Retouching and Editing Headshots

A Guide to Techniques and Best Practices

By Author and Professional Photographer Post Modified November 25, 2023 @ 9:25 am Last Updated on 2 months by

What is Headshot Retouching and Editing?

Headshot retouching and editing involves improving and refining the appearance of a person’s head and shoulders in a photograph, or as we prefer to capture them, from the waist up.

This includes correcting issues with skin blemishes, discolorations, and some wrinkles, as well as whitening or just lightening teeth and eyes if required, adjusting exposure, and sometimes removing or replacing backgrounds.

The purpose of headshot retouching is to create a polished and professional image that reflects the subject’s best features and enhances their appeal to potential clients or employers.

The Importance of Headshots

Headshots are an essential part of professional photography, used for everything from corporate profiles to social media profiles, acting headshots, and modelling portfolios.

The best photographers cannot always capture the perfect image at the shoot in camera, which is where headshot retouching and editing comes in. Also called post production.

In this article, we will explore the basics of headshot retouching and editing, including the techniques and tools used, best practices, and tips for creating polished and professional headshots that business of all sizes and types can rely on.

The best and longest FAQs article for business Headshots here.

Understanding the significance of a good Headshots for first appearances

Headshots are a vital component of branding, marketing, and personal expression.

They are often the first impression that someone has of you, and a poorly executed headshot can undermine your professionalism and credibility.

A great headshot can capture your personality, convey your brand message, and help you stand out from the crowd. Yes, we mean that literally. LinkedIn is the most obvious platform where you can be pre judged when trying to connect with others for the first time.

The Purpose of Headshot Retouching and Editing

Headshot retouching and editing are designed to enhance the qualities of the subject’s appearance while retaining their natural features.

The goal is not to create a fake or overly polished image but to improve the overall quality of the photograph.

Retouching and editing can help create a clean and professional image, emphasize the subject’s best features, and remove any distracting elements.

Headshot Background Cut Out and Replacement, Editing Hyper lapse Video Example

Headshot Example that uses a natural background for less retouching

Corporate Headshot Photo. By Photographer

Some photographers change out the background and create a composite image. A composite image is where the editor combines 2 images into 1. Composite = a thing made up of several parts or elements.

Photo Example using a dark wall as a backdrop, minimal retouching

When editing a headshot that has a wall as a backdrop and the photographer gets it right in camera. The Editor can then focus on perfecting the person’ appearance.

Basic Principles of Headshot Retouching and Editing

There are several basic principles to consider when retouching and editing headshots. These include skin retouching, eye and teeth whitening, colour correction and exposure adjustment, and background removal and replacement.

Skin Retouching

Skin retouching is one of the most critical elements of headshot retouching and editing. It involves removing blemishes, smoothing out wrinkles and fine lines, and creating a more even skin tone. There are several techniques used for skin retouching, including the clone stamp, healing brush, and frequency separation.
Eye and Teeth Whitening

Whitening or just lightening teeth

Is another essential element of headshot retouching. A bright and healthy smile can significantly enhance the subject’s appearance and overall image. Eye whitening can also help to make the subject’s eyes appear brighter and more focused. These techniques are usually performed using a combination of the brush and adjustment layers in editing software. For young people, having bright white teeth makes sense and can look great. For older people it may be best just to lighten their teeth so it doesn’t detract from their look. The photo editor will need to use good judgement.

Colour Correction and Exposure Adjustment

Both colour correction and exposure adjustments are elements of headshot retouching and editing that can’t be ignored. They help to correct any issues with the colour balance and exposure levels in the original photograph, ensuring that the subject appears as natural and authentic as possible. Colour correction involves adjusting the colours in the image to ensure that they are accurate and consistent. Colour is also dependant on your computer monitor and the creatives personal taste. Some like headshots with strong colour, others desaturated.

Exposure adjustment is used to correct any issues with the brightness and contrast levels in the photograph.

Background Removal

Background removal or replacement are techniques used to remove or replace the background in a headshot photograph. In our context we mean remove the variations in the white backdrop, or what ever colour the client has chosen so it is smooth and consistent.

This can be useful for removing any distracting elements in the background or creating a more uniform look to the headshot. Background removal is usually performed using masking or selection tools, while background replacement involves adding a new background image or creating a composite image. Full replacement is used on the more stylized commercial adverts than to build a person brand and so should be made clear in the proposal if it is included.

