Portrait Retouching in Lightroom

by | 4 years ago

I want to show you a couple of different case studies on how to retouch portraits in Lightroom. The first is an environment portrait with a nice landscape in the background taken at sunset. The second is a close-up portrait with a completely different light situation. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take the following tips and apply them to your own portrait images.

Environmental Portraits

First, I want to work on this portrait of my good friend, Duncan. I really love to shoot portraits with beautiful landscapes in the background; it makes it feel like a scene from a movie. This retouch will be a little different than a typical close-up portrait because the subject’s face is relatively small compared to the entire image; we won’t focus on the skin, but on the overall image, and how to make the subject stand out from the background without the retouch being too noticeable.

Step One: When there’s a person in the photo, I don’t do the usual retouch that I’d use for a landscape-only image. So, let’s start by raising the Shadows to +51, bringing down the Highlights to –68, and moving the Blacks to –42 and the Whites to +18. Once the basic retouch is done, you can adjust the white balance.

Step Two: For the white balance, you can try different presets in the WB drop-down menu. With sunsets, I usually tend to go with Shade, but in this case, it gave a gray effect to the clouds. So I decided to go for Daylight, instead, which looks more natural.

Step Three: The thing is, we still want the background and sky to be interesting, and for that, you can use the Graduated Filter (M). In this example, I lowered the Temp to –35 and the Exposure to –1.17. As you can see, Duncan’s face is now totally dark, which is something we need to fix.

Step Four: To remove the darkening effect from the subject, set the Range Mask option at the bottom of the Graduated Filter panel to Luminance. Then, drag the left Range slider to the right until you’re satisfied with the result; for instance, here I set it to 48. Now we have the best of both worlds: a nice sky and a great exposed subject.

Step Five: You can always tweak your photo as you go. For this image, I went back to the Basic panel and added some Contrast (+45) and lowered the Clarity to –18.

Step Six: Because I want the background to be spectacular, I used a Radial Filter (Shift-M) around the sun to make it a bit nicer. Check on Invert so the changes take place inside the Radial Filter, and set the Feather amount to 100. I added some yellow by moving the Temp slider to 60 and the Tint to 31, and then dropped the Clarity to –24 and boosted the Saturation to +30.

Step Seven: Now to make our subject’s face stand out, I clicked New to add another Radial Filter. Again, I inverted the mask and feathered it to 100. This time I dropped the Clarity to –14 and boosted the Exposure to 0.92. Don’t overdo it or it can start to look a little weird.

Here’s the final result:

Close-Up Portraits

That’s it for Duncan’s portrait; now let’s move on to a close-up portrait of this nice lady. When you’re that close to the face, you want to be gentle with the settings and don’t go extreme; otherwise, it might look odd because it can add texture or colors to the skin.

Step One: For this example, I started by setting the Shadows to +57, bringing down the Highlights to –28, lowering the Blacks to –45, and boosting the Whites to +35.

Step Two: To make her expression stand out, zoom into her eyes, and add a Radial Filter. Set the Feather to 100, drop the Clarity to –30, and boost the Exposure a little to 0.22. Right-click inside the Radial Filter, choose Duplicate, and drag it over the other eye.

Step Three: To make her eyes look even more intense, create a smaller Radial Filter that’s the size of her iris and boost the Clarity to 52 and the Exposure to 0.69. Remember: Don’t overdo it because it will begin to look strange, almost like a cat eye. Again, duplicate the Radial Filter and drag it to the other iris.

Step Four: The eye is a very important part of a portrait, as is the skin! Let me show you a simple way to make someone’s skin look a little nicer. Select the Adjustment Brush (K), and set both the Feather and Flow to around 80. Boost the exposure to 0.08, set the Clarity to –47, and lower the Saturation to –12. Now just paint over the skin areas. This will take out the redness on the subject’s skin and smooth it out a little. Here’s the before and after. It’s not a huge difference, but it definitely enhanced her beauty.

Step Five: Also, to make her stand out from the background, use another Radial Filter that encompasses most of the subject, but don’t Invert it this time. Lower the Exposure –0.57 to darken the background. You can even add a color cast to the background so she stands out even more by lowering the Temp (I used –16 in this example).

And here’s the final result for our close-up portrait:

Well, there you go. I hope that you learned something from my tips, and that you’ll be able to shoot, retouch, and have fun with all your portraits in Lightroom.