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Best Retouching Tips For More Effective Acting Headshots РRobert Kim Photography©

Published: August 1, 2017, on Blog

Best Retouching Tips For More Effective Acting Headshots

There are many steps to getting the “perfect” headshot, and they all take a tremendous amount of time, talent, and experience to learn correctly. But none of these elements are more misunderstood than the subject of photo retouching for more effective acting headshots.

Some people don’t even believe that an actor’s headshot should be retouched at all. But I disagree. Every successful actor and model that I know of has their photos retouched, with no exceptions. From Angelina Jolie, to even the youngest child actors, I have yet to come across a single headshot that couldn’t be improved by restrained and lifelike photo retouching. The fact is, if you don’t have your headshots retouched, YOUR COMPETITORS WILL. Photo retouching has been around for 150 years, only the methods have changed. In Abraham Lincoln’s time, it was done with paint applied by brush, then by airbrush, and today it is done completely digitally. With the advent of Photoshop, the entire process has become vastly faster and superior to the “old-fashioned way.” But to become truly proficient in Photoshop takes both time and training. Some actors try to save a few dollars by attempting to retouch their headshots by themselves, but unless you have sufficient experience, I don’t recommend the practice. Unless you’re an expert, I would strongly advise letting a “pro” do it for you. Simply having Photoshop software on your computer doesn’t make you a professional retouching artist, anymore than owning a camera makes you a professional photographer.

Creating a professional headshot is a multi-stage process that involves professional makeup, flattering wardrobe, perfect lighting, and undetectable retouching. Even where you take you final photos for duplicating is important. Nothing is worse than finally getting a great headshot, only to have it ruined by getting cheap and unprofessional prints at a local copy shop. Always go to a printer that specializes in actors and models headshots. In short, EVERY STEP of your headshot experience is equally important. But if you always use the top professionals at every step, the process doesn’t have to be a complicated affair. My ultimate goal as a headshot photographer has always been to make my clients look like they do “on their best day.” Great retouching can correct a myriad of problems, everything from a blemish that suddenly appeared on the day of your shoot, to yellow teeth, to bloodshot eyes from lack of sufficient sleep. But retouching can accomplish far more than that. I recently did a mother and baby portrait, and the baby wouldn’t stop moving… I couldn’t find even one shot where both of them were both looking at the camera at the same time. But instead of letting this common problem ruin the entire session, I simply had my retouching artist take the child’s head from one shot, and replace it on another. Result? A perfectly realized family portrait, with absolutely beautiful results. “Back in the day,” such a thing would have been nearly impossible. But with a skilled professional, its just another minor problem, easily solved.

Now that we’ve determined how important photo retouching is, the only question is, how much retouching do you actually need? Not enough, and you’ll have a photo that doesn’t market you effectively. Too much, and it will look fake. Worse still, it may end up not resembling you at all, which is even worse than not having any retouching at all. A Photoshop expert can make a 65-year old look 35, but that won’t impress anyone when a gray haired senior citizen walks through the door and the casting director is expecting Brad Pitt. The challenge is, how to create a headshot that makes you look more marketable, but not so retouched that you can ever come close to that level of perfection in real life. I believe that the best way to describe proper retouching is in a side-by-side comparison. I have hundreds of examples that demonstrate how effective professional retouching can enhance any actor’s appearance, and by extension, improve your headshot’s ability to get you the attention your career deserves. But once again, the question is determining exactly HOW MUCH retouching is right for each individual subject. Some clients only need a freckle or mole removed, or just a few wrinkles softened, while others require more extensive work, like removing large tattoos, fixing hair and wardrobe malfunctions, even removing an unsightly “belly bulge” that you’re working hard to reduce. So it is imperative that you find someone who knows exactly how far to go, finding the correct amount, or what I call being in, “The Goldilocks Zone.” Your photographer should be able to help you with this important final step. But if he is not experienced at retouching, have him recommend you a qualified professional, or find an experienced Photoshop artist yourself, online. This final step for your headshots is far too important to leave to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

I have worked in close partnership with the same retouching artist for the past 27-years. I personally oversee the entire process, and she knows precisely what I expect in the final product. This is the kind of working relationship that insures consistently beautiful results, every time. This kind of lifelike, artistic retouching takes years of experience to perform, especially with the more difficult jobs that would be virtually impossible for the amateur. A skilled retouching artist, familiar with the full potential of Photoshop, can make a great headshot even better. But remember: Proper retouching can make a good photo better, but it cannot ever make a BAD photo GREAT. If you don’t start with a well-conceived, well-lit photograph, nothing a retoucher can do will make much of a difference. “You can’t turn a rowboat into a yacht.” A great headshot always begins with a great photograph.

Best of luck in all your career goals,

Robert Kim
Los Angeles/New York /Atlanta

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