I have good portraits that when applied B&W filters, or when edited in any other way, they produce an objectively good looking result, but the portrait itself looks too "tryhard" or "forced". Some portraits just give me an unnatural feeling when I edit or retouch them, but I cannot pin down what characteristic in my portraits makes some "edit worthy" and some not (but still good photos none the less).

Examples: https://poutperfection.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/awkward-models-posing9.jpg http://www.petitpetitgamin.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/tumblr_lu05u4syyr1r40iv6o1_500.png

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    I think you'd have to post up an example for us to know what you're talking about.
    – MikeW
    Feb 28 '16 at 4:37
  • How are they "still good photos" if they're not "edit worthy" and they don't look right?
    – Caleb
    Feb 28 '16 at 5:28
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    Would you mind inlining small versions of the portraits here (n.b. this requires them to be under the CC-BY-SA license). The link is okay, but it's very common for such links to vanish underneath the question, leaving future visitors wondering what's it's all about.
    – mattdm
    Feb 28 '16 at 13:43
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    Are either of those your images? If not, how are they representative of the actual problem you are having?
    – MikeW
    Feb 28 '16 at 17:24

The contrived posing stands out as "trying too hard". If you want the best out of your subjects, get them comfortable being their authentic selves and capture them as they are.

This takes developing comfortable relationship with the subject, gently guiding them on what looks good on camera, and making feel good about themselves.

I do a fair amount of executive headshot/heads-and-shoulders portraits. CEOs, politicians, and other male "executives" can be rather reserved and conservative. They'll come to the session with an "image" in mind that sometimes really doesn't work for them.

If I followed their direction, they would appear as stiff, overly formal, and aloof. I try to engage in small talk, learn about their passions and personalities, and generally make them comfortable. Then the camera and lights come out. I direct them and pose them in a way that brings out as much as their authentic selves as appropriate for the type of portrait.


Portraits are not about photography, they're about the photographer's interaction with the subject. Look at the two images you've posted: relatively attractive women in caricatural poses. Can you think of a natural situation in which these women would stand like this?

Good portraiture is natural, at least within the context of the photo. Sure, there are great, crazy portraits, but the entire image is crazy, the subject is crazy. In your photos, you have unexceptional people, clothes and scenery - the only weird thing is the pose.

Remember, the subject interacts with the photographer, and through the photographer, with the viewer.

Look at the masters for inspiration: Helmut Newton, Avedon, Penn, early Leibovitz, August Sander, etc. Not random photographers on the internet, who probably know less about what they're doing than you do.

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    I agree with basically what you're saying, except "Portraits are not about photography" doesn't make any sense to me. The interaction between subject and photographer is an important part of many types of photography (including landscapes and still lifes).
    – mattdm
    Feb 28 '16 at 13:44
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    The best photographers are able to get the subject to connect with the viewer. While the quality of the image is good, the models are poorly posed and look quit uncomfortable in front of the camera, or uncomfortable with the direction. Have a look at some posing guides, that's a good place to start. http://digital-photography-school.com/posing-guide-photographing-women-2/. There is a good reason for stylists and art directors on photo shoots if you currently lack that skill.
    – Gmck
    Feb 28 '16 at 16:12
  • @mattdm Portraits are not about photography in the sense that the camera is a bystander. Mar 4 '16 at 11:02

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