5 Tips to Cut Your Portrait Editing Time in Half

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Editing is the bottleneck part of the workflow for many portrait photographers. We can shoot a great picture in mere seconds, but when it comes to editing dozens of images, it often feels like it takes forever. The biggest editing time saver is of course to get it right when shooting. There are countless things that can’t be “fixed” in Photoshop, but editing images isn’t meant to be the main part of a photographer’s job anyway.

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I am always hesitant to talk about editing because I think it gets taken way too far, way too often, and in those cases we aren’t talking about photo editing, but rather imagery manipulation (which is an art in and of itself, but an art completely different than portrait photography). All of that said, oh how I wish someone had taught me some tricks, and gave me some tips when I first started. You can learn to pose people, find good light, and the ins and outs of your camera in time, but learning to edit is a frustrating and lengthy process that used to make me want to go pick-up an application at McDonalds.

Professional photographers who have had great success are often so hesitant to tell their secrets and explain what they have learned. I have never understood that. I could tell you everything I do, exactly how I do it, and if you went about it the exact same way, you would still end up with a completely different image of your own. So here it is, my five best portrait editing tips (along with a bonus extra five tips below) to make your editing process more productive and hopefully much quicker. Because I use Photoshop, these are all geared in that direction, though there should be equivalents in nearly all other image editing software.

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#1 – Learn shortcuts and use actions

All editing software offer keystroke shortcuts and actions (or similar) to make the things you do often, easier and quicker. I could have a four year degree in Adobe and still likely just be scratching the surface of what can be done with photo editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom. Luckily I don’t have to store all of that in my brain (which is already pretty crowded with song lyrics and useless trivia), because I have memorized the keyboard shortcuts for the tools I use most often and have set up all of my customized actions to run on my F keys. Not only does this make editing ridiculously quick, it also means that I give 100% of my attention to a shoot and when it comes time to be an editing machine, I can sing-along to my terrible music and multi-task straight through it.

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#2 – Have one black and white and one color process

Converting an image to a fun vintage or using your skills to cross-process is tempting, and maybe here and there, it’s fun. But, the easiest way to scale back the amount of time you sit staring at editing software is to streamline your process and this means doing all of your images in the same manner.

lynseymattingly10I have one way that I do black and white images that I have programmed into a single action. Same with my color shots. I do whatever basic touch-up I’m going to do first, then I hit play for either my color or black and white action. Because I always photograph people, this simple task works for every photo I need to edit. It also has the added bonus of giving my images continuity and creating a signature look.

My color images look different than yours – and they should! You should have a color process that gives people a hint that you took the image. Same for monochrome; I want someone to look at a black and white photo I took and know “that’s one of Lynsey’s photos”. This not only cuts down on editing time, but also helps define your brand.

#3 – Run auto options

When I get tired because I’ve been editing for hours on end, I can stare at an image forever and know that it needs something, but I have no idea what. This is when it’s time for two things; to change the music you’re listening to and to run an “auto” function – auto color, auto tone, or the auto RAW image editor – not typically to use it, but to see what your software, in all its brilliance, thinks you should do. Sometimes it will have good ideas and sometimes it won’t, but it will always gives you a look at the image in a different way, which can be extremely helpful.

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#4 – Accept a few universal truths

Everyone has one eye that is larger than the other. Kids will always have a scratch or scab somewhere. Double chins can happen to anyone. Most adults have a physical feature they aren’t 100% happy with.

My husband has a gorgeous head of hair. At an age when many men are shaving their heads to supersede a bald spot, my husband gets asked if he does shampoo commercials. (He should, if only so we can become millionaires already, and get a pool.) You would think this would make for great pictures – not having to work with a shiny head reflecting everywhere – but you’d be wrong. He hates his forehead, which I think is ridiculous as its perfectly proportioned to his head and glorious hairline. But, even though he is my husband and knows I am always right, there is no convincing him on this issue. Nor is it my place to try when taking his picture.

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The best thing I can do for anyone who expresses concern for a facial or body feature is give them a picture where they aren’t going to see their perceived flaw immediately. Pull out their great features so that you aren’t trying to both, take good pictures, and also change their mind.

