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Editing Portraits in Lightroom the Easy Way (11 Best Steps)

Last updated: November 12, 2023 - 30 min read
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Editing portraits in Adobe Lightroom is a great way to improve your photos. But it can be tricky to know where to start. Our article shows you how to edit portraits in Lightroom Classic for the best results.

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Beginner’s Guide for Editing Portraits in Lightroom

No editing software can put missing information back into a photo that was never there in the first place. For instance, it can’t fix blown-out highlights or out-of-focus areas.

For the best results, capture as much detail and get as much right in the camera as possible. Then, you won’t have to waste time later trying to compensate for basic errors.

It’s worth reviewing a few tips before we look at how to retouch portrait photos. Read through our complete guide to portrait photography. These tips will help you get the best results straight from the camera. Or use these jump links below to go to the section you need.

Steps for Organizing Portraits in Lightroom

  1. Lightroom Folders
  2. Lightroom Collections
  3. Keywords
  4. People View

Steps for Editing Portraits in Lightroom

  1. Assess the Portrait Before Editing
  2. Change the White Balance for the Best Skin Tones
  3. Use Before and After Views
  4. Check and Edit the Portrait’s Tonal Range
  5. Crop the Portrait

Steps to Retouch Portraits in Lightroom

  1. Use Healing Tool for Blemishes, Lines, and Wrinkles
  2. Use Masking Tool and Brush for Eyes, Mouth, and Makeup
Portrait of a man wearing glasses in front of a grey background
Photo by Cristian Newman (Unsplash)

How to Organize Portraits in Lightroom

As you accumulate more photos, it becomes important that you know where to find them. Different people have different ways to organize their photos. Lightroom can adapt to a few different strategies.

First, in the Library Module (Windows > Panels), ensure Folders and Collections are checked so you see them in Adobe Lightroom’s interface.

1. Use Lightroom Folders

If you work with other editing software, you likely already organize your photos in folders. You may even have a folder for portraits. If so, you can import your existing folder(s) into Lightroom from the Folders panel.

The Folders panel in the Library Module lets you quickly see all the drives and folders that Lightroom knows about. When you open the Folders panel, you see an overview of all the hard drives that Lightroom knows about.

A screenshot of the Folders panel in the Library Module of Adobe Lightroom
Folders panel in the Library Module

The screenshot above shows the computer’s main internal hard drive, “Macintosh HD.” This contains a folder under the Users folder named “Loraine” that has Desktop and ImageMatters sub-folders.

You can also see two external drives named “Images” and “PHOTOS MAIN” with their folders. Notice that each drive name has a green light next to it. This indicates that the drive still has plenty of space to hold more photos. As a drive begins to fill up, this light turns amber and eventually red.

If you don’t see a folder you know should be displayed, click the plus (+) button in the top-right corner and then select Add Folder. Navigate to the folder you want to add. In the import dialogue, make sure you select the Add option.

This adds the photos from that folder to your current catalog without moving or copying them anywhere else. If a folder no longer contains photos, you can select it and click the minus (-) button to remove it.

Black and white portrait of a woman with freckles
Photo by Richard Jaimes (Unsplash)

After organizing your folders, you no longer need to use Finder or File Explorer to manage them. Lightroom enables you to drag photos from one folder to another. You can rename folders and perform all the housekeeping from the Folders panel.

Clicking on a folder name displays its contents on the screen. To see the contents of more than one folder at a time, hold down Command or Ctrl (Mac or PC) and click to select the folders you want.

Although organizing by folders works for some people, it can be restrictive and confusing. Depending on the naming convention, a given photo may be a candidate for more than one folder.

That means having to copy a given photo to each folder that might be suitable. This is a bad idea. Not only is it confusing, but it also wastes disk space. You should only duplicate a master photo for backup reasons.

2. Use Lightroom Collections

Folders are actual locations on your hard drive. Collections are virtual and far more flexible than folders. Of course, every photo must be in a folder on your computer. But collections combine many photos in a named list or “Collection.”

The big advantage of using collections is that you only need one master photo in one folder. That photo can then be in an unlimited number of different collections.

Collections are so flexible they deserve a tutorial of their own. For now, we’ll make a simple “Portraits” collection.

