Keeping It Natural: Pascal Shirley’s Tips for Portraiture

By // December 2, 2015 // Posted in Photography, Portrait, Post-Production, Software, Sponsored Post

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Venice Beach-based photographer Pascal Shirley, true to the West Coast, keeps his portrait shoots relaxed. Whether he’s shooting for brands like The North Face and Adidas or magazines like Men’s Journal and TIME, Shirley brings an exuberance and natural esthetic that permeates his portraiture.


A summery shoot for Vagabond Towels. Photo © Pascal Shirley


Adidas #mygirls campaign with snowboarder Helen Schettini and friends. Photo © Pascal Shirley

“I like to keep things loose,” Shirley says. “I let people open up to me. Everyone has a different vibe and I try to feel that out.”

Don’t be fooled by how easy he makes it seem. In his ten years as a photographer, Shirley has worked tirelessly to develop the photo skills to put people at ease and the post-production chops to bring out the best in every photo. Shirley uses Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan to keep his effortless style—well, effortless.

Shirley has a few suggestions, from directing to shooting to post-production, for achieving the same look and feel:

Develop a relationship

When Shirley arrives at a shoot, he takes time to get to know his subjects and make them feel comfortable. It’s all based on a truism that he learned early on: “People open up when you get to know them,” Shirley says. “That’s why some of my best shots are of my friends. I’ve shot them over and over and over again.”

Recently, Shirley has taken that idea one step further. Instead of cramming a shoot into a single day, he’ll shoot a subject over the course of several months. It lets him and the subject develop a relationship where the photos get better and better with time.

Keep the possibilities open

When Shirley begins shooting, it’s not unusual for his subjects to act stiff. The key to breaking the ice, he’s found, is an open mind and a little creativity. While Shirley develops a general concept before a shoot begins, he listens to his instincts in the moment.

“My shoots are very free-form. I have a general idea of what I want, but I’m not afraid to try something else,” Shirley says.

Shirley responds to his subjects and tries out new backgrounds, poses and angles. Often, he asks subjects to run around, roll on the floor or even kiss. It’s all about making subjects relax, have fun and forget about the camera.


Photo © Pascal Shirley

Shoot a lot

Authentic moments come unpredictably. “When it can be one subtle little thing that makes or breaks a photo, it helps to shoot a lot,” Shirley says. According to him, it gives you more opportunities for those serendipitous “in between” photos where everyone looks comfortable, authentic and perfectly arranged. It’s in post-production, using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, when you can look for and select those moments.

Organize and edit

Retouching every photo from a photo shoot is overwhelming. Instead, Shirley organizes his photos into collections and goes collection by collection to star each of his favorites.

“Half of photography is in the editing,” Shirley says.

Lightroom CC (on desktop) and Lightroom on mobile make editing on any device seamless. Keyword tagging keeps shoots organized, the rating system helps narrow down captures and “smart collections” combine the two to streamline your process.


Photo © Pascal Shirley

Don’t do more work than you have to

“The key to editing quick is developing your workflow,” Shirley says. With the powerful editing tools in Lightroom CC, all you have to do is take advantage. While Shirley tweaks settings in all of his photos—everything from exposure to contrast—he avoids tweaking each photo separately.

Instead, Shirley identifies sets of photos with similar coloration and lighting. He processes one photo from the set and then syncs the tweaks across the entire set using Lightroom’s “Sync Settings” feature. Once the “keepers” are tweaked, export directly to Photoshop CC for the final touches.

Be a responsible retoucher

“Some people get heavy-handed with [retouching] and you can tell,” Shirley says.

To keep a “natural” look, only retouch what you have to. Shirley takes a light hand with selective coloring and lightening or darkening areas in Adobe’s mobile Photoshop app, Photoshop Fix. And, instead of trying to airbrush every imperfection away, Shirley combines Photoshop CC and Photoshop Fix’s content-aware Healing and Patch tools with the Opacity slider to eliminate blemishes and wrinkles while retaining the character that makes each person unique.

Shirley paints away blemishes using a soft brush with the opacity set between 5 and 15 percent and works progressively on the target area.

“If you keep the opacity really low, it looks more natural,” Shirley says. “Less is more.”

Before_Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 9.02.12 AM

A “before” image in Photoshop CC. Photo © Pascal Shirley

After_Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 9.02.02 AM

An “after” image in Photoshop CC. Photo © Pascal Shirley

Edit where your photo is going

Shirley often shows off his latest photos on Instagram, but not before giving them an edit on his iPhone. According to Shirley, photos can look very different from computer monitor to iPhone screen. If he’s shooting for print or web, he edits on Photoshop CC. If he’s showing off a photo on a mobile platform like Instagram, he edits on his phone using Photoshop Fix.

“When I bring my photos to the iPhone, I will often notice that the colors look different. That’s when I open up Photoshop Fix to give them a little tweak,” says Shirley “It’s nice editing on your phone and knowing exactly what it’s going to look like in Instagram.”

Learn more and try the $9.99/month Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan for free at



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