Portrait Photo Editing in Lightroom: A Guide for Beginners

Portrait Photo Editing in Lightroom

Learning portrait photo editing involves more than understanding your camera, subject lighting, and mastering poses. However, your process does not end here after you click the shutter button. Almost every portrait requires some level of editing to reach its final form.

While you may not edit all your pictures, enhancing your portraits using portrait photo editing in Lightroom can be a valuable skill to add to your portfolio. Portrait photo editing in Lightroom is a straightforward process that requires a careful approach. The key is to balance the way you edit without going overboard.

PixelPhant, a professional photo editing service, will guide you through the complete process of portrait photo editing in Lightroom.

12 Essential Steps For Portrait Photo Editing

Import Your File For Portrait Photo Editing

Import Your File For Portrait Photo Editing

Organizing photos for portrait photo editing within the program is easy, but importing RAW files into Lightroom can be lengthy. Begin by importing your portrait files into the program and selecting the images you want to edit using Lightroom. Fortunately, the import settings in Lightroom are simple to navigate.

STEPS:

  • Open Lightroom 
  • Select the Library module
  • Click on Import
  • Go to the Source panel and find the folder of all your portraits 
  • Select the folder
  • Then select the Include Subfolders option for the thumbnails of your photographs before you begin portrait photo editing in Lightroom

Bonus Tip: Ensure you select the “Add” option, not “Copy,” to avoid unintentionally generating duplicates for portrait photo editing.

Adjust the White Balance

Adjust the White Balance

Adjusting the White Balance of your images is crucial, whether they’re outdoor portraits or from an indoor session. If there’s a neutral wall or surface, use the Eyedropper tool. 

If not, tweak the sliders under the White Balance section to adjust the Temperature and Tint sliders to your images.

STEPS:

  • Open your image in the Develop module
  • Find a portion of your image
  • Click the eyedropper tool
  • Click on a specific area to white-balance your image

Work On Exposure, Highlights & Shadows

Work On Exposure, Highlights & Shadows

The next step in Portrait photo editing in Lightroom is exposure and tonal adjustments.

Ensure a well-exposed shot by checking the histogram with no peaks touching the graph walls. For balancing the image, the curve should evenly span the histogram unless your image intentionally highlights darks or lights. If it’s overexposed, adjust by lowering the Exposure slider.

Correct an imbalance in your portrait by reducing Highlights if the skin tone is too light and the hair and background are too dark. 

Additionally, try different adjustments for portrait photo editing; a common practice is to increase shadows and decrease highlights. Fine-tune these adjustments as necessary during the portrait photo editing process. 

STEPS:

  • Go to the Basic panel in the Develop module
  • Adjust the Exposure slider
  • With the Basic panel still open, adjust the Highlights slider
  • In the same Basic panel, adjust the Shadows slider

Remember:

Adjust Exposure first to set the overall brightness.

Use Highlights and Shadows to recover details in specific tonal areas.

Fine-tune adjustments using the Curves tool for more precise control.

Practice on different types of images to understand how these tools interact.

Increase Vibrance & Saturation

Increase Vibrance & Saturation

Review the entire image after making initial adjustments in portrait photo editing. If it still appears dull, use the sliders under the Presence tab. These sliders enhance vibrance and saturation, intensifying colors in different ways. 

Saturation boosts all colors, while Vibrance concentrates on mid-tones with more specific results. Following adjustments with vibrance and saturation, move the white slider upward for a clean look in your portrait.

STEPS:

  • Open your photo in Lightroom.
  • Go to the Develop module and select the photo you want to edit
  • On the right side of the Develop module, locate the Basic panel
  • Adjust the overall tone and color of your image with the sliders
  • In the same Basic panel, adjust the Vibrance slider

Bonus Tip: To increase the vibrance, a good starting point is +10 or +15.

Use the Crop Tool

Use the Crop Tool

Crop your image at any point during portrait photo editing in Lightroom. The Lightroom crop tool swiftly eliminates compositional flaws. 

