Part One Retouching Headshots
Retouching headshots is a subjective art. I believe you always have to keep in mind where the image will be used and then retouch accordingly. Many factors come into play. Is the subject male, female, young, old, CEO, actor, model etc... The best retouches never look over done. In my opinion the purpose of retouching is to remove distractions, add interest, and most of all, flatter the subject. There are some situations in which one takes a retouch in a particular direction. In this example I wanted to create a bit of macho sports like quality as this subject is a football coach. The original assignment was a location shoot for a local magazine. I wanted to take the image in a different direction and give it a treatment like one might see in an advertisment for a magazine. Perhaps the coach is a spokesperson for a charity or product of some sort. BUT, I also feel strongly that this type of drama should be added, to some degree, to different types of headshots in a variety of situations.
Signal To Noise
Signal to noise is a specification listed on different types of electronics and digital equipment. Most people have heard an electric guitar amplifier turned on but without the guitar being played. It hisses and sometimes pops and crackles. When the guitarist starts playing you don't notice those sounds. That's because the signal is greater than the noise. In the digital age this is life in general. How do you stand out? What differentiates you among others looking for the same job? You need to be part of the signal and stand out above the noise to get noticed. I think one way to do that is to have great pictures in your digital footprint. You need to come across warm and engaging and look the part. Or in the case of an actor, look as if you could be any number of parts.
So my goal is to remove distractions. Blemishes, sometimes moles read as blemishes, prominent veins, smooth out transitions in the bone structure of the face. or not, draw attention to the eyes, and put the subject in the best possible light. Of course this starts in taking a great picture. I work hard at lighting and use several different types of lighting according to the shape of the face and how the image will be used. Everyone has at least one good angle. But no one is perfect. So my goal in retouching is accentuate where the lighting helped and deemphasize where the lighting didn't help so much.
Different photographers have different styles. I often shoot in different styles as the situation or job requires. I know lighting and I know how to achieve different looks. How to make an outdoor editorial image look as it's not lit yet have it be a better image for having been lit. My goal in what one might call a "signature style" headshot is to have a shadow, a midtone, and a highlight. This is just my "go to" look. I like the drama. I like it on just about any man and some women. I do change up the lighting and the retouch to be softer on a woman. For this article I just want to show the before and after and point out some of what I'd like to think are improvements.
You can see the before below. The magazine was looking for more full length. For my purposes I had no interest in anything below the subject's hands. I liked the subjects skin texture and his skin was pretty clean to begin with. There are some scars that I did not retouch because they added character and seem fitting on a football coach. So perhaps the biggest change is evening out the skin tone. In retouching men I often like to desaturate the skin. When you compare the before to the after you can see that I've removed a lot of redness and a good deal of blotchiness. We all have blotchy skin. To a purist this may seem unfitting but I always answer that concern with this: "When you think of your loved one to you think of splotchy skin"?
An image is a most unfair moment in anyone's life. A fraction of a second at 24 megapixels really doesn't do anyone any favors. And it gets worse in the digital age. Because we take pictures now and have to turn them into photographs. When photographers shot on film the film was chosen for certain characteristics and developed with certain chemicals for a particular purpose. Some films were chosen because they did not pick up red tones, or perhaps a filter was added to avoid certain tones. This is especially true in black and white. But now we create photographs in Photoshop and I for one say, "Thank God for that."