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Portrait Photography Critique



My name is Andreas Perminow from Norway and I would be grateful for any guidance I can get to improve my photography and retouching. I currently enjoy taking pictures of my kids and family and sometimes take photos of friends and family as well.

Lately I’ve considered taking paying jobs as a photographer, but I´m still uncertain if my skills are at the level they need to be for me to be confident enough to charge someone for my work. It would be great to get an online photography critique in order to help strengthen my confidence. 


EXIF INFO: Canon Eos 6d, 50mm, 1/100, f1.4, ISO 200


Welcome to Professional Photo Critique Andreas! It’s good to see our online photo critique site is reaching people all over the world. I’ve never been to Norway but it’s been on my bucket list for years. Let’s dive into your beautiful image and see if we can’t give you some sound advice.

Let me begin first with where I think you could improve. While I appreciate your use of a warmer tone, I really like the original background. I’d love to see what that would look like if you warmed it up. I understand that there’s a dark pattern in the background on the shadow side of his face. It was a good decision to remove this because it takes depth away from the shot. Light on light and dark on dark generally flatten an image and the exact opposite help give the image depth. So I appreciate the change you made.Another technique that gives the image depth is having a complementary color contrast – this means if you have warm tones in your subject, to have cooler tones in your background.

I really appreciate the organic patterns in the original capture. The locations you find make your image unique (unless of course someone finds the locations where you like to shoot!) and anyone can purchase a digital background set.

The last element of your image I think could be improved is the wardrobe. As photographers, it’s understood that everything that we present in our final image is intentional. Your subject is wearing a white shirt. As a rule of thumb, anything that is brighter in tonality than the subject’s face attracts the viewer’s attention first. It’s best to have your subjects wear something that is less interesting than their face; avoid abstract, interesting designs, lines, patterns and bright colors. What saves your image is that the shirt isn’t incredibly white and you didn’t blow out your highlights.

Your light is fantastic. I love the beautiful catchlights in the little boy’s eyes. They are situated at 10 o’clock and provide an aesthetic lighting pattern on the boy’s face. I really appreciate your choice of warming the color up instead of leaving it colder as in the original capture. I think your depth of field is used to perfection. I enjoy shooting wide open, especially in environmental portraits like this one. Your crop has also improved the image by eliminating unnecessary information and forcing the viewer to engage the portrait’s eyes. The last, and probably most important aspect of this image is your connection with the portrait. The little boy’s expression is fantastic – it’s mischievous and engaging.

And finally, to answer the question posed in your email, I would not hesitate to pay you for your portrait work. You are producing a quality product where you engage with the client, use good light and have a set of Photoshop skills that compliment your photography. You are more than ready to begin making money with your photography. We’d love to see your growth and see some of your work you produce for your clients! Please keep in touch.


I really like a simple, shallow-depth-of-field portrait. The post work on this image has strengthened this portrait in many ways, such as the added warmth and the elimination of distractions in the background. Adding the warm tones makes the image have a much different mood than the original. So depending on the client and purpose of this portrait, one style would be more meaningful than the other. Eliminating the various shapes and tones in the background creates an even background that makes the focus stay directly on the subject, and the nice sharp focus on the eyes.

As for the other post work done on this image, such as the skin retouching and color choice of the background I have some considerations. I happen to prefer a less retouched skin. That is a personal preference that I have. Many clients want that work done, and will choose you as a photographer for that work. The background, I am not drawn to that color. The background tone is too similar to the skin tone that it blends all together. In addition to that, since the background is so clean and now warm, it makes it look like a backdrop instead of an environment. I don’t know your intention, but I prefer having a sense of separation between the subject and background as well as a sense of space/environment. If I was shooting on location, I may in this situation moved my subject slightly so that I wouldn’t have to face as many background distractions. Then from that point forward I would have approached the post edit of the background differently. I would have left the uneven background, if subject was place more methodically in the environment, as well as keep the tone similar to what it is now. I am drawn to the warm skin in a cooler, cyan background. The two colors work together very harmoniously together. Again this comes down to personal style and what your client is interested in.



Hi Andreas and thank you for you submission. I don’t spend much time post-processing opting for getting it in camera, but I do appreciate someone with a good skill to improve the look of an otherwise bland image.