#5 – Aim for people to look exactly like themselves, turned up ONE notch

You are not a plastic surgeon. We all want our clients to love photos of themselves but that shouldn’t come at the cost of you having to spend a great deal of time manipulating an image. My rule is simple – I don’t edit permanent features or make massive changes to faces or bodies. If you have a mole, I’m not going to touch it. But if you happen to have a pimple on picture day, fixing that is the least I can do for you. I sometimes dodge eyes lightly (keyboard shortcut O), but never in an obvious way. I may whiten teeth a bit (using the magnetic lasso and hue/saturation levels), smooth out a chin line (clone stamp and healing brush), or pull in a lumpy bit at the waist or elsewhere (liquify and clone stamp), but only in a way that is more flattering and looks the way I know they usually would if they didn’t have a giant camera in their face, uncomfortable clothes on, and were running around after kids, or just generally feeling awkward like people tend to when someone is taking their picture.

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Like many other portrait photographers, I use a retouching tool (Totally Rad Pro Retouch action is my preference) that I apply liberally with the brush tool to all faces and then scale back by lowering the opacity. This allows for skin to look natural – normal skin has lines and freckles and areas rosier than others, but takes care of the small bumps and spots that cameras have a way of highlighting and putting on display.

What happens when you blow it? You took shots that no amount of editing could make great? You vow to do it right next time, that’s what. Here is a little lagniappe from me to you:

My five best quick portrait tips for getting it right in camera

1.) Shoot from above

Always have your subject lower than you so you are shooting downward. This can prevent double chins, unflattering angles, and in my husbands case, imaginary big foreheads. Unflattering portraits are most often due to bad camera angles and that is something that can’t be changed in any editing process.

2.) Avoid “dead light”

Shade is a wonderful thing for natural light photography, but large patches of shade, particularly in the morning hours, can often be very cold for color temperature. Everyone looks better with a little warmth, so strive to shoot in shady areas that feel more warm in tone (think orange, yellow, red) than cool (blue).

3.) Suggest solid clothing or large scale prints.

Small prints on a shirt tend to make people look larger.

4.) Photograph people doing something….anything.

Avoid a boring portrait that is “all face” by having moment or action – this can be as small as involving their hands to frame their face or something more significant like leaning on wall or, my favorite, spinning.

5.) Talk honestly with your subjects beforehand.

Find out what features they feel most comfortable with and anything they would like you to avoid or watch out for. I’ve heard it all, from people swearing they have tiny heads to people who felt their large feet would throw off the entire photo. The single best thing you can to ensure they will like their photo is listen to them before you even take one. It is not your job to tell them they are wrong about their insecurities – it’s your job to try and show them they are likely being over-critical. Hear their words so you will be mindful of their concerns and photograph them looking beautiful, or handsome, or at least like they don’t have a big forehead.

Read more from our Post Production category

Lynsey Mattingly

photographs families, kids, couples, and other groups of people who, for whatever reason, kind of like each other. Her portrait work has been featured in People Magazine, Us Weekly, BBC Magazine, and on national TV including CNN, Oprah, and Ellen, but most importantly, in the personal galleries of clients across the country. Her photography can be viewed at www.lynseymattingly.com or on Facebook.

  • jess valadez

    Excellent advise Linsey!! Definitely good tips that I’ll put into practice on my next photoshoot:)

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    very beautiful portraits that we can learn… 😉

  • Mark

    Great article, thanks for sharing.

  • Dale

    Awesome article, thanks so much for sharing.. I wished we lived in the same city, even country.
    I think I would stalk you for help! Haha

  • Lynsey Mattingly

    Oh how I would love a good stalking situation! But instead we would have coffee and talk shop and laugh. 😉

  • Lynsey Mattingly

    Thank you so much! I’m glad it was helpful!

  • shahul hameed

    new member in the field. waiting for such good articles

  • Max Paul

    Great tipps. Thank you.

  • Michael

    I’ve found out using Light Room 5 for post-processing of my RAW photos was much faster and more efficient than using the Photoshop. I used to use Photoshop CS5 and after purchasing LR5, I seldom go back to Photoshop and only for layer editing processes like replacing a background or stacking multiple images into one and manipulating blend modes but LR delivers everything you need to come up with a great photo.