You can create a collection using the plus (+) button on the Collections panel in the Library Module. This displays a pop-up from which you can create one of three collection types:

  1. Collection Set: This is a container for other collections.
  2. Smart Collection: This automatically contains photos that meet pre-defined criteria.
  3. Standard Collection. This is one to which you drag any photos you select.
A screenshot of Collection Sets in Lightroom
Click on the plus (+) sign for Collection options.

Select the Create Collection option by clicking the plus (+) sign. Name your collection something appropriate, like “Portraits.”

Prepend the collection name by the underscore character, as shown below. This way, the collection name appears toward the top of the alphabetical list of collection names.
Screenshot of dialogue box for naming Collections in Adobe LightroomYou can pre-select some portrait photos before creating the collection. If you tick the “Include selected photos” box, they will be added to the new collection.

After you’ve made a portrait collection, you can add any other photos to it by dragging them into the collection.

If you’ve just completed a dedicated portrait shoot, you can specify that photos are added to your portrait collection. Tick the “Add to Collection” box and select the collection in the File Handling section of the import dialogue box.

Another good reason to use collections is that, unlike the Folders panel, you can access the Collections panel from the Develop Module. Clicking on a collection populates the filmstrip with the photos in that collection.
Import section of File Handling dialogue box in Adobe Lightroom


3. Use Keywords

Another way to organize your portrait photos is to give them appropriate keywords—one of which should probably be “Portrait.” This is most easily done as part of the import process (File > Import Photos and Video) using the Apply During Import panel.
Example of applying keywords in Apply During Import panel in Adobe LightroomSimply type the keywords into the panel. If you want to add several words, separate them by commas. Be careful to observe the use of uppercase and lowercase. Lightroom treats “portrait” and “Portrait” as separate words.

To find the photos to which you’ve added keywords, open the Keyword List panel (Command or Ctrl+3). Then, find the keyword you’ve assigned.
Example of keyword list panel in Adobe Lightroom


The screenshot above shows that 510 photos have the keyword “Portrait.” The tick indicates the currently selected photo has this keyword assigned. If you want to add this keyword to another photo, go to it and then click the tick box next to the Portrait keyword.

As you hover your mouse over a keyword, an arrow appears on the right, as shown above. If you click this arrow, Lightroom activates the Library filter to only show photos with this keyword. Select “None” in the Library Filter at the top of the screen to see all your photos again.

The problem with keywording is that it can be tedious. Many people don’t bother to keep their keywords up-to-date. Techniques like keyword hierarchies can help. A better way to handle keywording for portraits is to use Lightroom’s facial recognition feature.

4. Use People View

You probably already own a camera that can recognize and track faces. Similar algorithms are now used in Lightroom and Lightroom Classic to detect faces in photos you’ve already taken. This can be a great time saver if you have thousands of portraits in your catalog.

Click the face icon in the Library toolbar below your image to activate People View. If this is not visible, tap the ‘T’ keyboard shortcut to show it. You can also activate the People View using the “O” key.

Screenshot of Lightroom library toolbar showing People View button
People View button (right) in the Library toolbar.

People View separates photos into named and un-named groups as you put names to faces. It automatically stacks photos of the same person together.

Screenshot of People View in Adobe Lightroom


Lightroom then asks if you want it to scan for faces in your whole catalog or only in the folders and collections you select. Scanning your catalog may take a while, but you can continue working as this is a background task.

The advantage of People View is that it groups similar-looking people. So you can name people much faster.

It sometimes finds faces in random patterns. But it’s generally good at recognizing people. Not every photo found by People View is “portrait material.” But it’s worth trying if you have thousands of faces in your library.

Apart from using your subjects’ names as keywords, you can recall them all. To recall them, click the People View button on the toolbar in the Library Module (shortcut key “O”).

How to Edit Portraits in Lightroom

One overriding guideline in basic photo editing is, “Don’t overdo it.” Most people are vain to some extent, and of course, they want to look their best. But be careful not to go too far when ironing out blemishes.

