How to Take Photos of Tattoos

January 26, 2015 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment |

What techniques would you recommend when shooting a tattoo'd subject?

When shooting tattoo'd customers I immediately feel more inspired. Just by the style of their tattoos. For me they tell a story. Just like the wrinkles on an old persons face. We see those shots repeatedly in travel and journalism photography, high passed to the max with deep, crisp contrast. The wrinkles are at the forefront of the portrait. So we work around that and for example if they turn up with lots of vibrant colourful designs, i'll straight away get the colour gels out and aim for a similar theme coupled with some more dynamic poses. If they turn up with black hair, black and white designs and dark makeup straight away it's pretty obvious I'll be shooting something, dark, gritty and moody.

Next would be the pose. It's been said that i never really plan ahead of my sessions or really think about what i'm going to do. This is mainly because i feel that when something has been so meticulously planned it's only going to turn out looking too staged and rigid. I tend to go off my instincts and inspirations at the time of shooting and if I do ever plan anything, I can almost guarantee that the final image will look nothing like what i had intended, but better! I feel it flows more naturally to go with your instinct.

A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Tatoos

I also spend a bit of time talking to my customers during and once i've set up the lighting for a particular shot. What i'm really doing is i'm watching them, checking their movement and general posture. It's happened so many times whilst doing this they've naturally got into a pose that looks comfortable to them and we've been mid conversation and i've said STOP! Right there, do that again, stay like that. And i've taken the shot! Those for me are some of the best shot's you will ever get. Because they are not staged, but you've caught them in a pose that was natural and comfortable to them. The key tho is to keep the conversation flowing as the more comfortable they feel the more likely they are to fall into a natural pose. Awkward silences will never help your cause! They could be sitting and leaning in a certain way or standing a certain way whilst chatting and they bring their hand up through their hair. Something like that will happen and it's up to you to spot these moments and say something like, "do that again, bring your hand through your hair just like you did" and very often they will replicate it with little difficulty.

What post production techniques would you recommend?

I'd almost always recommend post production. Film photographers are so against retouching and I've got so much respect for film photographers but at the end of the day, if something can be improved, IMPROVE IT! Whether you increase the contrast, create a HDR image in photoshop which is really cool by the way or making the colours more vibrant and saturated, anything can always do with a little improvement no matter what it is. Ever heard of the popular phrase 'nobody's perfect'? Well there you go! When softening skin be mindful of the tattoo's. Don't soften the tattoos. Because that's what will happen in 20-30 years time when they eventually fade so don't speed up the process, they will hate it! Google photoshop high passing and check that out. It can be used to bring out finer details in your image and create an HDR like image.

A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Tatoos

Where can your work be found?

You can find all of my work on Facebook at

And more specifically our Tattoo & Urban work at

We also have a Photography School page where we post the coolest tutorials around and I'm currently offering 2 Day Workshops where you can learn things such as Posing, Lighting and Post Production from start to finish.
Check this out and inbox for details at

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