Professional Headshots – As Shot Vs. As Photoshopped

Nearly all photos are retouched in some way. But what’s the difference between something being produced as “As Shot” (photo correction) or “Photoshopped” (photo manipulation)? As Shot headshots have basic corrections that are designed to make the image appear clearer, brighter, and more engaging. Photoshopped headshots have been digitally retouched to materially alter the content of the composition. Whether a headshot should be “as shot” or “photoshopped” depends on the photo itself and the preferences of the client.

As Shot Headshots: Basic Color, Brightness, and Contrast Correction

Sometimes a camera can’t entirely capture a scene the way it would appear in real life. Basic color correction is often needed to make a picture appear more lively, while the contrast may need to be altered to bring out details that aren’t easily visible. Pictures may also need to be cropped so that the image is appropriately centered. Most photos already include this type of correction within their pricing; some level of work in post is to be expected when working with photos.


Color correction is often done by increasing or decreasing saturation. A high saturation makes a picture look very bright and vibrant, while a low saturation makes a picture look more somber and serious. Color correction can also be done by changing the tone of a picture. A picture can be corrected to look more “cool” or it can be corrected to look “warmer.” Depending on the headshot, one may be preferable over the other.

Image brightness is often altered if the lighting of the headshot wasn’t substantial enough. This can happen if the environment wasn’t favorable to the shoot, such as an overcast sky on an exterior shot. When brightness is adjusted, it can enhance the details of the image. Brightness may  be adjusted down if the image looks too bright or washed out.

The contrast of an image is the difference between the brightest areas of the image and the darkest areas of an image. Contrast is often adjusted to make an image clearer or more detailed. When the brightness of an image is adjusted, the contrast usually has to be adjusted too. Adjusting color, brightness, and contrast are all fairly easy tasks, but they can make a significant difference in how attractive the final product is.

Color, brightness, and contrast correction may be able to bring out more of the photo, but they can’t add anything into the photo. It may be able to remove colors — such as turning a photo black and white — but it can’t remove actual elements of a photo, such as a background. Removing and adding things from a photograph means manipulating it.

Photoshoped Headshots: Advanced Photo Retouching and Manipulation

Unlike image correction, image manipulation can be quite involved. It’s often an additional charge on top of the actual  photo shoot and it can radically change the appearance of the image. Some common examples of photoshopping include:

               • Removing a background from a portrait. A headshot may be taken with a background that’s later decided to be unessential. Alternatively, a background could be added into a portrait that didn’t originally have a background — or a background may be changed from one to another. Items can also be removed from the background of the photo, such as a tree that is not desired.

               • Removing an individual from a photo. Photoshopping is frequently used to remove people from photos entirely, or even add them in. For photos with backgrounds, removing people may not be possible. For photos without backgrounds, removing a person is usually easier than adding one in, depending on the photos.

               •  Removing wrinkles or blemishes. This type of retouching is very commonly done, especially in cases in which the wrinkles or blemishes appear more significantly within the photo than they appeared “in real life.” An individual’s skin may also be corrected to look smoother and more even in tone in general, which is very frequent in headshots and can give an “airbrushed” appearance (if this is desired).

  Removing red eye. Probably the most common type of photo retouching. Red eye doesn’t occur often in professional photographs, but those who have amateur photos, old family photos, or self-taken headshots may need to remove red eye.

In general, when something has to be added or removed from a photo, it’s a photo manipulation rather than a photo correction. Photoshopping is done by essentially painting over the image itself, so nearly anything can be done depending on the talent of the photographer. Because so much talent and skill is involved in photo manipulation, it’s generally expensive. However, very basic types of correction such as wrinkle removal may be included within some photography packages.

Should Your Headshot Be As Shot or Photoshopped?

Now the big picture: should your headshot be As Shot or should it be Photoshopped? For most headshots, basic correction may be all that is needed. But if there are certain specific changes that you desire, photoshopping will be required. There are some things that can’t be done with correction, such as removing wrinkles that may appear more dramatic in a headshot than they are in real life.

Naturally, the goal of the headshot matters as well. Professional headshots are often retouched at least a little to offer a more polished appearance. Headshots that are designed for families, on the other hand, may prefer a more natural or even candid look. It all depends on what the client’s ultimate goals are.

When a headshot is taken, it’s up to the client to determine whether they want it to undergo basic corrections or photo manipulation. An As Shot headshot will undergo basic correction in order to appear more vibrant and detailed — and generally more true to life. Meanwhile, a photoshopped headshot will be manipulated to alter it, such as by adding or removing items. Whether a photo needs to be digitally manipulated is entirely up to the client’s preference.


Article by Joe Forte, co-owner and producer at D-Mak Productions, a Phoenix based video production and professional photography company specializing in producing corporate, commercial, digital and branded media content.