I think you’ve done a lot to this image to improve it. I really like the decision to warm the image as it adds a bit a life into the youth’s smile. The warmer tones adds a more elated feeling toward the subject. This matches with the subject’s expression as it does not reflect a more dramatic and thoughtful style.

There has been a lot of work done to remove the distractions in the background. This brings focus back to the subject. There seems to have been a lot of cloning used to removed these distractions. This appears to have caused a bit of blotching in the background. You can see the blemishes in the gradient on the right corner of the frame as well as the top left corner and left side. The transitions are not as smooth as they should be and the pattern is not as uniformed as it could be. You may consider shooting a smaller section of the wall that can be used as a background plate and then overlaying the subject on top of that image. This would alleviate some of the banding issues while retaining the same lighting aesthetics to the image.

The original image appears to be lit only by a nice window light. The natural light is nice and soft. If you are paying attention to details as a retoucher then you want to understand the locations of the bright and dark areas and their relationship to the viewer. The highlights are pulled forward while the shadows are pulled back in the attention for the viewer. What this means is the brightest spot of the image is what you give attention to. For this image, the brightest area is located on the side of the face to the left of the subject’s eyes. The darker area to the right of the frame pulls the focus from the center of both eyes to the left. Consider brightening just a little bit of the right side to bring back the focus. Or darkening the cheek to draw the attention to the eyes.

Overall there is little that really needs to be done to this image. It’s a great photo in the original that was only improved by the editing. You should consider taking paying jobs as people would be happy to have this type of images of their own family. There are many people who pay for photography with less skill. Having a client see several images from you allows them to make the decision if the price matches the quality of work.

Bridal Portrait Critique


Howdy from Texas, I am so excited to find your photography blog and your amazing photo critique. This is exactly what I need as a beginner photographer. This photo is my first try doing a bridal portrait. I am looking forward to hearing from you!

Best regards,
Georgian Mihaila


EXIF INFO: Canon EOS 5d Mark III, Canon EF 24-70 f2.8 II USM, 1/50, f2.8, ISO 1600



Welcome to online Professional Photo Critique Georgian, and thank you for your submission. As I’ve mentioned many times before, it takes a lot of guts and humility to submit a piece of work for others to critique. As artists, we are emotionally connected to our work, and because of this, have a hard time retaining enough objectivity to find weak areas or areas that could need improvement. I’ve chosen to begin listing the EXIF information (exposure, camera, lens, etc.) immediately before the images because I believe these choices have an impact on the final image. In many cases, it’s the preparation that you do BEFORE you squeeze the shutter that can positively or negatively affect your final image.

We ask that you submit your original RAW file (or jpg) and your final edit so we can see some of the changes you made to the original. In your case, it doesn’t appear that the original and the final are the same image. If they are, the body has been seriously manipulated in post production. I actually appreciate the length of the bride in the original capture because the edit looks to be quite foreshortened. This means that the distance between the head and her body appears to be very little. This visual distortion makes the bride look like there is very little body between her head and knees. I think the original capture makes her body look longer.

Before I comment on the editing, I’d like to address some fundamentals. One thing I noticed immediately is that your ISO is 1600. I know that there are many programs, including Photoshop, that offer noise reduction. I use the 5d Mark III as well and have found that shooting at ISO 1600 doesn’t produce enough noise that would ruin the image, especially if the image is exposed correctly. There is visible noise in the shadows of the original capture that appears to be cleaned up in the edit. Photographing someone at 1/50 isn’t always the best choice simply because you are running a risk of camera shake. This isn’t necessarily motion blur from the subject, but blur that’s caused by the holder of the camera. The lower the shutter speed the more you increase the chance of this user-generated blur. I also noticed that in your original capture, the focus is on the bride’s ear. The eyes are soft. While they are sharpened in the edit, you want to make sure that you nail as many fundamentals as you can – this can eliminate hours of post production work.

Lighting: When I first address an image I try to determine where the light is coming from. In your portrait’s case, the light source is coming from about 7 o’clock. This is an example of a bottom-lit image. Because we are terrestrial beings and walk around on the earth and are lit from above by the sun and sky, it is often odd to see a human face lit from below. I would try to move your subject so that she’s lit from above (10 o’clock or 2 o’clock). This would also eliminate the shadows that are cast from her eyelashes on the top of her eye bone. This is most prevalent on the left eye. Additional lighting or some kind of fill light could give you some separation on the right side of the image, where the bride’s hair blends into the black.

