Photo Critique: Portraits 1

In this live critique show Karl, looks at what makes a strong portrait image and offers valuable tips to help strengthen your portraiture. He covers things like the importance of burning and dodging, ways to pose your model, how to spot little details that distract from the subject and demonstrates simple post-production techniques to enhance your imagery.

In this class:

  • Portrait photography tips
  • What makes effective portrait imagery
  • How to burn and dodge portrait images
  • Lighting tips for portrait photography
  • Post-production techniques for portrait photography

To learn more about portrait photography, visit our Portrait page, where you’ll find over 40 different lighting setups for portrait photography, ranging from simple one-light setups to four-light setups and beyond.

Questions? Please post them the comments section below.


  1. Hi Karl. I entered the academy this month so I am discovering many great things. I have a question, the bright and reflective makeup that makes the highlights pop is wrong? Is it your personal taste? In social networks I see many beauty shots and portraits with this type of makeup in which the faces shine a lot. Is there a rule or specific method? I really like that kind of photos, makeup and retouching, is it bad? Thanks a lot and this academy has no comparison.

    1. Hi Peter, it’s a good question and of course with photography it’s subjective – On this page are 51 of my favourite photographers, take a look at the beauty photographers section – there will be occasional images with shine but it’s how it’s controlled as part of the image rather than a distraction. I’m only looking at the overall effectiveness of an image.

  2. May I add my 2 cents, this whole series of critique live streams is IMMENSELY useful for a newbie, it’s just awesome and carry loads of info within a short frame with real world examples at your hand.

  3. thank again a lot of detail . a lot of the shots needed b& d .so I must keep a eye on that
    thanks again Karl .

    1. Cheers Frank, yes B&D is the most powerful of all the post production techniques and it’s been used since the days of darkroom printing, obviously with Photoshop we can apply it in a more refined way.

  4. DougHowell

    Thank you Karl for your analysis and observations, they are highly instructive.
    It’s the little things that you note, that allow me to improve.

  5. Karl, firstly, a heartfelt thanks to you for everything you are doing for the international photographic community and this membership in particular. I don’t have access to a photography mentor in person and so your art and educational work has been an inspiration and incredible resource. Secondly, thank you for your kind review of my portrait. I needed to hear that. I am 2 years into my photographic journey now and I have been wrestling with lots of self-doubt about my creative abilities. It’s just never good enough and so I constantly struggle with putting my work out there. It took a lot for me to put my work up for critique, but I am really glad that I did. Your feedback has made me more resolute about overcoming my own self-doubt, which is clearly holding me back. This again underscores all the value that you are providing to this community so thanks again and long may it continue.

      1. You are welcome Karl.

        On a side note, your tip for reducing veins by getting the model to raise his/her hand… Mind. Blown. Such pro tips/insider info is why I consider my membership to a worthwhile investment. Cheers.

  6. Hi Karl,

    Excellent show as always. Thanks for the feedback. I feel I learnt a lot.
    Question: you always mention that you “enter” the picture from left to right, and I am guessing that you do this because that is the way we read in our society (this concept even influences the way we display food on the supermarket aisle). The question is: if you are shooting for, say, a Middle East client, should you invert this? Meaning from right to left. Do you have any experience in this matter?

    Kind regards and thanks,


    1. Hi Jorge, many people also think that the left to right bias is because of the way we read but studies have shown that left to right bias is a neurological trait across all cultures.

  7. Christopher. This was the first live show that I’ve watched since joining KTE and like you I was a bit surprised at Karl’s reaction to those terms. It’s not just over your side of the pond that they have been in common use. I was a commercial/studio photographer in Manchester back in the 70’s (the halcyon days) and we knew them back then. Karl is obviously spot-on in respect of ‘formulaic’ lighting but as far as I know these two are simply ‘terms/descriptives/styles’ of lighting which include ‘Butterfly’, ‘Rembrant’, ‘Loop’, ‘Clamshell’, ‘Split’, ‘Rim’, ‘Back’ etc etc. [shrug], what’s in a name huh.

    1. Hi everyone, I’m not disputing the terminology I’m just not a fan of them as for me they lead to a formulaic way of thinking. My personal preference is to light what I feel and what I visually recognise as working and I prefer to do this in a fluid way. You will however often hear me mention, rembrandt, clamshell, rimlighting but I’ll generally only do this at the end of the shoot when I’m explaining what I ended up with but I don’t want to predetermine it on the way there if you know what I mean.