1. Assess Portrait Photo Before Editing

We’ll start with a reasonably good photo from the camera (shown below). It was shot with an EOS 50D Canon camera and an EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM Canon portrait lens. It was shot in natural light. And the portrait’s camera settings were 105mm, f/4, 1/100 s, and ISO 400.

Before we get down to specific portrait-related edits, we need to assess the image and make general adjustments. The subject’s expression is fine, her eyes are sharp, and her skin tones are good. The exposure is okay, but her hair is ill-defined. There’s room for improvement.

Portrait photography of a woman with short hair
This was the initial portrait straight from the camera.

2. Change the White Balance for the Best Skin Tones

Achieving good skin tones is very important when dealing with portraits. You should never just make color adjustments until they look right on your monitor.

And remember to calibrate your monitor before you begin. If your monitor hasn’t been profiled, you could be in for a shock when viewing your work on a different device or when you have it printed.

An essential starting point is ensuring there’s no color cast in the image. You can determine and correct this using the White Balance Selector tool. This is the eye-dropper icon at the top of the Basic panel in the Develop Module.

Click on this or hit the “W” keyboard shortcut to activate the tool. Hover it over an area that should be neutral in color. Don’t select a bright white or black area because they may be saturated in one or more channels. This will give a false reading.

In this image, the subject shows enough of a white T-shirt to make it a good choice. Hovering the tool over this area shows that point’s red, green, and blue values as percentages of their greatest values.

Tick the Show Loupe box to see a grid of pixels and the sampled RGB values. Adjust the Scale slider to show more or fewer pixels in the grid. Tick the Auto Dismiss box to stow the tool away once you’ve sampled your chosen white point.

Close up screenshot of the Lightroom white balance tool
The White Balance Selector tool.

If you tick the Show Loupe box at the bottom, Lightroom displays a grid of pixels with the sample pixel in the center. The red, green, and blue values are underneath the grid.

In this example, the RGB values were 82.4, 81.2, and 80.6. They are all very close in value. This indicates no strong color cast but a slight red bias. Clicking with the tool on this point adjusts the colors to make the RGB values identical.

If you choose a neutral point, the White Balance Selector will adjust the color temperature and tint well. It gives you a good basis from which to continue editing.

It can be useful to carry a grey card or something like the Datacolor SpyderCHECKR 24. Include it in your portrait in an area you know you’ll crop out later. This gives you a reliable sample point to ensure your image is properly balanced. Color checker cards can also be used to calibrate your camera.

Product image of Datacolor SPYDERCHECKR 24
You can use the Datacolor SpyderCHECKR 24 in your portraits to achieve a neutral tone.

3. Use Before and After Views

One problem with editing portraits is that the brain adapts to the newly edited image. It can be difficult to remember how it looked a short while ago. A good tip is to use the backslash key () to quickly see the “before” and “after” views as you apply adjustments.

Alternatively, set the Develop view by going to View > Before / After and select “Left / Right.”

A Lightroom screenshot showing a before-and-after image of a woman's portrait with white balance adjusted
Before and after a small white balance adjustment.

4. Check and Edit the Portrait’s Tonal Range

You can generally see on-screen if the photo is too dark or bright. The histogram shows you the distribution of brightness values. With this, you can spot loss of detail in the highlights or shadows, no matter how bad your monitor is!

The histogram for our example portrait is pictured below. The histogram shows the darkest pixels on the left-hand side, midtones in the middle, and the brightest pixels on the right.

There’s a tall peak on the left. This indicates many dark pixels in our image located in the dark background. Just to the right, a smaller hump shows some details in the shadows, which come from the subject’s hair. The rest shows a good spread of values from the subject’s skin and clothes.

a camera histogram

You may want a photo with bright pixels (for example, a bride in the snow) or dark pixels (like a black dog in a coal shed). But most photos look best when they have a full range of tones. You generally want very dark tones and ones to almost maximum brightness.

When you begin to adjust the tonal range of your images, there is a danger of losing details. This can happen with bright pixels saturating into blown-out areas of white. It can also happen when details in the shadows are numerically coerced into becoming areas of pure black.

To alert you of this danger, Lightroom provides a warning system. You can turn this on or off using the “J” keyboard shortcut.