Crop: The original crop, while a little tight in the top corner is really tense in the edit. The bride’s eyebrow bleeds right into the top of the image. Cropping her head this tight into the corner creates tension, which is contrary to the intent of this type of portrait. In a bridal portrait, you generally want to convey soft, beautiful, warm, peaceful, etc. and a tense crop doesn’t help convey this.

Criticisms aside, the expression on the bride’s face appears very genuine. This speaks to the fact that you have a good rapport with her. This is probably one of the most important attributes of a portrait photographer – the ability to establish a rapport and relationship of trust with their subjects.

Let’s talk a little bit about your editing. While many photographers who shot film never edited their images, in the digital age it’s commonplace for a photographer to edit their own images. This forces us to acquire a completely different skill than image capture. If you look online for examples of how to edit portraits, you’ll get immense amounts of information – from software that does it for you, to “experts” espousing the use of the clone stamp, to tutorials on frequency separation. This is probably the reason why we see so many examples of bad editing done by portrait photographers. I think the most telltale sigh of a bad edit is LACK OF TEXTURE. You know what I’m talking about, anytime you see a smooth surface with no pores, no hair, nada, you know editing has been done. And heavy-handed editing at that. The human face should always have texture. I advocate a philosophy on post production that goes something like, “If people can tell it was edited, then you did a bad job.” The trick to successful editing is that you leave no trace of your technique.

For portrait editing, I prefer frequency separation. One of the best (and simplest) explanations I’ve seen of this is from Aaron Nace on his Photoshop program PHLEARN. You can see a full video tutorial of frequency separation here. Nace does a great job showing how to clean up acne and other troublesome texture on a portrait WITHOUT removing the important texture that makes us look human. I’ve included some examples of celebrities on national magazine covers to demonstrate the importance of leaving texture on the human face.


Notice the small bumps on Taylor Swift’s face. Time magazine and other news publications tend to have less invasive editing than other publications that are dedicated to beauty or fashion.

good skin edit parade taylor swift


Notice the lines in Taylor’s forehead here. Much like Time magazine, Parade has more realistic photos on their covers. Here Taylor’s face has texture from forehead to cheeks to chin.

good skin edit kate moss


Kate Moss, seen here on the cover of W Magazine, maintains her freckles, age lines in her cheek and pores. Texture on the human face is beautiful and should remain as an important aesthetic quality.

good skin edit


On another W Magazine cover, Mary Kate’s entire face is featured on the cover. This gives us a close up look of the editing that was done. If you look at the area I circled, these are small hairs that often serve as a transition between your hair and forehead. They provide an authentic detail that helps sell us on the fact that Mary Kate’s skin is flawless. By leaving the small hairs in it makes it look like there has been no editing done to the image.


In viewing your edited image versus the original, you have addressed some of the issues in the image. In the original, the eyes are out of focus, the subject is very tight to the edge of the frame, and (to some) the colors in the background could be a bit distracting. Other than those aspects the original image would be a nice addition to a wedding book. I like the more natural aspects of the original image and the shallow depth of field.

When looking closely at your edited image I can see that the focus has been resolved, but it looks like a different image. The angle of the arm, body, and where the flowers are placed are different, so I’m not sure if you went with a different image or photoshopped her face into this image.

In the edit, I am drawn to the simplicity in the background and the space to the right of her face. But in comparison to the original image I happen to be drawn to more natural looking faces. In the edit you changed her eye color and there is darker makeup. I’m not sure if she applied more makeup or you added it in post, but the lower lashes are very harsh. Those types of adjustments I think are personal choice in your style work and of course what the client wants. The skin retouching still has a texture to it which gives it a more natural look, which I find to be helpful in giving a realistic and authentic feeling to her wedding day.





The photograph features a beautiful bride who shows a genuine smile. I’m sure she was happy with the photo. While the image has some nice formal qualities to it, there are a couple considerations to pay attention to.

