5 Things I Do That Will Take Your Portraits To The Next Level.

5 Things I Do That Will Take Your Portraits To The Next Level.

1.) I have NO idea where I picked this up. I think I simply figured it out from straight observation, however it goes like this. The way a person places their feet affects their headshot in ways you wouldn’t believe.

The very first thing I do is tell them to stand with their feet comfortably apart, like a golf stance. It completely dictates their body attitude and that, you’re not going to believe this — changes everything right up to the top of the head.

Bottom line is, if you want a nice relaxed photo it starts, feet first, and from the ground UP.


Business Portrait



2.) I was in a conference room in a local hotel and the ceilings were LOW. This is a 2 light Portrait shot with two 800/ws Alien Bees. One was on the background which as conveniently a white projector screen the other slightly to camera right and as fairly high. Of course the background was over exposed about 2 stops to keep it a clean medium-white tone. By placing the umbrella high enough you throw shadows under the chin. It’s good to keep it dark down there…personally, I have more chins than a Chinese Phone Book. I have their, now comfortably placed feet, facing the light and not the camera. Have the guys lower the forward should, the girls lower the rear shoulder…

3.)  Here’s another secret like the ‘feet secret’. I have them do ’The Turtle’. Push your forehead out and down. Yeah, I TELL them it’s called the ’Turtle”. It won’t always eliminate the extra chins but it will certainly help. On top of that, once they’ve pushed that forehead out and down I also get them to drop their chin as well, all the while watching their eyes.

 If someone fixes their gaze at the camera lens and drops their chin just a bit the eyes virtually double in size. The difference is quite amazing but remember, it’a always a balancing act. Drop the chin too far and back come the under the neck problems. A bit of this may make some feel a bit awkward but as you can see? It looks very natural.

4.) I used to watch VHS tapes done by the late, great Dean Collins. What Dean used to do was deliver machine gun paced banter to his subject with lots of encouragement but it was so damned FAST, it forced them to l-i-s-t-e-n and even better —  to concentrate. And guess what that accomplishes? It completely takes their mind off being stuck in front of a camera, they are just that busy ‘paying attention’. Keep the patter with ‘directions’ about feet and turtles going quite quickly.  It really makes that much of a difference.

5.) Lastly, the bane of many Pro Photographers… RETOUCHING. I never overdo this. In Photoshop, I always retouch on layers. I’ll do it all on layer after layer and then play with the opacity on each one. If you can clearly tell a Portrait has been retouched, in my books, it’s overdone. I use Imagenomic Portraiture which does most of the heavy lifting. Here’s a LINK to some tutorials. I like it a lot and have used it for ages. Many times I’ll also tweak it with OnOne’s Perfect Portrait. Always, again, these are done on separate layers and the opacity is generally dropped to around 50%. Now, you can always pick nits with retouching, I still have a few here… and you can spend many hours going straight to town doing hundreds of individual steps but with dozens of individual portraits and 30 or more options on each one, time is of the utmost importance. It’s just not that practical. My eyes start to glaze over after 2 or 3. Imagine 30 or so portraits at 30-45 minutes each! So Portrait Plugins, can make a tremendous amount of difference. I’ll run the Patch Tool for bags under they eyes and drop the opacity to 50-60%. You don’t want people to look like Joan Rivers in these… Spot Healing and Healing Brush tools will help kill the shine. Generally, it’s all about keeping it looking as natural as possible.

All in all that’s just a basic rundown of MY workflow. No two Photographers ever do it exactly the same way. I hope this sparked a few new ideas for you!

*Canon 5D MarkIII, Canon 70-200/2.8II  80sec/5.6 100 ISO

John Sharpe/ Sharpeshots


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