Developing post processing the heart and art of portrait photography

The Art of Portrait Photography

Before and after of a great photo

Beauty Photo Retouching

Post processing has always been an art form. It gives photographers the tools to artistically complement and enhance a photo after it was captured. Post processing helps us to either bring a photo closer to how we saw it or to emphasize a certain character to create a unique mood. It is truly the art of portrait photography.

The makings of a beautiful portrait

Photographers do all they can to capture the best photo when taking the shot. However, all photographers will tell you that, regardless of how good the photo comes out, it must go through some level of post processing. This should be done to each and every photo you, the client, receives as your final product.

Simply put, in the digital era, ‘post processing’ or ‘photo editing’ is the equivalent of film darkroom developing. Your final result is a print (or a web image), not a negative film.

Although post-processing can help us fix some mistakes we made when capturing the photo, it is mainly a process to enhance the work we do behind the camera.

Below, is a simple example of basic photo editing. The original photo is technically sound with good exposure (and expressions). However, the image is flat, a bit lifeless with a blue color cast. That is how photos generally look right out of the camera when using RAW file format. Definitely not ready to be delivered. After applying some basic tweaks, the photo is ready to be presented either on screen or as a printed copy.

Enhanceing our work behind the camera – The Art of Portrait Photography

In the photo below the natural light coming in is perfect with soft shadows and well-exposed highlights. With a few minor adjustments, the photo looks exactly as it was imagined by me when capturing it.

perfecting wedding photos – The Art of Portrait Photography

Bride and her bouquet - The Art of Portrait Photography

Post processing: an integrated part of photography

The way it was: we controlled only part of the process

There is the notion that in the film era photos were more pure, more natural. Whatever we captured in the camera, that was the end result. The reality is that ‘post processing’, ‘retouching’ and ‘photo manipulation’ has been done for as long as photography has existed.

In the film era, our photo manipulation started well before we took a picture. There were no less than thirty (30) film manufacturers, each making half a dozen different films with various ISO grades. The film we chose made all the difference to the final look.

When taking pictures, photographers used various tricks to achieve different looks. For example, to achieve particular color tint, we covered our lens with colored filters. To achieve softness, we covered the lens with women’s stockings. There were various ways in which we manipulated photos while taking it.

But after that, we had to relinquish control of the photos.

In the film era, developing black & white film could easily be done at one’s home lab. Applying different techniques to achieve the look we wanted, we had full control on the photo’s final result. However, color film development was a much more complex process and most of us relied on labs. Based on our instructions, the skilled individuals in the lab applied various developing techniques like cross-processing, film pushing, film pulling, dodging & burning and much more, trying to achieve what we wanted.

When giving our film to the lab we hoped that the skilled technician sitting behind the printing machine was good enough to edit every frame we captured the way we intended it to look.

Either in the traditional darkroom (chemicals) or digital darkroom (like Photoshop), when working on a photo we try to achieve how we saw it when capturing it.

The way it is: We have complete control

Digital photography has not changed the fundamentals of photography. We still seek the best light and location and must make our own decisions on camera settings and lenses used to achieve what we envision. However, digital photography gave us one huge advantage; control.

The modern digital darkroom, whether it be Photoshop, Lightroom or any other computer editing program, gave us the control we need on the whole process from concept to presentation. We did away with the guy behind the printing machine, that most often than not, did not “see” what we saw when making the photo.

Although this created enormous challenges for photographers and forced us to learn new skills, we also learned new ways to look at photos and found new exiting ways in making them.

From capture to display – The Art of Portrait Photography,

Beauty Photo Retouching - The Art of Portrait Photography Beauty Photo Retouching - The Art of Portrait Photography

The different types of developing

Editing photos can range from as little as tweaking exposure and contrast all the way to changing tonality and photo retouching. Regardless of the depth of editing done, every single photo must be enhanced. As I said before, ‘post processing’ or ‘photo editing’ in the digital world is exactly what darkroom ‘developing’ is to a film.

A. Tweaking: Adjusting an almost perfect image

Many photos only need minimal color correction, exposure and color balance. That will be done to all the selected photos that we intend to deliver to our client. Below is an example of basic color correction.

Basic photo enhancing – The Art of Portrait Photography,

B. Mood Swings: Shifting the attitude of a photo

The photo below is a typical example of using color tonality and some retouching to alter the overall mood of the photo. It is subtle but still the difference is noticeable.

Mood swings – The Art of Portrait Photography,

C. Improving: Hiding imperfections

This photo went through basic tweaking of color and exposure, then a color tone was added and finally some retouching techniques were applied.

retouching – The Art of Portrait Photography


Some give the example of writing a book as an analogy to editing photos. When you read a good book, you read the end result of many story tweaking, character changing and dozens of drafts. Imagine how awful it would have been if you had to read through all the scribbles and drafts of a book.

Same goes with photography. We take hundreds (or thousands) of photos, we weed out the ones no one will ever see -the blurred, the ‘eyes closed’, the unwanted person who just crossed our view line etc.- then we tweak, enhance and retouch making sure every photo you receive looks its best.

Now you can sit down and view the final results.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.