Let’s discuss some of the small details. One thing that bothers me is the loose strands of hair on the far right edge of the shot. They would be so simple to clean up being that the image falls off into black pretty quickly. These loose strands are a distraction from the clarity of the rest of the image. Another item is her eye color. While the green is really striking when the image is viewed small, it begins to appear painted on when you come in close for the detail. The color appears flat and stripped making it not feel natural. A color gradient with a lower opacity can help to sell the color change.

There are two other aspects that make the overall image feel a bit awkward. The first issue is the angle. While it may have seemed natural during the capture, the final image feels a bit twisted. The proportions are exaggerated with the larger face and the smaller body that fills the rest of the frame. I’d suggest letting the knees extend out of the frame of the shot so that the viewer’s mind can extend the length of the subject. It’s also the angle of the legs. They cut right through the center of the shot and bring unnecessary attention to a awkward pose. Moving the flowers to the lower left thirds can help balance out the shot and allow the flow of the body to move the eye through the image and not across. This can make the image a bit more pleasing to the eye. In discussing the angle, the crop across the brow puts much weight on the edge of the frame. The content of the image is a bit pushed above to the top. Below the middle area of the image, there is not much information which creates an unbalance to the overall space.

The second issue that makes the image feel a bit awkward is the lighting. While it’s a nice soft light, the direction of the light comes from below. This direction tends to extend the shadows upward. You can see this extending the length of the shoulder, nose and eyebrows. Lighting from below tends to appear less natural and can give a spooky or unfamiliar look. It adds more drama to a facial expression that is portraying the opposite.

These are minor details, but something that can help to clean up the shot. It’s the photographer’s job to be very intentional with every decision. If you’re wanting to use the lighting or posture to create more drama, see that the expression matches the mood.



Photo Critique #3: “Climbing the Ladder” | Self-Portrait Critique

by Cathie Benjamin

Portrait Photo Critique_CathieBenjamin


In an age that is all about selfies, it’s nice to see a thoughtful self-portrait. As image creators, we all are emotionally connected to our work. It makes it difficult to receive a critique because of this strong, protective connection. Self portraits are the most intimate of all photography because the photographer appears in the work. And by critiquing the work, you are also directly speaking about them. Thank you for sharing yourself with us and our viewers!

The light in this image is a little harsh for my taste. When I see the use of harsh light, it has to support the mood of the image and this image doesn’t seem that harsh. The blown spot on the back of your hand shows this harsh quality. To help this, diffusion of the light source (placing a white sheet, fabric, etc. over the light) would create a softer environment. The direction of the light, judging by the shadow created by your glasses, is from the top and to the right of you. The position of the light helps you get light on your background as well as illuminate you, but I think you could accomplish this in another way that helps to achieve a greater sense of depth in the image. Pull yourself and your ladder away from the background so that the green cloth isn’t so sharp. (You need some distance between the subject and the background.) Then you could put a small, soft light source on the background and you could light yourself with another soft light that wasn’t spilling onto the background, but was positioned directly overhead so that you had the sense that you were climbing into the light.

The color palette is interesting and I’m trying to determine the abundant use of green: green barrettes, green earrings, green shirt and green background. The greens are also all very different shades. Playing with some other colors could add some variation to the image. I really appreciate the use of the magenta glasses to complement the greens you’ve used. It’s not precise, but the complementary color feeling is definitely coming through here. (See color wheel below. Complementary colors are those that are found opposite each other on the color wheel.)


Your concept is extremely well executed. I need to continually remind myself that you’re probably user a self-timer or a remote. In either case, you’re hurrying to get to a spot and into character before the shutter clicks! The expression on your face and your wide eyes portray a sense of amazement and wonder. I appreciate your use of the jewels and how you “bedazzled” the old ladder. I would suspect that you’re climbing toward the jewels or to a more glamorous place. I think your hair has the same sense of movement as the star and I really enjoy how this similarity in shape adds a sense of humor. Another strength in the image is that you’ve utilized active framing. This is when part of the contents of the image extends beyond the frame. This gives viewers a sense that there is more to the shot and adds a sense of lateral depth. I also like the sense of space you’ve created by keeping the ladder and yourself in the bottom part of the frame. This gives a feeling that the journey is ahead of you. You also used three items in this image. This is called the rule of odds. This little-known compositional rule states that an odd number of items are more interesting to the eye than an even number. This is precisely why triangles are an important element in photography – they are essentially a shape made of three points. Thank you again for this submission Cathie!


