How to Edit Portraits in Adobe Lightroom

Knowing how to edit portraits is almost as important as knowing how to shoot them. While editing a portrait with Photoshop can be very time consuming, we want to show you how you can edit portraits beautifully and quickly using only Adobe Lightroom.

Retouching portraits can be a very complex task. There are even specialist retouchers who make their living only from working on retouching portraits in Adobe Photoshop.

You shouldn’t let the thought of retouching a portrait intimidate you however, as fantastic results can also be achieved using the tools available in Adobe Lightroom.

In the following steps, we’ll guide you through the process of creating a beautifully edited portrait in Lightroom.

Import Your Image into Lightroom

First things first: Import your image from your memory card into Lightroom. Simply open Lightroom and click File>Import.

From the import screen, select the image or images you wish to import and click on ‘Import’.

Next, select your portrait in the Library module and use keyboard shortcut ‘D’ to enter the Develop module.

Try a Preset

Editing Portraits

The preinstalled Presets in Adobe Lightroom may give you the starting block you need to reach your desired look. Why not try some out?

In the left panel of the Develop module, click on ‘Presets’ to reveal the list of Presets you have available.

Our base image is a little underexposed, so we may use the ‘Bright’ preset just lift the exposure slightly, giving us a better view of how well balanced our original photo is. In this case though, we’ll leave the image unchanged so we can guide you through our edit in full.

Basic Adjustments

In the right panel, we have our Histogram, and the sliders to control out basic exposure settings.

At a first glance, the White Balance in our images appears to be good - the colors generally look as they should.

Our portrait is however very underexposed, as you can see in the Histogram.

Lightroom Histogram

Tip: The Histogram shows the details of our exposure in pixels related to color tones: it’s balance towards shadows, blacks, highlights and whites. A correctly exposed image will show most of its vertical lines well balanced and towards the middle of the Histogram. Underexposed images, as in our example, will be weighted towards the left. Overexposed images will have more of its pixels weighted towards the right.

The first thing to address before we start making adjustments is the composition. The subject is a looking a little bunched up in the left side of the frame. Using the Crop Tool, we’re going to bring the bottom right corner of the image in, making the composition look a little more balanced.

Adobe Lightroom Portrait Editing

The next, and biggest problem with our portrait, is its exposure - the image is simply too dark. Moving the exposure slider towards the right will increase the brightness of our portrait.

Moving on from there, we can adjust the highlights, shadows and contrast until the image is starting to look as we want it.

Editing Portraits With Lightroom

Dealing with Skin Imperfections When Editing

Even top models with the most perfect looking skin will show signs of blemishes when you’re zoomed it 1:1!

Thankfully, the Spot Removal tool in Adobe Lightroom makes dealing with minor skin imperfections a breeze!

Zoom in on your subjects face using keyboard shortcut ‘Z’ or by pressing the spacebar.

Next, select the Spot Removal tool from the tool selection tab below the Histogram.

Lightroom Spot Removal Tool

From the brush options you can change the following settings:

Size - this controls the size of the Spot Removal Brush.

Feather - this setting changes the size of the blending area around the brush.

Opacity - the Opacity controls how transparent the brush is. A setting of between 75 and 100 is best.

Now, simply move the brush over each spot or blemish on your subject and click the mouse to make a correction.

Edit Portrait In Lightroom

How many corrections you make with the Spot Removal tool is up to you. You shouldn’t go completely crazy here, after all, the end result still needs to look like a real person! We recommend a soft touch up edit for best results.

A good rule-of-thumb is to only remove imperfections that wouldn’t usually be there. Spots, dust on clothes, loose skin etc. Removing scars or moles is removing elements of what the subject actually looks like, and unless your model has specifically asked for that wrinkle to be removed, then you should leave it alone!

Skin Softening

The Skin Softening brush produces a soft effect on the skin of your subject by removing clarity and texture.

Select the Brush Tool, and from the ‘Effect’ drop down menu select ‘Soften Skin’.

Softening Skin In Lightroom

In the adjustment settings for the selected brush, you’ll see that Sharpening is increased, while Clarity is dramatically decreased.

Try the brush out on your subjects face. You may well need to adjust the left of Clarity until you reach the desired level of softening.

Once you have the brush size set to how you want, simply paint over your subjects face.

Pressing ‘O’ will reveal the Brush Overlay, helping you to see where you’ve already brushed.

Lightroom Portrait Editing

Press enter to record the changes from your brush.

Tip: If your subject is male, you may need to pay more attention to the upper-lip, chin and neck area, as these areas are often affected by shaving.

Teeth Discoloration - How To Make Smile White In Lightroom

You may have spotted the Teeth Whitening tool when you selected Soften Skin from the previous step.

In previous versions of Lightroom, this brush was a bit hit-and-miss, lightning the whole set of teeth to the same level, which would leave in the same situation as before. However, the latest version of Lightroom has this tool nailed!

Select Teeth Whitening from the dropdown menu, set your brush size and brush once over your subjects teeth.

Here are our subjects teeth before:

Whitening Teeth In Lightroom

And here they are again after a single brush over with the Teeth Whitening brush.

White Teeth In Lightroom

Make Eyes Sparkle - How To Edit Your Eyes In Lightroom

Not too long ago, retouching eyes involved using individual brush settings to first lighten the models Iris, then another to darken the Pupil and the ring around the Iris.

The latest version of Adobe Lightroom contains a vastly improved version of the Iris Enhance tool.

Select the brush tool, and from the Effect dropdown menu, click on Iris Enhance. Select the size of your brush and paint over the eyes of your subject.

Edit Eyes

You can adjust the level of enhancement by moving the Exposure and Saturation sliders.

Add Detail to Hair

The final step in our portrait editing journey is adding detail to hair. If your models hair is well defined, as in this case, then you may not find it necessary to add more detail.

Once again, select the brush tool, and from the dropdown menu select Clarity.

Using the Clarity slider, bring the Clarity down to around +50 and paint over your subjects hair, eyebrows and eyelashes.

Editing Hair In Lightroom

The End Result

Editing portraits is subjective, and the levels of adjustments you need to carry out will be different from subject to subject.

The steps above, when practiced will become your normal routine and allow you to produce a nice, well balanced portrait in a mater of minutes.

Side by side edited portrait

Now you’ve finished, you can also try out some presets. The brush adjustments and spot removals won’t be effected.

Want to make photo editing simple? Check out our 19 Pack Of Adobe Lightroom Presets for fast professional editing!

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