Photo Wonder

Improving Portrait Post-Processing: Part 1

Though I tend to be more of a travel photographer, I still feel that I need to be able to take portraits. Portraits are the bread-and-butter of many photographers’ businesses and having more photographic skills and techniques can never be a drawback.  In this post, I’ll talk about a few tips that improved my portrait post-processing.

Photo Wonder
I’ve worked with Naomi a couple of times. This time we were playing with an old lens in a white box.
Sony A7II 90mm 1/125@f8 ISO100.

Tip #1: It’s All About the Eyes

Really – this is Tip #1 for a reason. The viewer’s eyes will zoom, laser-like, directly to the eyes in the photograph. It doesn’t matter what else is going on.

Knowing this, when initially culling my photos, I zoom into the eyes and check that the eyes are: 1) open and 2) in focus. If they aren’t, the photo is deleted. Yes, really – I don’t care what else is great about that photo – I hit X to delete. There’s no saving this photo.

I have figured out how to turn on the AF eye-tracking feature on my camera which does help a lot, but it’s not foolproof.

I’ve been disappointed enough times, falling in love with a photo only to discover out-of-focus eyes, to have learned my lesson – start with the eyes.

Photo Eye Focus
Don’t look at anything but the eyes. The photo on the left was super-cute, but no matter how cute, it’s OUT – the eyes aren’t in focus! The photo on the right was also super cute and that one stayed IN.
Photo Naomi has a secret
The in-focus eyes from above in context. Shhh, Naomi has a secret.
Sony A7II 223mm 1/125@f6.3 ISO100

Tip #2: 8×10 Rules

My camera isn’t setup to photograph in 8×10 and mostly online it doesn’t matter, but it does for anyone who wants to print a portrait. So, the second thing I do – even before I assess the quality of the images – is to crop images to 8×10. Lightroom makes this easy. Just crop the first photo and sync the cropping to all other photos.

I’ve also learned, the hard way, to leave a little cropping space when I’m composing the photo. I still don’t see in 8×10 when I’m shooting, but these days I’m less likely to zoom in too closely.

I do have a work-around if I don’t quite have the space I need around the model to crop to an 8×10. If I have a consistent background (e.g., studio backdrop), I can move the photo into Photoshop and resize the canvas to 16×20. I then draw a rectangle around a slice of background on the edge of the photo, select FREE TRANSFORM (Command-T) and drag the background to the edge of the canvas. This trick doesn’t work in all cases, but it is an option for some photos. Though it’s always better to get it right in camera.

Once the photos are cropped, I move the crop around the photo which leads me to Tip #3….

Photo Screen Shot Crop
Leave room when composing photo to allow for an 8×10 crop. Allie wanted a nice, smiley headshot. I left room when composing to allow for a comfortable 8×10 crop.
Sony A7II 106mm 1/125@f6.3 ISO100

Tip #3: It’s ok to Crop Tight

There are some general rules of thumb when it comes to cropping portraits. One of these rules is: try not to crop at a joint. Maybe because we, as humans, actually come apart at the joints, we are a bit disturbed by the cut. But this isn’t to say that we always have to have full body shots. Just crop other places.

Photo Eyes Have it
Both eyes touch the interaction points on a rule-of-thirds grid so I wasn’t worried about cropping in closely. The eyes are in focus and at key points in the photo. Naomi is nailing the look! Sony A7II 125mm 1/125@f5.0 ISO100

Let’s go back to Rule #1 – It’s all about the eyes. Once I crop to 8×10, I move the crop around and try to place the eyes on the rule-of-thirds line – ideally with at least one eye on an intersection.

If the eyes are the focus and in a key position in the photograph, no one will care if the top of the model’s head is cut off!

2 thoughts on “Improving Portrait Post-Processing: Part 1”


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