Behind The Scenes: Creating A Great Portrait

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Hey everyone! As you can tell by the title we are switching it up a little bit today!  I have teamed up with Chris K over at @astoriaseniorphotography to branch out of my comfort zone and talk to you guys about something other than make up. Today I am giving you an inside look on what really goes on behind the scenes of professional photography. If you are interested you can head over to Chris’s website at to learn about how to achieve a flawless face using make up!

The process of creating a great portrait (from the perspective of the subject) can often be simplified down to just getting in front of a camera and giving a nice smile. However, from the photographer’s perspective, much more goes into the process of making a great portrait. So, what does it take?

  • Lighting 

Simply put, light is everything in the process of making a great exposure. This can either be with natural light and/or with artificial light. When lighting a portrait I like to first think about lighting in terms of quality and quantity. The quality of light generally refers to the softness or hardness of the shadow transitions on the subject. The quantity deals with overall brightness and contrast. Both quality and quantity can then be used to create flattering light or edgy light that also brings attention to the subject.


Often if the environment that the subject is in is bright, then artificial lighting is required in order to make a proper exposure of the subject. Most people have experience with this on a point and shoot cameras or their phone, using the built in flash. Either the subject blends into the background, or is lit in a unflattering way. That is why professional photographers use lighting that is off the camera, placed in a position that flatters the subject. From that point lighting modifiers are used to control quality and quantity of the lights.

  • Posing / Expression

When people say the camera adds ten pounds, I feel the correct statement is that bad posing adds ten pounds. How people see themselves in the mirror is often not exactly the same way the camera will photograph them, based on the lens used or lighting.

Many people know little more than to stare at the camera and say “cheese”. This is not the best place to start in creating a great portrait. The process I use begins with positioning the subject in relation to the background. Then the body is positioned in a flattering way along with the subjects face. Lighting is then brought in and tested. And finally the process of creating a genuine expression along with the finer details of the jawline, eyes and mouth are fine-tuned.

  • Hair and Makeup & 5. Retouching

While the hair and make up stage does not occur after the photo was taken, I just decided to bring it up here in order to stress how it best works in the process. So, after the photos are taken, they are brought into the computer for fine detail tweaking such as color correction and exposure adjustments. After this, the process of retouching begins.


When additional care is taken on hair and makeup, the retouching process begins before the photo is taken. The goal in both cases is to reduce or conceal blemishes in the skin and further define and contour the face. A major reason why this is important to address either with make up or retouching is that when a photo is taken with a very sharp lens and good lighting there’s a lot of detail in the skin. This level of detail is not normally seen unless you are looking very closely with a mirror under bright light. Additional enhancements such as defining the eyes, adding color to skin is best addressed with makeup.


In this portrait of Cari, I had her rotate her body to a flattering position. The lighting was changed to two soft boxes, which wrapped her in soft beautiful light. Her makeup combined with retouching created a polished final portrait.

Chris Kryzanek is a portrait photographer living in Astoria, Oregon. You can find out more about his work on and his high school senior portraits website


  • Reply Melody Rosa March 23, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    These are actually great photo tips.

    Took notes for my next shoot.

    • Reply Cari Knapp March 23, 2017 at 2:39 pm

      That’s great:) I’m so glad you found this helpful! ❤

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