How You Shot It is a series where you show us how you shot an image. Many who use our presets love to share their special processing recipes. You can join the SLR Lounge Textures and Presets group on Facebook and share your favorite images and recipes as well! For our wedding and portrait photographers, please join the SLR Lounge Wedding and Portrait Photographers group.

Today’s post comes from Andrew Bird a portrait and landscape photographer from Poconos Mountains, Pennsylvania. Find him on Google +. Check out the images from the rest of this gallery HERE.



First, I would like to thank SLR Lounge again for this opportunity to share how I created this image. It is a wonderful feeling to share my work, not just for exposure, but purely in the hope that I can just help one person. For this, I am grateful.

I was introduced to Rachael Grlica from a former co-worker, she is a Promotional and Runway model and she needed some new work done. Head, and 1/2 body images. This was only my second career headshot session. My goal with capturing head shots is to create a rapport with my subject and involve them in the creative process. This creates a connection before the shoot so the chemistry and mood is already there. While preparing for this session, I tried to find inspirational words or images and this is one that really happened to resonate with me.

The key to a great headshot is expression.. You can have a great lighting set up, you can have a great subject and a killer background… but if you don’t have expression, in my opinion you have nothing!” – Peter Hurley.

Words of encouragement like Peter Hurley’s and others stick in my head all the time, which sometimes scares me since I don’t have the best lighting, glass nor the best background. If I can get the best out of my client, then everything else is not as important. So with that in mind when doing portrait head shots, I remember those exhilarating words and I tell my self NOT TO SUCK!!!

How We Shot It

Once I contacted Rachael we set up a prep-meeting. I also explained why I do this and how it effects my images in my previous article or check out SLR Lounge Natural Light Couples Workshop where Pye goes over this process in more detail and better then I ever could. Two weeks prior to the session, she came to my house with all the wardrobe and accessory options, needless to say it was a few hours till we picked what we wanted. Doing this really makes me understand her and it shows I care about not only just what I want, but what she wants as well. I truly enjoy this process.

I want myself and my client to collaborate as much I can to make sure my client feels comfortable in what they are wearing and how they look, while having the chance to be involved more than just standing in front of the camera. This also allows us to inspire each other.

Just before the session, she contacted me about finding a beautiful dress by Nicole Miller that she felt amazing in and wanted to include it in our session. I was happy that she felt that comfortable about the session. I can honestly say that if I did not make this rapport with my clients, my job would be much harder. Luckily, she has experience, which never hurts.

My set up was pretty simple with just a white sheet back drop. I separated my subject about 5 feet away so then I would have a nice fall off on the background and it would be easier to modify in post processing since I only have one light. Once my subject was in place, I tried many different lighting variants just using the one light. I do this all the time to practice and to see what might be the best the position for the client with the angle of the light. The end result in this specific image I chose to do the Clam Shell technique and also chose to shoot her straight on.

I always try to do this with every female subject because it’s so hard to shoot a female straight on. Once I got the lighting set, I had her hold the white reflector about waist high. I started to just have a normal conversation with her. I don’t remember exactly what I said to get this expression, but we were generally having fun and I tend to make fun of my self anyways.


These were my camera settings for this this image: 1/200 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100. I also had my flash at half power. Here is the image straight out the camera:


Post Proccessing

When importing, editing and exporting, I do use the SLR Lounge Preset System and also use Photoshop CC for more in depth retouching. If you don’t have the preset system, I did try my best showing all my settings for you. From here, I import my image using the 01-10/ 11a extra soft- skin desat preset and selected the background with the eye drop tool to come close to the white balance I want. I use this for all my portraits as my initial startup.

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Once I feel comfortable on my base editing with portraits, I will go import the image from Lightroom to Photoshop CC where I will go into more detailed retouching. In my workflow I always start with the skin first using the Frequency Separation technique. I do have Julia Kuzmenko Beauty actions. This makes my retouch workflow so much smoother and more consistent.

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I create a channel mixer layer then select the Monochrome option and dial in these settings below. This allows me to see all the imperfections in the skin much easier than in color since I work on a 15in Macbook Pro. It really helps with the eyes. I always keep the red setting at – 80 and crank the blue up to about + 100-130. You can also adjust the constant to your liking this will lighten or darken the tones for easier viewing. I also use this channel mixer layer when I’m dodging and burning which is my next step in the process.

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When I’m done retouching the skin, I start dodging and burning the skin and hair. I create two layers for this. The soft layer is for skin and the hard layer is for the hair. My tool pressure setting is about 13% on skin and 25% on hair. As you can see from the picture, I use the same Channel Mixer layer as I did for the frequency separation layers again this makes it easier to view.

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The next step I work on the eyes. Magic Eyes are a part of the beauty actions set and it’s all masking layers designed to do what is listed. This again makes my workflow easier and organized. I start with clean eye whitening and go up each section and setting the opacity level on the layer to my liking. I normally zoom in at 150% on each eye and start painting in what I want with a soft brush.

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The last steps in my retouch process are creating a curves adjustment layer to brighten the teeth to the point it looks natural. I create a levels adjustment layer to darken the background.

Lastly, I use the smart sharpen technique. has a great article and video on how to do this process.

Now that I’m done editing the image in Photoshop,I bring it back into Lightroom for my final process of stylizing the image

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Now that I have the image in Lightroom, I simply applied these SLR Lounge Presets to get this final image. The only tweak I made, is double checking that the sharpening is set to 0 in the detail section of Lightroom, which prevents over sharpening.

11a- Portait flatten- light

71e- Vingnette- medium

01c- Orange/teal


Iris Enhancer

Lip Enhancer


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Final Image

AndrewBird_April-01--2014_AndrewBird_April-01--2014_IMG_7382Gear List

Canon T4I
Canon 50mm f/1.8
26in Wescott Rapid Octa Box with Beauty attachment plate
36in Westcott 5in1 reflector
Canon 430exII
Manfrotto 190xb pro b tripod and light stand
Pocket Wizard Plus III
Cowboy Studio white backdrop


It is extremely important to be involved with my client and take that extra time with them. I do not “shoot and burn,” nor do I rack up a lot of clients in one day at the same location. So if I go over the initial time by a little bit, I don’t worry. I try to have a unique experience with everyone. I believe when someone asks you to photograph a portrait of them, they are trusting you to get the best out of them. So showing my client that extra care and attention will be appreciated and hopefully set myself apart, but most importantly have an image that isn’t nothing, but something as an artist I am proud of. Be well and keep clicking!

 About the “How to Shoot It” Series

This educational series highlights amazing images from our writers as well as our community. The goal is to not only feature inspirational work but to provide valuable education for our photography community. If you would like to submit your work, please click here for more info on writing for SLR Lounge.