If you aim to highlight the subject’s faces and eliminate unnecessary details, use the Crop tool above the Basic panel in the Develop module or press and hold the R key on your keyboard.

Before cropping, consider:

  • What is the focus of my photo?
  • How can I highlight the main subject?
  • Are the subject’s limbs cut off at natural points?
  • How is the overall balance of the portrait composition?

Skin Softening

Skin Softening

Let’s focus on specific portrait photo editing, beginning with skin adjustments. While these changes might not always be necessary, consider a bit of skin softening before moving forward.

Choose the Brush mask and use these starting skin-softening settings:

  • Clarity: -35 to -40
  • Contrast: +35
  • Highlights: +15
  • Sharpness: 0 to +20
  • Feather and Flow: 100%

Adjust these based on your subject’s skin and the desired effect. The skin softening aims to even out tones and give a soft, glowing appearance. If the subject is an older person, it may need a different approach in a stronger light.

STEPS:

  • Choose the circle icon in the upper right corner of the window, select the Adjustment Brush tool
  • In the Effect panel, choose “Soften Skin
  • Adjust the brush settings
  • Paint over the skin areas you want to soften

Bonus Tip: You can modify Clarity in the Presence section of the Basic panel, adding the entire image. For softening skin tones, it is recommended to go for a negative Texture adjustment rather than a negative Clarity adjustment.

Also Read: 9 Types Of Portrait Lighting Setup

Fine-Tune Skin Adjustments

After applying the skin-softening effect, ensure the Show Overlay box is ticked in the Masks panel to see the painted areas. If you’ve included eyes, eyebrows, mouth, nostrils, or hair, click Subtract and use a second Brush to remove those areas.

If you’ve made unnecessary alterations to the features, switch to the Erase brush tool within the Adjustment Brush. This tool helps you eliminate any changes you wish to undo.

Eyes Brightening

Eyes Brightening

Zoom in closely and use a Brush to enhance the eyes to add a sparkle. Also, increase the Clarity a bit. You can also adjust by raising the Whites or the Exposure slider, as boosting Clarity tends to darken the affected area.

When editing portrait eyes, do it in two stages. Initially, refine the eye outline, then adjust the iris. It enables you to enhance iris saturation and slightly lift it with an increased Whites adjustment—however, keep it subtle to avoid an unnatural appearance.

STEPS:

  • Go to the Develop module 
  • Click the Adjustment Brush tool
  • Click the + button in the Masks panel 
  • Select the Eye Whiten tool
  • Adjust Brush Settings for the brightening effect’s intensity

Add Colour To the Lips

Add Colour To the Lips

Observe the lips of your models closely; some may require adjustments. If you find the lips look dull or pigmented, follow these steps.

STEPS:

  • Open your photo in Lightroom
  • Go to the Develop module
  • Click on the HSL/Color panel on the right side of the window
  • Click on the Target eyedropper tool
  • Click on the lips in your photo
  • Adjust the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance sliders

The HSL panel is a powerful tool for modifying colors and enhancing your portraits. The Hue sliders let you choose hues around the color circle, Saturation controls the color intensity, and Luminance adjusts brightness. 

Teeth Whitening

Lightening teeth is a standard practice for many photographers. 

STEPS:

  • Choose the teeth whitening effect in the Brush tool panel
  • Pick your brush size
  • Use the brush tool with a decreased Saturation slider and a slightly increased Exposure slider

Lighten the Background

Lighten the Background

Reduce the contrast between your subject’s face and the background by lightening the background. 

STEPS:

  • Choose the adjustment brush with Auto Mask on
  • Mask over the background
  • Desaturate it using the Brush sliders
  • Apply the desired color back onto the background using the color filter
  • Fine-tune the color with the Adjustment Brush sliders for your preferred look

New Features & Updates

New Updated Features of Lightroom

Portrait Masks

The newest version of Lightroom Classic introduces an innovative tool called Portrait AI Masking. This time-saving feature in portrait photo editing enables users to precisely choose and edit their subject without impacting other elements in the image. 