When activated, two boxes appear at the top corners of the histogram display. There is a shadow clipping box in the top-left corner and a highlight clipping box in the top-right corner.

In the example above, the shadow clipping box has a white triangle. If you look at the left peak in the histogram, you’ll see a tiny gap to the left of it.

This shows that there are many very dark pixels in this image. But none of them has yet become pure black. The warning triangle indicates that some pixels are in the “danger zone” towards becoming pure black.

When shadow or highlight clipping warnings are active, pure black pixels show a bright blue overlay on-screen. Those pixels blown out to pure white exhibit a bright red overlay. In this image, adjusting the exposure slider to either extreme produces the following results.

Screenshot of visual clipping warnings in Lightroom
Clipping warnings activate. Pure black pixels appear blue. Blown-out pixels are marked in red.

Optimize the Dynamic Range

The top two sliders in the Tone section of the Basic panel are for exposure and contrast. Many people reach for these sliders first when they want to adjust the brightness and contrast.

But, unless your image is very overexposed or underexposed, the exposure slider is not the best control to adjust first. The exposure slider multiplies every RGB value of every pixel by the same amount.

This is why increasing the exposure slider smears the whole distribution to the right in the histogram. In our example, the subject’s hair must stand out more from the dark background. We need to increase the shadow values without affecting the midtones and highlights.

We first need to adjust the shadows and highlights separately from the other tones to optimize the dynamic range. After this, you can think about a small exposure adjustment if it’s still needed.

Adjust Whites, Blacks, and Shadows

If you leave the Exposure slider alone and adjust the Whites slider, you’re effectively setting the upper limit. You can ensure your brightest pixel comes in just under full brightness.

It may be difficult to notice this (particularly if there is already a lot of red in the photo). An alternative method is to hold down the Option or Alt (Mac or PC) keys on your keyboard while dragging the Whites slider from left to right.

At first, the image appears to be black. As you slide the Whites further right, some pixels appear. When you notice this, back off until the display returns to black only. You’ve now made sure your brightest pixel is at the limit. And no details will be blown out in the highlights.

Whereas blown-out highlights should be avoided, the other end of the tonal range is less of an issue. Many photos have areas of pure black. In this example, much of the background is already very dark and is on the verge of becoming pure black.

Since the background contains no essential details, we can allow some of it to turn pure black if needed. If your image is shot against a lighter background, you may want to check and set the black end of your dynamic range similarly to the whites.

Again, hold Alt or Option (Mac or PC) to set the black end. But this time, drag the Blacks slider. You see a largely white screen this time. As you move the Blacks slider to the left, dark pixels appear. Stop at this point and back off until the screen is all white.

When you release the mouse button, your image’s dynamic range will be just right. You can then adjust the tonal distribution within that range.

In our example, moving the shadows slider to the right amplifies the values of the pixels in the hair. It does this without bringing out noise in the background or blowing out the highlights. Setting the Before & After control at the bottom of the screen to a left-right comparison lets us see these adjustments’ effects.

A few global adjustments to the white balance and tonal distribution have prepared this image for more selective editing. Note also that the histogram has spread out more in the shadows area.

Example of global adjustments to white balance and tonal distribution in Adobe Lightroom


5. Crop the Portrait

Cropping is one of those operations that tends to come towards the end of an editing workflow. But since all adjustments in Lightroom are non-destructive, we don’t have to be dogmatic about it.

In this case, tonal adjustments have revealed some distracting background details. A bit of cropping and rotating removes the distractions and makes the subject fill the frame better.

The Crop Overlay tool has a prime position on the dedicated toolbar beneath the histogram. Click its icon or hit the “R” keyboard shortcut to activate it.

Click the padlock to lock or unlock Lightroom’s aspect ratio. Click and drag to define your chosen crop. In this example, the Crop Tool Overlay has been set to “Always Show” to superimpose some composition guides. Hit the “O” keyboard shortcut key to cycle through the nine layout patterns.

Lightroom automatically switches between landscape and portrait as you drag with a fixed aspect ratio. But it sometimes settles for the wrong choice. If this happens to you, hit the “X” key to flip it back.

