5 Words Headshot Photographers Should Never Say

One of the biggest mistakes I made early on as a headshot photographer was using the dreaded phrase, “I’ll fix it in post.” In today’s article and accompanying video, I share five reasons why I never say this to my clients, and why you shouldn’t either.

1. Most Issues Can Be Fixed In-Camera

The most obvious reason why we should avoid fixing things in post is that most of the time these things are simple fixes that can be done during the session. As an inexperienced photographer, I found myself saying to clients, “I can fix that hair in post,” or, “Sure, I can remove the necklace if you like this photo,” or, “I will photoshop out the wrinkles in your shirt,” and other similar sentiments. I think I did this in part because I desperately wanted for the client to be happy and didn’t have full faith that I could fix certain problems at the session.

In reality, it takes much less time to tell someone their hair is out of place and correct the on-site issue than it does to fill in hair gaps or delete endless stray hairs after the fact. Similarly, it’s much simpler to ask a client to remove earrings or a necklace that doesn’t look good than it is to tell them, “don’t worry, I’ll remove it in post.” And, if you are confident in your method and ability to capture great images, shooting a few more images with a necklace removed or hair parted differently is a much faster and better solution than leaving it for post-processing.

In fact, the very best headshot photographers capture images that already look amazing in-camera with zero editing, and the job of a photo editor is to provide touches, not to do the heavy lifting by repairing finishing mistakes that could have been avoided.

2. Time is Money

Every one of those “little” tweaks we push off and decide to “fix in post,” ultimately adds up to a huge amount of time, especially if you edit your own photos. And, if you are fairly new to the headshot game, chances are you do all of your own editing. Things like removing jewelry, cleaning up endless clumps of stray hair, lesening shadows on the face, or fixing someone’s crooked smile, for example, seem easy enough to do when talking about them at the shoot, but I can tell you from experience that the minute you sit down to edit those images, you will sincerely regret not fixing it at the session.

Think of it this way. Every minute that you spend in front of your computer editing photos is a minute that you are not working on growing your business by doing things like booking new clients, updating your website and social media accounts, answering emails, or sending invoices. It’s also time that you are taking away from being with your family.

Remember that all of those little fixes avoided during the shoot add up to a lot of your time after the fact.

3. Your Mouth is Writing Checks That Your Butt Can’t Cash

When you tell a client that you can fix something in the post, you must understand that the average person looks at Photoshop like some kind of magic bullet that can easily fix any perceived flaws in the face, body, and clothing. Those of us who have been photographers for a while know that this is not at all the case. In my experience, even things that seem simple enough to fix can sometimes end up being very difficult to accomplish, so if you promise to fix something in post you risk the client being very unhappy with the results.

Another thing to consider is that when you tell a client, “I will do my best to fix this in post,” what they actually hear is, “This will be perfect by the time I’m done with it!” Because of this, it becomes of utmost importance to communicate clearly with your clients and also mitigate their expectations when it comes to what can (and will) be done during the editing process. The extreme vagueness of the phrase “fix it in post” almost guarantees that you and your client will have very different expectations going forward. And this brings me to my next point.

4. You’ve Now Opened the Door To Endless Edits

The minute you tell your client that you will simply fix something in the post, you’ve put the idea in their head that anything – no matter how minor or major – that they see in the photo, is able to be fixed, and that multiple revisions are just part of your process, ie, included in your standard fee.

Endless revisions are not part of any successful headshot photographer’s workflow, because some things take much, much longer to fix than other things. Once you open the door to “fixing it in post,” without having very specific guidelines in place for what is to be fixed, this can lead to multiple rounds of editing, and it will ultimately be your fault as the photographer because you did not communicate clearly and set realistic expectations for what can be “photoshopped,” without making the subject look like they were accosted by an Instagram filter.

Instead of the open-ended “fix it in post” phrase, I tell my clients that basic Retouching is included, and that this amounts to cleaning up stray hairs, blemish removal (no moving eyes or chins, for instance), as well as other minor fixes like removing dust and small wrinkles from clothing. It does not, however, include moving eyeballs, fixing crooked ties, changing background colors, compressing heads to appear thinner (yes, I’ve been asked this before), changing nose shapes, or anything else that is not typical cleanup work. As a photographer, those additional services cost me time and money, and if the client requests any of this, I am very happy to accommodate them, as long as they understand that there is an additional editing fee involved. A clear and fair editing fee immediately tells your client that endless revisions are not part of what they have paid you for as the photographer.

5. There is a better way

The solution to your fix-it-in-post-itis problem begins with you becoming a better photographer. The better you understand things like lighting, posing, makeup, hair, clothing, and a host of other issues, the easier it becomes to fix things during the session, and to do it with confidence and ease. But you can’t do what you don’t know, and the best way to learn is by getting as many people in front of your camera as possible. Each unique face that you photograph creates a cumulative learning experience, and the more people you capture, the easier it becomes to see and correct potential issues in real-time.

My next suggestion is to take advantage of the many amazing tutorials available here on Fstoppers, like Peter Hurley’s Photography Tutorials, or The Cinematic Headshot with Dylan Patrick, for instance. These tutorials and others featured here are invaluable learning tools, and I find myself watching them again and again because I learn something new each time.

Finally, I recommend joining an online photography group where you can post images and receive critique and guidance on lighting, posing, gear, and more. Those who know me best know that I learned everything I know about headshots in Peter Hurley’s Headshot Crew, so that is always at the top of my list when it comes to online communities (and for the record, I am not endorsed in any way by the Headshot Crew). I’ve also learned so much about lighting from Felix Kunze and highly recommend his tutorials as well as Lindsay Adler’s wonderful educational resources. The best part is that all of these photographers offer a ton of free content on their YouTube channels, so I suggest that you start there.

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