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This is a awkward question to ask but one that I have been searching for an answer. While taking head shots, is it possible to make a not so good looking person look more appealing in pictures?

Every person is different and most of them are not models. Some people have poor teeth alignment, some have wrinkles, unpleasant birthmarks or scars due to some accident, or they simply have poor facial features. I know that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, but is there any lighting or makeup techniques I can use to make it appealing for a wide range of beholders ?

If possible, I want to use Photoshop as a last resort

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    Related for one specific attribute: What are the best techniques for photographing overweight people? – Philip Kendall May 13 at 20:30
  • @PhilipKendall are you saying overweight people are not so good looking??!?! ;-P (kidding) – scottbb May 13 at 20:31
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    I think this question is good in that it is on topic and interesting, but is very broad. There is not one single technique or approach that will work with the billions of diverse ways human beings can appear. – mattdm May 13 at 21:49
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    Why, beer, of course. – Tobia Tesan May 14 at 9:19
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    Portraiture is an art. This is way too broad for a question here, I think. There are an uncountable number of details you have to consider and they are different for every person and every portrait. The only sensible answer to this question is to practice and pay attention, or possibly to take some portraiture courses, read books, etc. This is a 'looking for tutorial' question. – J... May 14 at 11:11
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There are not "ugly" people. There is bad lighting.

Well, there are several things to consider. I am just making a list, but you need to take a dive into each of them.

1. Location

You can make an interesting portrait giving some context. I do not mind a scar at all, probably it is due to a hazardous environment... what if you take a photo on that environment.

2. Light

Arguably the most important thing on a portrait. Most likely diffuser size angle and contrast, to mention some elements.

3. Makeup and clothing

Help your client look the way they are meant to look.

4. Lens and framing

Choose the best option for the occasion.

5. Posing

Here we are on the major leagues. This is not a theoretical situation, it is about people. You are the one making decisions on the portrait... so MAKE decisions and communicate them.

6. ATTITUDE!

The attitude is beyond posing, it is a fantasy land where the interaction between you, your model, the imagination and all the previous elements fuse together...

You are not a photographer... you are the director.

I want to add that this attitude is given by the confidence and trust you inspire on your subject. They are relying upon you are taking the best possible shot.

  1. And some photoshop will not hurt.

You need to go way deeper. For example, my basic search terms can be "portrait photography light" but if you type "sports portrait photography light" you get a new world of configurations. You need to explore and practice.

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    I'd prefer if attitude were first and lighting second, but it's a decent attempt to answer at a rather ill defined question. – StephenG May 14 at 12:38
  • There are not "ugly" people. I find it very, very comforting to know that my aunt does not exist. – Tobia Tesan May 14 at 21:39
  • @TobiaTesan I find it very, very uncomforting to know that I don't exist either. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica May 14 at 22:17
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While taking head shots, is it possible to make a not so good looking person look more appealing in pictures?

"Appealing" in what way? What is the purpose of the headshots? – Appeal depends on purpose.

Some people have poor teeth alignment...

You're not going to do much about teeth without visits to the dentist. But it's possible subjects don't mind their teeth. "Poor teeth alignment" is considered attractive in some cultures.

Otherwise, you can suggest expressions with mouth closed.

... some have wrinkles, unpleasant birthmarks or scars due to some accident...

These features can be reduced with soft light and soft focus lenses. However, they can also be points of interest in photos. It depends on the purpose of the photos.

... they simply have poor facial features.

What defines "poor facial features"?

  • Try different angles, expressions, and distances (focal lengths) until you find something that works.

  • Try having a short, pleasant conversation with them. Get them talking about a topic they enjoy. Genuine expressions of happiness tend to be considered more attractive.

  • Many transitional expressions, such as mouth shapes when pronouncing certain syllables, look strange because our brains normally filter them out. (Similar to white balance issues.)


Disfigurement, such as in people who require prosthetic facial pieces, is a more difficult issue because of the risk of turning the subject into a spectacle. If the photo is commissioned by someone other than the subject, consider refusing to take any photos unless you are sure the subject agrees and is fully aware of how the photos will be used.

If the subject is the client, then find out and deliver what they want. There should be no need to try to "hide" anything. Just stick with the basics of taking good photos. Let them see what you've done, and make adjustments based on their feedback. Try to make them comfortable to minimize anxiety that may show through to the photos.

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