Getting the most out of Lightroom for Portraits

Lightroom for Portraits
Image copyright Mohamed Ahmed Soliman

Have you ever wanted to up your game when it comes to creating great portraits, but thought you need to be a Photoshop guru to get the same effects you see in prints and magazines?  Then you probably aren’t aware that Adobe has included a number of great tools within Lightroom that allow you to turn your so-so pictures of family and friends into Mona Lisa’s on their own right.

Using the tools you are probably already familiar with in the Develop tab of Lightroom – and introducing a few new ones – you can follow a simple step by step process to fantastic results every time.

Focus on skin tone

The key great portraits are all about the skin, so achieving the right skin tone is the first place to start.  Depending on how well you capture images in camera will dictate the amount of work you will need in post processing.

Image copyright Dmytro Grynchenko

Start with the white balance.  If you happen to have a white object in the shot, then simply use the eyedropper tool to adjust the temperature and tint.  If not, then choose the right WB default or use the sliders to achieve a warm, appealing skin coloring.

Next assure the overall exposure is correct, and tweak using the Highlight/Shadows and Blacks/Whites sliders until you are satisfied with the overall exposure of your subject.  Correct exposure can help to eliminate the appearance of wrinkles or sagging skin and help cut down the amount of touch ups needed.

Then let the creativity begin.

Use Adjustment Brushes Effects

If you have never used adjustment brushes in Lightroom, they are located on the far right side of the tools panel under the Histogram.  Selecting the brush will activate your options panel.

There are a number of manual controls that appear, which allow for select application of the Basic image corrections using the brush to mask the desired area.  The Brush control panel allows for adjustment of size, feathering, flow and density for the current action.

Additionally there is an Effect pull down menu that contains a number of preset functions, many specific to portrait adjustments.  Selecting one of these effect allows you to “paint” those adjustments onto your image.

Image copyright Tyler Olson
Image copyright Tyler Olson

Iris Enhancer will affect the sharpness, saturation and color of when painted over the iris area.  Be careful not to paint outside of the colored area.  If the effects are too strong, adjust the saturation and exposure sliders to suit your tastes.  The whites of the eyes can be boosted by using an exposure adjustment brush within the white areas.

Soften Skin will provide even tones and smooth skin textures when brushed on.  It is a good idea to start with a low density (about 50%) to see the effects to avoid making the image appear unnatural.  Wrinkles and blemishes can be removed using the Spot Removal tool before or after the effect is applies.

Teeth Whitening does just what the name implies by boosting exposure on the teeth as the brush is painted over.

Image copyright Syda Productions
Image copyright Syda Productions

Dodge and Burn effects can be used to enhance or decrease the dimensionality of areas.  Add great cheekbones by dodging (lightening) areas you want to appear as raised and burning (darkening) areas you want to appear as recessed.  This can be used to define dynamic eyebrows or to reduce the size of a nose.

Get creative with hair by introducing halo lights (exposure), highlights (saturation), or removing run away strands with the Spot Removal tool.

Experiment with these tools and your own creativity to turn simple portraits into works of art every time.

Karen Foley is a freelance photographer and frequent contributor to  See more of her work at