Moving the cursor outside the rectangle turns it into a rotation tool. Clicking and dragging within the rectangle shifts the image around inside the rectangle. Click the Crop Overlay icon, press “R.” or hit the enter key to accept the crop.

Example of crop tool in Adobe Lightroom


How to Retouch Portraits in Lightroom

Up to this point, we’ve only made the kind of preliminary edits that might be applied to any photo. We will now consider cosmetic enhancements in detail to eliminate skin blemishes, lines, and wrinkles.

1. Use the Healing Tool

This used to be called the Spot Healing tool. Early versions of Lightroom only copied pixels and then pasted them onto the target area. This process is known as “cloning.” Now, Lightroom is capable of doing much more.

The basic principle hasn’t changed—a good area still overwrites bad areas. But how this is done has been refined. Notice in the screenshot below that there are now three modes below the Healing tool. There is Content-Aware Remove (first icon), Heal (second band-aid), and Clone (stamp icon).

Screenshot of Healing tool being used in Adobe Lightroom
Newer Lightroom interface with healing option selected.

The Content-Aware Remove tool uses AI. It replaces the chosen area with optimal pixels to remove the specified object or region. The Clone tool makes a simple copy of the source and patches it over the destination area.

The Healing tool is rather more sophisticated. When you select heal, Lightroom selects the texture of the source and blends it with the colors of the destination. This produces a better-quality edit for portraits if you choose a good source.

I recommend you leave the Healing tool set to heal most of the time. Content-Aware Remove may struggle with skin complexity. It works best with isolated objects on simple backgrounds. Only select Clone when you want to clone (as you might when giving someone extra pimples).

Removing Blemishes

First, zoom into the photo at 1:1 to see the offending details. To start zapping spots, select the Healing tool. Click the band-aid icon to the right of the Crop Overlay tool or hit the “Q” keyboard shortcut.

The cursor shows two concentric circles. The inner circle is where pixels are copied at the set opacity from the selected source. The outer circle shows the distance those pixels fade to full transparency.

You can control the size and amount of feathering using the Size and Feather sliders. You can also use the square bracket shortcut keys.

Use the left square bracket ([) to reduce the size and the right square bracket (]) to increase it. Hold down Shift with these keys to control the size of the feathering. Adjust the size to be a little larger than the spot.

When you click on a spot, Lightroom selects a nearby area for the source. It shows two circles connected by a line. One circle is the location you just clicked, and the other is the suggested source area. If you can’t see these, click Tools > Tool Overlay > Show Always from the top menu.

The healed area shows how it will look when patched with pixels from the source. Usually, Lightroom makes a fairly good suggestion.

If you want to adjust it manually, drag the center of the source to move it to another position. Or drag the circle’s edge to re-size the source or destination areas.

Screenshot of using the spot removal tool to edit portraits in Lightroom
The Spot Healing tool on the older version of Lightroom. This works the same as the current Healing tool.

Reducing Lines and Wrinkles

Instead of just clicking a spot, if you click and drag, you’ll define an area. This can be useful for tackling crease lines, wrinkles, and bags under the eyes. Lightroom selects an area of skin from which to patch. You can alter its position in the same way you can with a spot sample.

Set the Opacity slider to around 50% to avoid making the edit too extreme. This means the folds of skin are reduced rather than made to disappear.

Using the Healing tool, click and drag along folds of skin you want to improve. Set the Opacity to around 50% for a more subtle effect. This technique is also useful for dealing with stubborn shiny patches like the forehead or nose tip.

A screenshot of using Spot Removal Tool to retouch under-eye bags in Lightroom
The Spot Healing tool on the older version of Lightroom. This works the same as the current Healing tool.

2. How to Use the Masking Tool and Brush for Selective Edits

We’ve worked through basic global adjustments and removed or cropped out distractions at this stage. But we now need to focus on specific parts of the image using the power of the Masking tool and Brush.

This mask determines where on the image your adjustments are made. In our case, we want to target the skin to reduce the texture of the pores. At the same time, we don’t want to affect eyes, eyebrows, nostrils, teeth, lipstick lines, or any jewelry.