  • Sta11

    Thank you for the article. Just wanted to point something small out on one of your pictures. I’m referring to the 5th picture in this article. Not sure if this is a picture that is still being edited. It appears that the mom has three arms. Her left hand is attached to her right arm which is holding the dads left hand, her right hand is on her sons right shoulder, and there is another right arm elongated around dads right shoulder. Am I seeing this wrong? If so please school me on it. I did enjoy reading your article and it came at a great time.

    Thank you,
    Tony

  • Boss Hogg

    I’ve been a photographer for over 45 years, shooting everything from commercial, fashion, weddings, portraits. In short if it involves a camera, as long as it wasn’t underwater, I’ve done it.
    I can safely say that while this isn’t the worst advice that I’ve seen being posted about photography on the internet. It is definitely up there at the top of the list.
    What pulls it from being the worst is the wearing plain clothing, and talking with the client prior to the session.

  • Lynsey Mattingly

    Okay, can you explain why you feel this way so we can learn from your experience? Why is having a solid color and b&w style terrible advice? What is so bad about learning keyboard shortcuts to save time? Why not avoid dead light? What is “the worst” about accepting people as they are?

    As the writer of this article, I’m interested in hearing from someone with such experience, but even more, as a photographer I am curious to know how these basic tips on digital photography are at the “top of your list” for the “worst advice” you’ve ever seen.

  • Boss Hogg

    I’ve got a busy day in front of me, so I don’t have time to take your post apart in detail now. I will come back and do that later today.
    In the meantime the short version is that you seem to have just enough knowledge to be dangerous. What makes it really dangerous is that you are posting it on a “school” site and the people that know even less than you are taking it as gospel. And they will in turn pass it on to others, perpetuating the bad advice.

  • Lynsey Mattingly

    I will wait in excitement for you to have the time to fully take my post apart in detail! In the meanwhile, I will drive around obeying all posted traffic laws and make sure to blow out all my candles as to not be any more dangerous to others than I already am! 😉

  • Boss Hogg

    Instead of wasting my time on somebody that obviously already thinks they know everything, I’ll just recommend to anybody reading anything you write that instead of actually reading your wrong information, that they take a trip to the library where they can find many books written by people that actually know what they are talking about.

  • Boss – this is the editor here and I to am interested to know why you think this is so bad. I have been a portrait photographer with a studio for many years (professional for 26+ years myself) and if I thought it was bad advice I would not have published it. I think her advice is sound.

    What I do think is that you disagree which is 100% fine. But each person is entitled to their own way of doing things. If you do it differently that’s great. But I don’t think it makes her way wrong or bad.

  • the arms on top are the kid in the blue shirt’s arms not mom’s I do believe – both of mom’s hands and arms are around the child in front of her as are dad’s on the girl in front of him.

