I am starting a photography venture, just practicing right now and doing free shoots for friends and acquaintances. I promised to retouch the photos, but I now have some medium shots that I am not quite sure how they can be improved. I understand in the close-ups you usually need to retouch the area under the eyes, soften the skin, etc. None of the photos will be used for printing, I only send "the clients" the pictures to use online.

What should I do with these?

enter image description here enter image description here

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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you think needs to be improved? What aren't you happy with? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 0:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or, in another phrasing: what are you trying to do here? Where do you think it worked, and where do you have concerns? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 6:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please see this discussion. Broad photo critique is not a good fit for the site; we need to focus on a specific issue that you bring to the table. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 14:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Natalia, any chance of splitting this question into two separate ones, because the pictures are both so different? A great answer for one may not be for the other. It would also be (as noted above), really really helpful if you can say what specifically you were going for and what kind of improvement you are interested in. I love having this kind of question on the site, but in order for it to really work these specifics will help. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 11:23

4 Answers 4


I. Recommendations while taking the photos

  1. Please do not cut the feet. Define well where you are cropping. There is a recommendation to not cut on any articulation.

  2. If you need to cut the feet, there are "better" framing options.

  3. I understand that you want to experiment rolling the camera, that is ok, but you need to do it in a way that is well defined, and not making it look as a mistake.

enter image description here

  1. The image is out of the focus in the face. Try to use another focus point on your camera and try not to move a lot the framing from that initial position. (Red square)

In any case, close a bit more the diaphragm to have more objects in focus.

If you are still struggling with your camera, that has not enough focus points, you can stick to a focus point and reframe later.

  1. On a portrait, you normally do not want parallel lines shoulders and hips, especially on a woman.

  2. Try to guide your model, try to open a gap on the waist and arms.

  3. Either remove distracting objects or hide them. (Yellow arrow)

The image is a bit overexposed. You can see that on the face. Always keep your highlights a bit away from the right side of the histogram.

enter image description here

This image is quite nice!

But you cropped in a way I am not sure is the best.

I previously mentioned that you do not want to cut in any articulation. But in this case, I do not mind to cut the knee.

The rule of thirds is not the only composition help, but sure, it helps a lot. enter image description here

If you can, try to use the maximum aperture to blur a bit more the background. enter image description here

These are just some tips. Keep taking photos!

II. Basic Processing

The very first rule of processing and retouching a photo. Work on a calibrated monitor.

And the first recommendation is working with a RAW file.

Normally there is a series of steps that are not retouching, they are processing and consists of taking decisions about:

  1. Exposure
  2. White balance
  3. Contrast (White point and black point)
  4. Highlights, Mid tones, Shadows
  5. Overall sharpness

from this point, you preferably need to work with a 16-bit image.

Your second image looks overexposed, correct that.

Regarding the other 3 "steps" in this case is a matter of taste.

  1. Crop and reframe.

III. Correction

  • Mask the face on the second image and focus it.
  • Eliminate the white tube.
  • Some dodge and burn?

IV. Optional correction

You can potentially do some other corrections. But first take a look at this question: https://graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/70697/what-changes-might-be-considered-offensive-when-altering-a-persons-profile-imag

Second image.

I feel the dress is not the best option for a full body portrait, so probably use a liquify tool to make the waist a bit more defined. But that is totally up to you. Do not make it fake.

Probably remove the little hair strain on her neck.

The cenital light is not the most flattering, correct a bit the excess shadows on the face, it marks the wrinkles more.

First image.

I love it, but I did a rough manipulation, defocusing the background a bit. I would do that more carefully on that image.

I do not mind the hair on the face. But probably you could clean it a bit.

V. Style

This could be left to the end of the processing or prepared in advance since the first processing step.

Choose a style. Vintage? Saturated (over or under)? HDRI look? Dreamy? Black and white? Dark or bright?

That is up to you.

  • \$\begingroup\$ what about postprocessing? What should I do in Photoshop? They are straight out of the camera. \$\endgroup\$
    – Natalia
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 14:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Natalia Please describe the question you have in the question itself. This is meant to be a straighforward question and answer site rather than a discussion forum. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 14:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ The temptation for people to rely on photoshop/editing to improve a shot misses the point : composition and light are your first goals. Get those right and you usually require minimal editing. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 14, 2017 at 15:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok, I updated the answer with a basic methodology and some recommendations to your specific photos. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer, thanks! It can be quite difficult to find some good advice on the non-technical side of photography. \$\endgroup\$
    – Orbit
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 18:02

To the valid points the others have made, I would like to add some less technical suggestions: Facial expression and body language make or break a portrait. While your pictures are not technically perfect, the thing that is lacking the most from them is a natural and beautiful expression from your models.

First Picture

The way she sits is nice, but she looks like the hair being blown into her eye is annoying her. Also, one of her eyes is partially covered and they hair generally looks disordered, for example the strands on her forehead go in different directions. In many pictures, the hair being blown by wind is used as a stylistic device, but due to these reasons, it feels more like an accident in this one.

I also find that her hand looks tense, which is probably due to the fact that she was following your directions, maybe also stressed a little in front of the camera, and the position might not have felt very natural to her.

Second Picture

Her grin looks a little bit over the top, and not very natural. I think the same might be true for her eyes, but it's hard to see exactly due to non-perfect focus. Again, her expression has too much of an "I'm being photographed now" look to it.

About the arms and hands, I'm not certain. I suppose she was walking towards you when you took this shot? Maybe you missed the right moment by a split second, because the position of her arms seems a slight bit off. I can't seem to put my finger on what exactly the problem is, though.


These are, in some sense, very minor details, but the human brain is incredibly efficient at sensing even the slightest nuances about the facial expressions and body language of people. Therefore, it is important to get this stuff exactly right, or your pictures will always look a bit off. I have found this incredibly difficult to do, and sometimes even after a studio shoot where I took 300 pictures, there are only two or three that I consider good in this regard. Please note that I am only a dabbling portrait photographer myself, but the best advice I have is the following: Take your time, and take lots of pictures. The first ten minutes of a shoot usually yield terrible pictures, because the models are still too conscious about posing. After a while, they often get more comfortable and look more natural in the pictures.


How can I improve these portraits?

Light the portraits intentionally.

To improve them, you need to make your portraits by creating/shaping the light rather than just taking a picture in whatever light happens to be falling on your subject. It can be as simple as changing the direction of the camera-subject axis to leverage existing light. It can be as complex as using multiple light sources through various types of modifiers to get the look you want. It can be anywhere in between those two extremes. But use light intentionally to create the look you want.

The other answers are also helpful in the areas that they address. But the key to a successful portrait is intentional lighting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 I'll add that a corollary of "Use light intentionally to create the look you want." is that you must know what you want, so it is a good idea to give it some thought before you start shooting. I had this shot in my mind long before making it. \$\endgroup\$
    – user29608
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 0:04

The focus on the second photo is not correct. It should be on the woman's face, instead, it's at her shirt. Maybe try manual focus next time if you find your camera not picking up the right locations.


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