To activate the Masking tool, click its icon on the far right of the panel beneath the histogram or use the shortcut Shift+W. Then, select the Brush tool or hit the “K” shortcut key. To see which areas your Masking tool and Brush settings affect, tick the Show Overlay box.

As you click and drag over the image areas you want to edit, Lightroom overlays a red mask. This mask shows you exactly where your edits will be.

The Masking tool and Brush control panel should contain 19 sliders, as shown below. If you don’t see the full range, click on the down arrow at the top of the Masking tool and Brush panel to expand it. You should see something like the screenshot below.

Use the mask overlay to check you haven’t missed any important areas or painted in the wrong places. You can use the Subtract option with the Brush to fine-tune your selection.

A screenshot of using mask overlay to edit portraits in Lightroom
Older Lightroom Classic set up with the same sliders available.

The Brush panel lets you use an “A” and “B” brush (above the Size slider) with different settings. Select one brush and adjust the size and feather using the sliders. You can also use the more convenient square bracket keys.

If you tick the Auto Mask box, Lightroom tries to keep the mask painting from crossing any high-contrast edges. If the mask is not painting smoothly where you want it, untick the Auto Mask option.

If you paint in the wrong area, click Erase to summon a mask eraser brush. But it’s much more convenient to hold down the Alt or Option key to turn the current brush into an eraser.

The cursor changes from a circle with a plus sign (+) to a circle with a minus sign (-). Hit the “Z” key to zoom in and out of the photo. Ensure your mask is covering your intended areas accurately.

Note that masks don’t have to be an all-or-nothing tool. The masking effect is reduced in proportion if you reduce the Density slider from 100 to a lower value.

If you want your adjustments to be applied less in some areas of the mask, you can paint over those areas again with a reduced density setting. If you like to build up your mask gradually, set the flow value to less than 100. You can build up the mask density with successive brush strokes.

Next, we turn off the distracting sunburn effect by un-ticking the Show Overlay box. Then, we slide the Clarity slider to the left. This reduces the local contrast, smoothing skin texture in the masked-out areas.

While the Masking tool and Brush panel are open, you can adjust any other sliders in a unique combination. You can, of course, go back to adjustments at any time to refine them.

To do this, re-select the Masking tool and Brush and click on its control point (which, in our example, looks at the subject’s forehead). If you can’t see the control point, check that the “Show Pins and Tools” is set to “Always.”

There is a fact that’s often missed by people new to using the Masking tool and Brush. At the top of the Mask panel is a single Amounts slider.

This lets you control the combined effect of all the sliders you might have adjusted as part of your recent Masking tool and Brush edit. So, if you think you went a little far with your edit, you can back the whole effect off until it looks right.

Besides controlling a group of masked edits, you can also name and save a set of edits for later use. Lightroom already has some handy edit sets, and we’ll examine those next.

Retouch the Eyes

Eyes are all important in a portrait. The Masking tool and Brush can make some significant enhancements in that respect.

Make sure the area around the eyes is not in a dark shadow. It can be difficult to work on the details of the eyes if they are. If you try to brighten them without tackling the surrounding area first, your subject will appear to have creepy glowing orbs for eyes.

The example we’ve used so far has a well-lit face. So, we’ll switch to another shot demonstrating “panda eyes.” Let’s see what you can do using the Masking tool and Brush to help even out the illumination:

  1. Select the Masking tool and Brush as before.
  2. Above the Amount slider is the name of the current effect. It will probably just say “Custom,” but if you’ve used it with another setting, it will be named according to the last-used effect. Click the effect title, and you’ll see a list of effects. These are stored presets relating to the slider values you see when you expand the panel.
  3. Select the Dodge (Lighten) effect and start painting over the shadow areas in the eyes. Remember to paint under the nose, lips, and chin, or the effect will look unnatural. You’re not aiming to eliminate all the shadows but soften them.

Here’s a before-and-after example in the screenshot below.

Screenshot of using Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to retouch shadows and tones in a portrait


If your subject has strong shadows, use the Masking tool and Brush and select the Dodge preset. Then, simply paint over all the shadows to even out the tones.

You can also use the Burn (Darken) setting to add depth in light shadows to build up the definition. It all depends on the subject. But feel free to experiment because you can always go back in history to any previous edit in Lightroom.