      1. Hi Karl.

        Thanks for your response. Personally, I found learning the “terms” and how to use them very helpful as I continue to learn the craft. Similarly “laws” of composition like the “Rule of thirds” are, for me, jumping off points but “owning” them as foundation building blocks so that I can make conscious, creative decisions about when and if to apply them has, for me, been very helpful and given me a solid, firm foundation to my knowledge/skill base…

        Just sayin’…

        — Christopher

  8. Hi Karl, nice session again. I just heard that you are not going to make it to Tianjing. I notice this is nobody’s fault, but still I couldn’t help to feel disappointed… I was really looking forward to meet you and was the first to sign up for the workshop. You are the one that inspired me the most and tought me the most in the field, well, I guess it’s odd to say that since I’ve only seen you on my 27in monitor. Anyway, just want you to know that everything you doing on this site is just phenomenal. I guess I ll have to catch you elsewhere. Stay Awesome! -Adam

    1. Hi Adam, yes I’m very sorry that we are unable to make it. We tried with our partner there to the very last minute to make this work but on this occasion it wasn’t possible. If the structure of this workshop is of interest to you then as you may be aware we will be running it here at my studio at the end of March, please visit this page for further details – Thank you so much for your kind words and I’m very happy to hear that you are enjoying our platform and find it beneficial. All the best Karl.

    2. Mr. Simpson… Thanks for your contribution. I agree and believe you are right to include the terms broad and short lighting with “back”, “Rembrandt”, “split”, “butterfly”, “rim”, “loop”, “kicker”, “main”, “key”, “fill”. “clamshell”, etc…

      Knowledge of these and how to use them are, to me, just as important (if not more) as decisions about backgrounds, hair, make-up, lens selection, body type etc., etc. I consider these “terms” to be arrows in my quiver or different brush types with which I apply my photographic “paint”.

      Thanks again for your comments and feedback.

      — Chris Moore

  9. Perhaps this comment will clarify what is meant by “broad” and “short” lighting? I made a clarifying explanation in the comment window towards the end of the critique but it wasn’t addressed as Karl had already finished his “rant”

    Broad lighting refers to lighting the broad or wide side of a subject like a face or body and Short lighting refers to aiming the light at the short or narrow side of a subject’s body or face.

    Since Karl is keenly aware of the importance of different light modifiers and their ability to control the quality of the light on a subject I’m surprised that in the thirty years he’s been doing professional photography that he’s never come across these terms. They are widely known, understood and utilized in the United States. Most top portrait and studio photographers here in the US are very familiar with the concept and use this knowledge to help them capture the images that really sell.

    Broad lighting, for example, can make thin faces/bodies larger or emphasized while short lighting can make broad or wide faces thinner and de-emphasized/minimized.

    If, for example, you are photographing large or skinny subjects knowing how to light them with broad or short light can enhance or reduce the appearance of weight. It is, in a way, a type of light modification no less important than what light modifier is used, how it is used, how it falls off, is feathered or its intensity.

    I DO agree that the art, vision and eye of the photographer should not and, really, can not be reduced to a formula or a lighting ratio or a meter reading. That is NOT what broad and short lighting are about at all… even though they are terms which, until now, you are not familiar with.

    I am now semi-retired but have personally photographed hundreds and hundreds of weddings and social events. I sat on the Board of Directors of the Professional Photographers of Greater New York (predominantly wedding and portrait photographers) for over 15 years and was a member of several professional and amateur photography organizations like PPA, PPGNY, PPSNYS, PFLI, WPS, BPS and PSA. I have asked several of my colleagues if they’re familiar with the “terms” broad and short lighting and, to a man, they all responded: “Of course”

    As I’ve progressed and acquired more and more experience as a photographer I’ve learned that there is still more I don’t know than I do and I’m always eager to expand my knowledge.

    Once I claim that I know it all then, creatively, I’m dead.

    We haven’t met yet but I want you to know that I truly do appreciate your training and, while I may not agree with everything you say or feel, I respect our creative differences.

    Thank you for reading my “rant”. I hope that I’ve been able to put us on the same “page”


    Christopher Moore

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