack of ironing, but just natural moving and folding of the shirt as he was moving. His immediate response was "You can fix that in post, right?". Nope. NO WAY!!! We talked about it and he decided to accept the movement of the clothing as it looked natural for a lifestyle shoot. His package included 30 images but he ended up ordering 102!!! At $12/image additional I was happy!! But it's crazy how they just expect you to spend an hour an image fixing things that could easily just be shot the way you want

Lee Christiansen's picture

Assuming it actually technically possible to retouch the shirt, I'd be charging an additional £50-£60 ($60-$70) per image. Would that have made it worthwhile? I can increase my margins by adding retouching. Let's face it, few of us are shooting 100% of the time.

Pete Coco's picture

Michelle you should raise your per-image fee. ;)

Roger Knopf's picture

Pete, you are spot on with all of your points. Of course we all get customers in our studio whose shirt won't lay flat, for example, but what if it has a strong pattern? This is why I have an iron and ironing board in my studio. And what is better than showing the client an image that closely resembles the final?

Pete Coco's picture

Thanks Roger! I totally agree - showing the client an almost perfect image leads to more sales. Even something simple like getting a close to pure white background in camera makes a HUGE difference in the visual impact for the client. I have a steamer in my studio - it works really well.

Brian Carlson's picture

“You’re just too ugly.”

Lee Christiansen's picture

I should use that on more of my clients... :)

Pete Coco's picture

lol

Lee Christiansen's picture

I've just had a client in my studio for a headshot. Originally the plan was not to have the retouch option (to save on costs).

But the hair... We brushed it, we combed it, I almost stuck it to a board... It was never going to play nicely.

And lovely as my client was, if she had the right facial expression, she would forget to sit straight, or sit up and her head would plop to the side and when we got a great face, her hair would fall...

I'd done her makeup, (and that helped) but she was getting worried. And her worry was wrecking the shoot.

So we agreed to do a retouch and I told her all the things this video says not to say...
I told her we can fix the hair,
I told her I can tweak her posture,
I told her I can perfect her makeup...

And then I had a relaxed client. She ENJOYED herself - which means she will tell her friends.
And the retouched images will look amazing - which means she will tell her friends.
And I get more £££ because I offered the retouching - and her friends will want that too. :)

Sometimes it is better to know you can fix things and worry about the other stuff. Makes for happier clients.

J Barber's picture

Every rule sometimes needs to be broken.