STEPS:

  • Select the Develop Module and the “Masking” option
  • Pick the subject or area you wish to edit, such as skin, eyes, or teeth

Adjusting Mask

To include another element or person in your masking panel, but how? Use the “Create New Mask” option to easily select and add new subjects for masking, seamlessly applying the same portrait photo editing process.

STEPS:

  • Select the Masking panel
  • Use the “Create New Mask” option to select and add new subjects
  • Click the “Select People” button to create a mask of the person 
  • Use the brush tools in the Masking panel to add or remove areas from the mask

New Background Mask 

Changing a photo’s background is now easy. The speedy and effective masking tool enables you to choose the entire background. 

Afterward, make adjustments to achieve a flawlessly edited photo every time. This incredible tool in portrait photo editing lets you easily alter photo backgrounds without compromising quality.

In addition to the 12 essential steps, consider these helpful portrait photography tips for capturing stunning portraits.

5 Best Portrait Photography Tips 

Focus On the Subject

The subject plays a crucial role in portrait photography. Ensuring the subject feels at ease with you is vital for a successful session. Before the photoshoot, take the time to connect with your client, preferably in person. 

It’s beneficial to establish a connection, share your photography style, and discuss what you’re aiming for in the shoot. Talk about your ideas, consider the subject’s preferences and capabilities, and incorporate them into your plan for a more collaborative experience. It will later help in portrait photo editing process.

Right Location

The location you select for a portrait shoot influences the outcome. Choosing for outdoor shoots in natural light yields excellent results but comes with challenges. Consider factors like weather, time of day, and changing lighting conditions throughout the day. Avoid direct sunlight to prevent harsh shadows and squinting. 

Opt for morning or late afternoon shoots when sunlight is diffused. It provides a warm, natural glow. Choosing the right location can save post portrait photo editing effort and enhance the overall quality of your images.

Use of Camera & Lens

At its core, portrait photography is an art form that requires practice to master. As you grasp the intricacies of this art, consider investing in a quality camera and lens. 

Opt for a reliable DSLR camera offering control over settings, providing sharp, high-resolution images in RAW format for post-processing. Experiment with camera settings to familiarize yourself with your tools, enabling you to capture optimal results.

Then, choose a medium telephoto lens, such as 85mm or 105mm, to balance your model and the background. Consider using a 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens for close-up shots. This choice allows you to zoom in, giving more focus to your subject and minimizing background and foreground distractions. This again help with post portrait photo editing time.

Design Your Color Palette

Enhance the impact of your portrait shots by incorporating complementary colors in clothing, backgrounds, props, and portrait photo editing. Consider your subject’s skin tone when selecting a color palette. 

The choice of color palettes also varies based on the type of portrait photography you are working on.

Editing and Post-Processing

Although capturing a photograph is crucial, beginners may neglect the importance of portrait photo editing and retouching in professional portrait photography. Explore services like PixelPhant, a professional Photo Editing service provider, or use tools like Photoshop for retouching and removing unwanted elements. 

Features like content-aware fill and the clone tool can help erase undesired objects. Even if you’re satisfied with your photo’s quality, portrait photo editing can highlight your preferred visual style and showcase your creativity. 

Now that you’re familiar with these steps and tips in portrait photo editing, here’s a list of portrait photography ideas to inspire you.

6 Portrait Photography Ideas

Black And White 

Black & White Portrait Photography

A simple way to change the vibe of your photography is by exploring black and white, especially in portraits.

Black and white photography offers various aesthetics, from moody and dark to glamorous and nostalgic. It also enhances texture in an image if that’s your aim. Give it a try for a more unique perspective.

Motion Blur

Motion Blur Photography

Another interesting technique to bring a unique touch to your portrait photography is by trying out motion blur.

Motion blur is different because it doesn’t demand significant effort or alterations on your part. You can continue working in the same setting with the same model. Simply introduce the motion blur effect to your original shot for a great twist.