This self-portrait has a whimsical quality to it. The expression, the color palette and the arrangement of the props bring a story together about the subject. The first thing that jumps out at me from a technical perspective on this image is the lighting. The light is harsh. My concern about the harsh light, is where is it the brightest. The back side of the subjects hand is bright and distracting, which I know is not the focus of this image. I want my attention to be drawn back to the expression of the face, and to be guided  through the image visually. I have my idea of what the story is about the subject, but I feel like there could be more added to help make it clearer to the viewer what the photographer is wanting to say – without spelling it out. There is a delicate balance when attempting to convey a narrative in a single image; it is very undesirable when too much information is given, but if there isn’t enough, you may loose the interest of the viewer. I like the attention to color in this portrait, the greens with a pop of magenta is a nice element to bring my focus to the subject, as well as the use of space.




This image looks like it was very fun to capture. I loved the hair flip paired with the flip of the star trail. There’s a lot to explore in the image and I am curiously engaged with all the detail along the ladder. There is a noticeable burning applied to the highlight on the hand. Being this is obviously a staged environment a bit of diffusion to the light source could have helped with the over exposure.

Everything is placed very close to the edges and this creates a bit of tension in the frame. While I do like the tension that is created, it also leaves the center a bit empty and it may have been nice to provide the star a bit more emphasis in the image. The star is lost in the shadows. I’m also not sure if the person is completely aware of the star because her line of sight is not matched to the star’s position. There is a detachment from the subject and the star. I feel connecting the eyes to the star would allow a viewer to match the gaze and then shift appropriately through the image.

Conceptually, there are also a couple components that add to this idea of reaching for the stars. The ladder adds to the idea of escalation which can help with moving higher. Also, the detail of the ladder and clothing of the woman makes me think she could be involved with crafts looking in the closet for her next inspiration. There’s a lot of fun aspects in the photograph and I’d like to see a bit more intentionality in the organization of the image.

Photo Critique #1: “Camden” | Portrait Critique

by Jolee Henely



What a great first photo to begin our blog! Thank you so much for submitting this Jolee! Let’s jump right in to the evaluation of your photograph. The first thing I gravitate to in most images I view is the light. Your light here on the subject is flattering and soft. It looks like you positioned the boy underneath an overhang which would cut down the bright light coming from directly overhead and force the available light to fill the boy’s face. Great use of directional light! This creates a beautiful shine in his eyes.

For portraits, the face should be the most interesting element in a scene. And this child’s face is very captivating. Every tool you possess should be utilized to hold the viewer’s gaze on the face of the subject. Anything that distracts from the face, or gives the eye anything more interesting to look at, is competing with our subject for attention. In this photo, two things compete with the boy’s face for our attention. Our eyes tend to find linear elements interesting – this is why leading lines are so effective in composition. It might seem that the little boy is wearing a shirt with leading lines on them, giving the eye somewhere to go other than the subject. Maybe think to have him wear a solid shirt as opposed to stripes. Another element that could be addressed is the bright background by the boy’s head. The human eye is drawn to the brightest part of the scene. One suggestion to ensure the boy’s face is the brightest part of the scene is to frame his face so that a dark element is behind him. This would give a sense of separation. This is also known as “chiaroscuro,” using light and dark elements to establish a sense of depth. You’ve achieved some sense of depth already with your shallow depth of field – and the outcome is quite beautiful.

In portraiture, it’s advised to photograph the “open side” of the subject’s face. This means the side of the face with the most distance between the corner of the eye and the corner of the mouth. It looks like that’s what you did here. You’ve also composed the shot using the rule of thirds. The little boy is precisely on a vertical third and his eyes and face are on a horizontal third. Speaking of framing, the only area where I would suggest improvement is where you cropped off the tips of the subject’s left hand. Ordinarily, it’s not very aesthetic to crop so tight to things like fingers, ears, toes, etc. Ensure that you crop so that it looks deliberate and not accidental. My last suggestion would be to photograph the little boy doing something natural. Leaning back up against a wall just doesn’t look like something a little boy would do. I’d like to see a shot of him playing in the dirt, running, holding a frog, etc.

Great image Jolee! The passion you have for photography is evident and I hope that my comments are received as I intended them – to help you gain a different perspective.


