I recently discovered the work of portrait photographer Charles Hildreth. His portraits and color grading techniques are, in my opinion, remarkable and I was wondering how he is achieving his signature look? I'm not talking composition. I'm talking exposure, color and style. For example, what sort of post production is being done to this portrait? Despite the matte effect which is obvious and can be easily achieved with a curve layer, I can't tell much more. The image has so many different colors that it makes it difficult to tell what has been done to it. I noticed that the whites of the background have that teal look while the foreground (eyes and skin) does not. This suggests a lot of masking.

Here are 5 other outstanding portraits taken by Charles :

I, II, III, IV, V.

Can someone provide some insight as to how such effects are achieved and/or tidbits on how to recreate? I am also wondering how important is the quality of the light when shooting such portraits. Despite the use of a fast portrait lens, is there something important to say about the light in the portraits of Charles?


1 Answer 1


Is there something important to say about the light in the portraits of Charles?

There is. There is no mastering of light here. It's always diffused natural light, either from an overcast sky or very large windows, with very little shadows. No risk taken, just the very basics and lots of color retouch in post. The catchlights in the eyes here and here show one or two white reflectors on the ground.

It looks to me like regular magazine material, no creativity, just pretty girls. It's easy to reproduce, and easy to forget.


Buy an expensive bokeh maker, not a lens. That is a 85 mm F/1.4 or perhaps a Canon 85 F/1.2 with a full frame camera.


Choose a background color contrasting with your model hair color, playing with complementary colors, and enhance them (too much) in post.


I'm sorry to be harsh, but being experienced, I see this kind of pictures every day, it looks always the same and I don't know why someone would like to reproduce it. Right know, just from memory, I can cite Maxim Guselnikov, Sean Archer, Lisa Holloway, Jessica Drossin, Helena Shumilova as copycats of this one. See ? It's crowded. There is nothing to envy, nothing to copy, just big strings. They will vanish with the trend they are following.

You may search your inspiration elsewhere, maybe in museums or on The Art of Photograpy.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You are harsh, and you are right :) In finance there is a saying that trend is you friend. Photography does not work that way... \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2017 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JindraLacko I guess that depends on whether one is doing photography as an exercise in unique personal expression or as an exercise in personal finance. In the later case, trendy is usually more profitable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Apr 30, 2017 at 19:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark and you are right too. Your comment reminds me how the most profitable - and most boring - genre of stock photography is "people in suits doing things". Art is fun, but bills have to be paid... \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2017 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark profitable, maybe, but not for long. As Coco Chanel said : "Fashion passes, style remains". \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2017 at 23:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AurélienPierre I think the trick to profitability is to follow the trend when it changes. Don't stay stuck in the old trend. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    May 1, 2017 at 0:10

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