Step by Step Lightroom Portrait Editing Tutorial

Start to Finish Portrait Editing in Lightroom

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Step 1 - Start with a good RAW file

A finished portrait is only as good as the beginning file, and no amount of retouching can rescue a photo with bad lighting, posing, or technical errors. I knew this was a great portrait as soon as I saw the raw files, the lighting is strong and dynamic without being harsh, her pose looks great, and the background isn't cluttered (though I wish the sunset were a little more colorful that day).

This image was shot with a Nikon D750 on a 50mm lens at f/6.3, ISO 50, 1/200 sec. It was lit with a collapsable softball on a Yongnuo hotshoe flash on the camera's left about 5 feet from the subject.  

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Step 2 - Apply basic adjustments

The basic panel is where we will fix our exposure and prepare the photo for the more stylistic edits that will come from the tone curve and HSL panels. This is mainly where I smooth out my shadows and get the overall exposure where I want it (notice the histogram in the top right, I try to make it as balanced as possible across the curve). 

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Step 3 - Tone Curves

Tone curves are a great tool for adjusting color balance and contrast. In this case, the colors were balanced pretty well so the main adjustment I made was to the contrast. The image is a little oversaturated at this point, but we'll fix that in the next step.

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Step 4 - HSL Panel

HSL, or Hue, Saturation, and Luminance, is where you get deep control of individual colors in your image. I use this to adjust saturation and adjust the warmth of certain colors. I based most of the adjustments in this image on her skin tones, mainly fixing the saturation caused by the tone curves in the previous step. 

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Step 5 - Sharpening

The detail panel gives you tools to sharpen you image as well as correct any noise from shooting at higher ISO or from long exposures. I apply a small amount of sharpening to all RAW files, as they are too soft otherwise. I also apply sharpening for print upon exporting from Lightroom, which is why I don't apply more sharpening here. 

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Step 6 - Grain and Dehaze

The effects panel gives you control over vignetting, grain, and the new dehaze tool. I don't apply any vignetting or correction 99% of the time, but I do like a liberal amount of grain and small amount of dehaze for my portraits, they both add a nice finish to the image, but feel free to play around with them to find a sweet spot for your style.

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Step 7 - Skin Retouching

I use an adjustment brush with the settings on the right for all of my skin retouching. I do this step last so I can compare and determine how much skin retouching is needed after all the other edits are made. 

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Step 8 - Export and Share

That's it! You have a finalized portrait ready for print or uploading without having to leave Lightroom. Do you have any portrait editing tricks you use in Lightroom? Feel free to share below in the comments, and if you have any questions about any of these steps, don't hesitate to ask.

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