  • Boss Hogg

    26 years as a portrait photographer you should then understand the use of corrective posing and lighting.
    As the editor, that alone should have been a red flag to her advice to always shoot down on the subjects.
    But then let us add, what is the first thing you tell somebody about how to improve their child photography – to get down and shoot at the child’s level. Why do that if everything is better from above?
    You did notice the title – Shoot from above – and it starts with ALWAYS shoot down on your subject.
    As a portrait photographer, you should know that not only is the angle unflattering, but outside of the double chin which gets hidden by the head, it actually emphasis those issues that she said it minimizes – like large foreheads. In addition there are better ways to get rid of double chins than by trying to hide them behind a big head.
    Especially when you realize that for the most part, those types of photographs would be taken with a wider lens because not everybody happens to pack an 8ft step ladder with them so they can get far enough away to use a lens long enough to eliminate the wide angle foreshortening that comes from using too wide of a lens.
    So in general, shooting down onto your subject is an unflattering camera angle. Something that in the next sentence she correctly says, cannot be corrected in post.
    Again as somebody that has 26 years of experience, you know what the camera sees, and what our mind interprets what we see are different. For example, if you ask somebody if their hand is bigger than, smaller than, or the same size as their face, their answer is usually smaller than. While the reality is your hand is pretty much the same size as your face. But our mind tells us it is smaller simply because it is further away.
    That’s why you never want to have the back of a person’s hand up near the face. The camera sees it in it’s real size, while the mind is still telling us that it is smaller. So you get the subject to turn their hand so that you photograph into the edge of the hand. That narrows the profile of the hand, and now the photograph will reflect the hand more as our mind says it should be.
    It’s the same reason why you use short lighting on some people, and broad lighting on other people. It’s so that we can normalize the camera’s depiction of the subject.
    Now for the Avoid Dead Light
    Again as a portrait photographer with 26 years of experience, what is the first thing you look for when you are dealing with an outdoor session.
    You look for open shade because you know that will create much more flattering light than standing them out in the bright sunlight. yet her advice is to avoid open shade especially in the mornings because it might be blue. So look for areas with distinct warm color casts.
    Most cameras, processing software, and labs, can easily deal with White Balance issues – the blue color she is talking about in shade.
    But there is not camera, processing software, or lab that can easily deal with the color casts created by reflections from colored objects. If you are really fussy, you can do a custom white balance for any location. Or you can include a grey card in one of the images so that you can correct the white balance in post. Don’t have a grey card, then any neutral color will do – the white trim on a shirt, or the black of somebody’s shoes etc.
    So saying avoid open shade is the same as saying avoid shooting indoors because the light is yellow.
    For the clothing recommendations for portraits. You want the portrait to be about the person/people not the cloths. So long sleeve solid neutral colors are the best choice, while you don’t really want any patterns, large prints, or logos etc. Small patterns because they can actually cause problems with moiré patterns in the images, larger patterns and logos because they can draw attention away from the client.
    “Boring portraits” that are all face. Excuse me – but about 90% of all communication is non-verbal, and of that I would say about 90% of that communication is done through the eyes. People don’t need to be doing anything to create an image that captures the imagination. I can think of one example that is around 500 years old that still captures people’s imagination today – it’s called the Mona Lisa.
    I could just as easily make the statement, and probably more accurately, that having your clients spinning while you photograph them is just a way to camouflage the fact that you know nothing about posing a client.
    She finally gets it right with meet with the client and discuss what they are expecting.

  • Boss – while you make several valid points, many of which I agree with – there are also different styles of photography. Having done this for a long time I’ve seen portrait photography evolve from being very rigid and stiffly posed to much more natural and less posed. I personally have moved that direction with my portraits and often get my subjects moving in some way. It helps them relax and it more natural, more “them”.

    So while a proper hand pose is great for a bride, try that with a 5 or 10 year old and it’s a no go. Shooting from above – I actually recommend it to all my students in my portrait lighting class. Above doesn’t mean from a ladder, it just means “slightly” above eye-level. So while I may not agree with the “always” part, as you indicate for photographing children – I didn’t see it as needing editing or correcting as it is one person’s way of doing things and what she recommends.

    As for the readers blindly following – I give dPS readers more credit than that. Our readers are educated and savvy and can make their own decisions on what they read. As with any advice I recommend taking anything with a grain of salt, apply your own filters and experience to it – and adjust accordingly. There is no one size fits all.

    I thank you for your opinion but let’s agree to disagree and move on.

    Cheers, Darlene

  • I found the information by Lynsey Mattingly helpful! She never claimed to lay out 40+ years of photography experience and tidbits in a short article. You take what you need, if anything, and leave the rest. She presented a few helpful reminders which I’ll be considering in the right situations. Well done. I would suggest, for the sake of those willing and interested, that BOSS HOGG submit links and reference to his own published material. Do you have anything on the internet you’d be willing to share with us? I don’t have 45 yrs photography experience and am always willing to learn.

  • Donna

    Thank you so much Lynsey for your excellent advise as always! I know I’m speaking for many when I say how much I appreciate your generosity and helpfulness in sharing your experience with us.

  • Debra

    Boss…please be kind. You seem to be taking a very harsh stance and it is not welcomed or appreciated. I think you should re read the 3rd (THIRD) paragraph. Because you must have skipped over that part. If you think “it is a waste of your time” to “take her post apart” why say anything at all!? Darlene, those of us who follow you and your hard work understand your willingness to open up this “school” site to every aspect of learning. If out of the the 5 tips written, I use one it was worth the post! Many times reading someones KNOWLEDGE on a subject, INSPIRES me and leads to a CREATIVE process later down the road. And to me, that is what we are all put on this earth to do! Inspire & create! So Boss…what have you inspired?

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