Editing Portraits with Adobe Lightroom 4 – Part 4 in a Series

I have invited my friend Tyler Austin to contribute this comprehensive article on the use of the latest release of Adobe’s Lightroom 4 in portrait editing.  This is the fourth article in a featured series on different editing software packages for portrait photographers.  If interested, you can peruse past articles at the following links on using Apple’s Aperture 3.2, Adobe’s Photoshop, and Imaginomic’s Portraiture 2.

Adobe Lightroom is a very versatile workflow option for any type of photographer or even photo hobbyist who wants to process and organize their photos. Adobe Lightroom has always been a great program, but their latest version 4 has yet again added some new features that are worth mentioning and taking advantage of. As I take you through the edit on this particular photo I’ll explain what we are doing along with how we are doing it. In the end, I hope you’ll have a better idea of “some” of the many, many features Adobe Lightroom has to offer.

Starting Up:
One small thing that I’ve always appreciated right off the bat, was Lightroom’s ability to start so quickly and be ready for work in just over 10 seconds. Not a huge thing, but something I’ve always appreciated. So to start off getting your images into Lightroom you’ll need to import them into your catalog . Basically you’re telling Lightroom where the files you want to work on are on your system. This allows you to keep your files where they are and not have to change or move anything around. It also gives you the ability to organize all your photos more efficiently within Lightroom no matter where they are on your system.

So to bring images into Lightroom you will need to be in “Library” mode which you can select from the very top right. From there you can click import from the very bottom left. Next you will have to navigate to your folder where the images are on your computer. For this demo we just put the image on our desktop. Then you will simply select the photos you want to import and make sure “Add” is highlighted at the top. Before you click Import though at the bottom, I recommend entering some keywords to better help with your organizing efforts down the road. Once your done doing that, just click import.



For this demo we are only working with one image. But if we were working with multiple images we would probably first do a simple “culling,” or selecting the images we want to keep and/or work with. Lightroom makes that process very simple and straight forward. However, since we are just working with this image, we can skip right into the Develop process. To do this, simply click DEVELOP in the upper right corner (right next to LIBRARY) Now this is where all the magic happens. From the Develop module you can pretty much do any type of non destructive editing you can think of that only entails one layer. If you require multiple layers for something, that is when you can use photoshop.

So what you see below is the provided image out of camera.

The first thing I’ll usually do is correct the white balance. You can do this by either adjusting the “Temp” slider to your liking or use one of the white balance presets (auto, daylight, tungsten, shade, cloudy, fluorescent, flash). You can also click the eyedropper, and then select a proper gray point. Sometimes portrait photographers, will take a picture with a type of gray card in the photo which is what they use to click on with the eyedropper tool. One new feature of Lightroom 4 that is really worth mentioning is that you know have the ability to make these adjustments to only specific parts of the photo using the adjustment brush which we will do later on in this demo just so you can see what I mean by this. So after you’ve adjusted the white balance, you can further adjust the basic settings including the exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, clarity, vibrance, and saturation. As a side note, when I’m adjusting for a proper exposure I’m always looking at the histogram and the photo together to get what I want, making sure there are not any highlights or shadows that have been clipped off.

The rest of the options in the Develop module include separate palettes or pull down sections, for Tone Curves, Color Conversions, Split Toning, Details (sharpening & noise reduction), Lens Correction, Effects (vignettes & grain), and camera calibration.

In the image below I closed all the pull downs just so you can see them all.


Alright, so let’s get to editing this photo and I’ll step you through each step I’m doing.  So below I adjusted the exposure settings, along with the Vibrance to pop some of the skin tones a little more.

The next step I would do would be to lighten or remove some of the sun spots and blemishes on the model’s face. To do this you’ll need to click the spot removal tool which is in between the crop tool and red eye correction tool.
When you click the spot removal tool another palette will drop down which gives you the option for “cloning” or “healing” The difference between the two is that clone is basically copying what you tell it to compared to heal which is taking the area around what you tell it to, to blend it a little better. Both are great for different purposes, but for simple blemish removal the heal tool will usually work better as it’s a little smoother sometimes.


So I selected Heal, and then its just as simple as clicking on what you want removed. If you’re having trouble seeing, just hit the keyboard shortcut “Z” to zoom in. In the image below you can see where I clicked. If you don’t want to see your clicks while you go through, just click the tool overlay which you’ll find just below the image from “Always” to “Never.” You can see the difference in the image below.

The next thing I might do is soften the model’s skin a little bit. A lot of times this can be done by just adjusting the “Clarity” slider in the Basic palette adjustments down a little bit. But to show you how the adjustment brush works I’ll do it a different way. The main purpose for using the adjustment brush is that you want to do something to part of the image, but not the entire image.


To use the adjustment brush, just select NEW right at the top of the palette box, adjust the size/feather/flow of the brush you want to use and then brush in whatever part of the image you want to adjust. Then, using the sliders you can make whatever adjustments you need. If you want to have separate adjustments just click new and brush in a different one. You may choose to do this if you want to do something like increase the exposure of the model but decrease the exposure of the background. Also, you can adjust the sliders before you brush your subject to see the adjustments as you brush them on. So in the image below I decided to brush on a clarity adjustment to the model’s skin,  then another white balance adjustment to the background to give the model almost a glowing frame (I made sure to spill a little color onto her hat to act as a hair light to help separate the model from the background), a sharpen adjustment to her eyes/lips, a  saturation and contrast adjustment to her lips to give a little more color and pop to them, and lastly one last exposure adjustment to a bright spot in the upper left corner of the photo along with lightly around the model  to keep the eye from wandering from the subject. Next,  just click the adjustment brush again or click done in the bottom right corner of the viewing area.

The image below is what it looks like after the adjustments.

The last step I feel like doing to this image is applying a very subtle vignette to also help with keeping your attention directly on the model. To apply a vignette just click the arrow on the Effects palette box to drop down those options. On this image I adjusted the vignette amount along with the midpoint.

Now in order to export this to whatever format you what, just click on LIBRARY again and then click Export in the bottom left corner of the screen.  A new box will pop up for all of your export options. One really great feature of Lightroom is that you can install an increasingly large number of plugins which you can use to upload directly to certain sites to increase your workflow. For this demo, I selected “Specific Folder” from the export to drop down, and then selected the folder I wanted the image to be saved to. Next I made sure it was going to be saved as a high quality jpeg image but at 72ppi because this is meant for online viewing. Lastly I selected “resize to fit” and made the long edge a maximum of 800 pixels. Now I just click Export and voi-la! I’m done!





Without a doubt I would highly recommend Lightroom to anybody, especially photographers that are either new to the editing world or don’t want to and/or don’t have the time to learn Photoshop. It’s a very easy program to experiment with and learn most the features on your own, and an unbelievably powerful program if you take the time to learn all of its features. This guest post was created for Doug Pruden of Prairie Light Images by professional portrait and wedding photographer Tyler Austin of TAustin Photography.  You can view his website at http://www.TAustinPhotography.com/

One Comment

  1. PATRICK MONTGOMERY February 29, 2012

    Great article. Thanks for the heads-up.
    regards Patrick Montgomery

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