What draws me into this portrait is the shallow depth of field and the catch of light in the young boys eyes. I think that black and white was a good choice to simplify the image keeping the focus on the subject and not the background elements. The focus and gaze of the the little boy is sweet and intriguing.

Things to consider: The boys facial expression. There is a bit more grit to the image because of the choice of black&white and the facial expression. Because the child is up against a wall, with that expression, it makes me think he could be in “time out” or in some sort of trouble. My guess is that this is a straight forward portrait, so to consider these aspects that a viewer with no context could read.

I am a tiny bit distracted by where you cropped his hand. I want to see less or more. Revealing the rest of the hand comfortably in the frame would eliminate that minor issue. But also I would consider a slightly tighter crop. Depending on where and how this image is being shared/displayed would guide me better in how to crop the image successfully.

Since the image is in Black&White, it emphasizes shapes and forms in the image. With that said. The dark spot in the top left feels a bit to strong to me. I would remove or lighten that area to keep the focus and weight of the image on the face. There is another similar situation with a light patch in the bottom left as the images as wells.


I’ll admit I’m sort of flying blind on this one. With no before to look at it’s difficult to see what was manipulated in post and where one can make improvements. I’ll say that as a general rule I do very little in the way of manipulation when it comes to photos of children. I view a photograph of a child as a brief sliver of time, a chronicling of who they were as they spring up like weeds. Black and whites also pose their own interesting set of challenges when critiquing because so much information has been stripped away.

For most, a black and white conversion is nothing more than clicking a button or two, but the colors present in the original shot allow us a great deal of latitude where it comes to creating visual appeal when converted to black and white. For example, a shift of the green slider can take what would be drab gray and push it into rich dark tones or eye catching highlights if adjusted the opposite direction. It’s a benefit of black and white conversions that is often overlooked.

With this shot in particular I’m very happy with the amount of sharpening and contrast around the mouth and eyes. It’s just enough to help draw the viewer in without going to the extremes of what I like to call ‘alien eye.’ The play between dark and light in the hair is also nicely done and provides for a wonderful bit of texture. It’s also nice to see that the eyes and teeth are close to being the whitest parts of the photograph, again, drawing the viewer in.

As to what could be improved upon, for myself I’d like to see even greater contrast. To me, a black and white should have a healthy helping of black with bright whites drawing us into the subject. It’s one of the rare occasions where pushing that histogram is acceptable. As a general rule, in a black and white portrait I try to have my subject be the lightest part of the portrait when dealing with Caucasians. Here our skin tone is more of a muddied gray and I think this shot would benefit if that range of color were pushed brighter. Overall, I’d say that while there is room for improvement, this is a good B&W conversion well on its way to being a very good one.


This photograph portrays a candid moment of a young boy’s life. My eyes immediately go to the young boy’s eyes, which have good contrast and are a key factor that draws you into the photograph. The decision the photographer made to have this photo in black and white helps simplify the image. This aesthetic choice removes any potential color distractions and isolates the subject, to help bring focus on the child.

The expression of the face isn’t a full smile and appears strained and forced. This portrait evokes a fleeting moment that gives a sense of the subject’s demeanor. The image left me wanting a stronger gesture from the face or the body posture. There is little additional information is provided below the shoulders. With so much space given around of the subject, it gives a lot of weight and importance to an empty area that doesn’t provide supportive information to the photograph. A tighter crop on the face can really connect emotionally by making the space more intimate for the viewer. This would also eliminate the darker shadow areas and provide direction back to the subject’s face.

Overall this photograph is a good portrait of a young boy, but lacks any greater signifiers, iconography or themes to represent a larger concept.

Guest Evaluator – Emily Teague

The first thing in this image that stands out to me is the child’s eyes- great work done with the contrast and clarity in them. While the boy’s expression does make me want to look at the photo longer, it also distracts me from the overall cute feeling. I love the shallow depth of field that makes my eyes go straight to the subject, but for me the black line coming down into the white in the top left hand corner is distracting. I wish the frame were just a bit larger so that I could see the boy’s entire hand. Currently with the crop it feels a bit tense. It’s a good rule of thumb to try and never crop off appendages. The boy’s pose and the texture within his shirt and hair really adds to the contrast between the soft background and clear subject.