Advanced Techniques in Headshot Retouching and Editing

There are several advanced techniques used in headshot retouching and editing that can take a headshot from good to great. These include hair retouching, face reshaping and body contouring, background replacement and compositing, and adding makeup and digital cosmetics. Not something that we use as we like the more natural look than the highly processed style.

Hair Retouching

Hair retouching is used to correct any issues with the subject’s hair in the photograph. This can involve removing any flyaway hairs, adding volume, or adjusting the colour and tone of the hair to make it look more natural and healthy. Again not something we include as standard.

Face Reshaping and Body Contouring

Face reshaping and body contouring are techniques used to adjust the shape and proportion of the subject’s face and body. This can involve adjusting the shape of the nose, chin, or jawline, as well as adding or removing weight or muscle tone. We prefer to guide the person in their best pose to bring out the most attractive features than alter their image in post production. There’s no wrong or write but that is our method.

Background Replacement and Compositing

Background replacement and compositing involve adding or replacing the background in a headshot photograph to create a more polished and professional image. This can be useful for creating a specific look or theme in the headshot, such as a corporate or creative setting.

Adding Makeup and Digital Cosmetics

Adding makeup and digital cosmetics can be used to enhance the subject’s appearance in the headshot. This can involve adding eyelashes, lipstick, or other makeup effects, as well as adjusting the skin tone or texture to create a more polished and professional look. This process is best suited to high end fashion and make up type of commercial shoots as in our opinion keeping it real and authentic is the best approach for 99% of people.

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Software and Tools for Headshot Retouching and Editing

There are several software tools available for headshot editing, including Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, Capture One, and Affinity Photo.

Each of these programs has its strengths and weaknesses, and it’s essential to choose the one that best suits your needs and skill level.

Capture One

Capture One is a professional-level image editing software designed for photographers. It offers a range of advanced tools for headshot retouching or editing, including skin retouching, colour correction and simple backdrop alterations.

We use Capture One on a daily basis for all the straight forward editing and image processing.

While Capture One is a great tool for colour correction and basic skin smoothing, Photoshop provides more advanced tools for retouching headshots. Photoshop has a wide range of tools for retouching, including frequency separation, advanced dodge and burn, clone stamp, healing brush to name a few. Capture One has some of these but we find it a little primitive.

Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo is what we use when Capture One is just not there yet in it’s development. you need software like Affinity Photo or Adobe Photoshop when you need to perform advanced techniques for volume headshots or to change the colour of the backdrop.

Affinity Photo has a well implemented Frequency separation option, this is a powerful technique for retouching skin without sacrificing texture. It involves separating the texture and colour information in an image into separate layers, allowing you to work on each independently. We find many photographers over do it for when the photos are for business purposes.

Dodge and burn tools are used to add or remove light from specific areas of the image, helping to enhance the contours of the face and highlight specific features.

Clone stamp and healing brush tools are useful tools that can remove blemishes, wrinkles, and other imperfections in the skin. Both of the above software options have these options.

Adobe Software options which we don’t use

Adobe Photoshop is the most popular and widely used image editing software, used by professional photographers, graphic designers, and digital artists worldwide. It offers a wide range of tools and features for headshot retouching and editing, including advanced skin retouching tools, layer-based editing, and advanced colour correction and exposure adjustment tools.

Adobe Lightroom is a powerful photo editing and organization software that is designed for photographers. It offers a range of tools for headshot retouching and editing, including basic skin retouching tools, exposure adjustment, and colour correction.

Final thoughts about Headshots Processing and Editing

The key to achieving a perfect headshot is preparation. Before the shoot, make sure your clients are well-rested, hydrated, and have taken care of their skin and hair. Help them choose appropriate clothing and accessories that complement features and avoid anything that is too distracting or overpowering. As an example, extra large jewellery.

It is also important to communicate about the type of look you are going for and what you want to achieve with your headshot. This will help the photographer frame the shot and provide guidance on the best poses and angles.

Communicate with the client about not going overboard with skin retouching as you don’t want to remove every blemish, wrinkle, and other imperfections that can make you look unreal, maintaining a natural-looking skin texture is important to looking approachable.

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Retouching and editing headshots is an important part of portraits and headshots photography and a lot of the value photographer provide for the session is for the processing and editing of your photos. What happens behind the scenes is as important as what happens with the camera in hand.

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