Experiment With Shadows

Shadow Photography

Self-portraits offer the advantage of unlimited time for creative exploration. You can capture numerous images with slight variations, providing ample opportunities for experimentation.

Shadows, in particular, offer a chance for creativity. You can position yourself in different shadows, adjusting objects around you to achieve the desired look.

Using a Grid

Grid Photography
Credit: Kyle Dorosz

It is an ideal solution for multiple shots from a session. Incorporating a grid in your image lets you showcase different shots in one frame and adds another layer of interest. It’s reminiscent of a nostalgic print from a photo booth.

Include the black and white touch to enhance those nostalgic vibes even further.

Play With Angles

Play With Angles Photography

Whether facing front, sideways, or backward, you have multiple options to play with the camera. The great part? It’s just you on the other side of the lens.

Try different angles, experiment with what suits you, and don’t stress about perfection. When taking self-portraits, you have all the time you need to fine-tune the image.

Portrait Photography Portfolio Examples

Franklin Yeep

Portrait Photo Editing- Franklin Yeep
Credit: Franklin Yeep

Franklin Yeep, a portrait photographer in NYC, specializes in black-and-white film photography. Yeep exclusively shoots with analog methods, providing a unique experience for both the subject and the audience. 

They value the unhurried process, allowing the subject to “breathe” and capturing portraits authentically and transparently. Yeep personally handles the entire process, from start to finish, without relying on photo labs, ensuring complete control over the creative process.

Brandon Gorie

Portrait Photo Editing- Brandon Gorrie
Credit: Brandon Gorrie

Brandon Gorrie is an Austin-based photographer specializing in Commercial and Personal Portraiture. He draws inspiration from Soviet and Western Cinema spanning the 60s to the present. 

He particularly admires cinematographer Sven Nykvist, known for collaborations with Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky. Brandon’s favorite aspect of photography is capturing clothes and subjects in a transient space.

Nicklaus Walter

Portrait Photo Editing- Nicklaus Walter
Credit: Nicklaus Walter

Nicklaus Walter is a photographer based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He specializes in portrait, headshot, and corporate photography. In March 2023, he initiated Decaf Journal, a digital magazine focusing on aesthetics, wellness, and storytelling. 

Nicklaus’s work has been licensed by major brands worldwide. It includes Apple, Conde Nast, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify, American Express, AT&T, Cosmopolitan, Walmart, Allergan, Booking.com, Invesco, Healthline, John Hancock, Whattoexpect.com, and Bauer Media.

Noemie Marguerite

Portrait Photo Editing- Noemie Marguerite
Credit: Noemie Marguerite

Noemie Marguerite, a photographer based in Brooklyn, tells stories through the language of colors. Her diverse portrait photography website offers services like portraiture, environmental photography, event photography, color grading, and videography. 

She has collaborated with major brands, including Nike, Spotify, Adobe, Aliette, AMEX, Netflix, Redbull, Wired Magazine, Courvoisier, and others. Noemie’s featured works are in Vogue, Forbes.com, Harper’s Bazaar, Refinery29, Google, Essence Magazine, and more.

Neil Bedford

Portrait Photo Editing- Neil Bedford
Credit: Neil Bedford

Neil Bedford, a London-based photographer, focuses on commercial, editorial, and personal projects with a distinctive established style. 

His clientele includes Apple, Adidas, Burberry, Lululemon, Rapha, Mr Porter, Nike, O2, Omega, Puma, and others. His featured works include American GQ, Balance, Brick, British GQ, Icon, The Independent, Highsnobiety, Kinfolk, and more. 

Closing Thoughts

As with any art form, mastering portrait photo editing in Lightroom comes down to practice. Establishing a genuine connection with your subject is also beneficial, as it helps evoke the right emotions and expressions, which you can then capture through your lens.

We hope these steps, tips, and examples on portrait photo editing provide you with ideas, insights, and inspiration to excel in capturing beautiful portraits.