Young eyes are generally bright and clean. Older subjects can exhibit red capillaries or yellow patches caused by high cholesterol. In such cases, zoom in 1:1 and use the Healing tool to clean up what you can.

Now, select the Masking tool and Brush again and select the Iris Enhance option from the list. This preset enhances the patterns in the iris. It slightly increases exposure, increases the clarity, and boosts the saturation.

Simply brush the iris to add the effect or hold down the Alt or Option key as before to subtract from it. As always, check the Amount slider when you’ve finished. And back it off or increase it until the eyes look improved but not alien.

The photo below shows a typical before and after using the iris enhance settings.

Screenshot of using Adjustment Brush Iris Enhance to edit a portrait in Lightroom
Use the Masking tool and Brush set to “Iris Enhance” to reveal details in the iris.

If you’re working with a large monitor with plenty of screen space, consider working in the Before & After mode in the Develop Module. This helps you keep track of the extent of your edits in real-time.

A typical portrait edit can have hundreds of these small adjustments. So, it can be difficult to find a particular edit in the long history list.

It’s useful to click the plus (+) button on the Snapshots panel (Window > Panels > Snapshots). And name it to correspond with your finished edits. That way, you can jump around to different edit points named “eyes,” “lips,” “teeth,” “skin,” etc.

Retouch The Mouth

Most people have less-than-perfect teeth. Some ability to do virtual dental work is a definite plus when editing portraits in Lightroom.

You could, in theory, straighten wonky teeth in Lightroom if a suitable clone source were available. But since Lightroom doesn’t let you transform clone samples, this is the domain of Adobe Photoshop.

But Lightroom can be used to fix that common problem of yellowish teeth. In our example, most of the teeth look fine as they are. But the subject’s upper left cuspid was slightly yellow.

To fix this, we again select the Masking tool and Brush and, this time, opt for the Teeth Whitening preset. Paint away the yellowing on the teeth that need it.

If your subject is wearing lipstick, you can finish the mouth area by using the Masking tool and Brush to boost the saturation in the lips. Using the Healing tool in Clone mode, you can zoom in to fix any less-than-perfect lip liners. Here’s the nearly finished result in the photo below.
Example portrait photo after lip retouching in Adobe Lightroom


Add Makeup to Portraits

Enhancing details that already exist and eliminating details that shouldn’t exist is all good. But you can go further in Lightroom, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. This step is adding makeup.

Normally, this would be the domain of Photoshop, but it is possible to add blusher and eye-shadow in Lightroom. As you probably guessed, it’s applied using the Masking tool and Brush.

There’s no preset for adding makeup this time, so we must set up a new slider combination. Set all sliders to their central position so they have no effect.

Then, set the Flow to 80 and the Density to 15 as a starting point. Next, click the color box at the bottom of the panel to pop out a color picker (like in the screenshot below).

Screenshot of using Lightroom Adjustment Brush color overlay
Color picker pop-up (older Lightroom interface). 

Selecting Makeup Color

The eye-dropper tool allows you to pick a color for the “make-up” you want to apply. You can choose from the color picker box.

The eye-dropper tool will vanish if you move outside the color picker box. This is frustrating if you want to pick a color from the photo rather than guess its position in the color picker.

But there is a trick. Click any color in the color picker and keep the selection pressed as you drag outside the box. The eye-dropper tool remains active. Move it over the color you want to use from the photo and release the mouse button.

Now, paint on the image and watch the color overlay appear. If you like the effect, click the preset drop-down box and select “Save Current Settings as New Preset.”

Give it a meaningful name, like Pink Eye Shadow. Here’s the before-and-after comparison picture below. It takes practice to get used to the Masking tool and Brush. So play around with these Brush tips to get started.


Conclusion: Editing Portraits in Lightroom

We’ve come a long way on this portrait image. It’s a good point to stop and think about whether we’ve over-edited our subject. It’s tempting to keep going, but the aim of this tutorial has not been to create a “perfect” portrait.

These Lightroom tips show how you can use Lightroom for various useful adjustments. And all this can be done without recourse to Photoshop. To perfect your lightroom workflow, check out our Effortless Editing course!

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