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This tutorial has been transcribed from the SLR Lounge Adobe Lightroom 4 DVD Guide, a 14 hour DVD featuring over 130 tutorials for mastering Lightroom which can be purchased from the link above.
Lightroom can be a powerful advanced editor, and we often use it for portrait retouching. While it does not much of the advanced editing tools you will find in Photoshop, it can be quite efficient and powerful for more basic portrait retouches. The advantage of this is that you do not have to take the additional step of taking the image into Photoshop. In this three part article we will take you through how we use Lightroom 4 for portrait retouching, from basic post production to blemish removal, skin softening and detail enhancment.
In the first part to this three part series we will take a portrait and correct the exposure, color temperature, tonal range, and noise. For this we will be using our Basic Panel, Tone Curve Panel, and Detail Panel. First let’s look at our image without any adjustments as shown below.
When post producing an image, we have a general rule of thumb to always start with the largest adjustments and work through to the smaller adjustment. This saves time in preventing you from having to readjust sliders after other major adjustments are made. For example, if Temperature is significantly off, we would want to start with that prior to adjusting Exposure. Otherwise, once the correct Temperature is dialed in, we may have to revisit and correct the Exposure setting, thus wasting time reworking. So, let’s start from the top in the Develop Module with our Basic Panel.
Highlights -30 – Since Temperature looks fairly accurate (or at least it isn’t the largest adjustment needed) we will start with the Highlights. The original image was slightly on the over exposed side and so we see a heavy amount of Highlights and Whites. So we are going to begin with balancing our highlights on the skin. We do so by pulling down the Highlights slider to darken our highlights.
Whites -40 – Bringing down the Whites also helps to reduce the brightest areas over the skin and balance the overall tonal range.
Shadows +20 – I want to lift a little detail out of the midtone shadows, so let’s bring the shadow slider up a bit.
Blacks -30 – I always say that in order to create nice contrast, every image needs some pure blacks and some pure whites. Not a lot, we don’t want to crush our blacks and blow all of our highlights, but we do need a bit for a nice poppy image. So, let’s bring the black down a bit to deepen the darkest shadows.
Temperture 4300/Tint -1 – Our white balance on this image is pretty close to where we need it to be when we started, however now that we have the other more major adjustments made, we can now cool it off a bit, and bring the Temperature to 4300 (warmth is highly subjective, dial in a setting you prefer). The image also has a slight magenta tint, so we will bring the Tint slider to -6 to add a bit of greens to the image which will balance out the magenta.
Exposure -10 – Next, we are going to bring our exposure down just a bit to once again reduce the highlights of the image, as well as the general exposure. We have a nice dramatic image and I want to boost that drama a bit by keeping it a little more on the dark side.
Clarity +20 – Clarity is usually something I would say to be careful with when producing portraits, especially when dealing with female subjects. However, with men it can work well to add midtone contrast and a bit of ruggedness and pop to the image.
Vibrance +20 – Vibrance works well to add saturation without affecting skin tones as much as Saturation would. In this image we will add Vibrance to make the red in the chair stand out just a bit more.
Below are the final settings from our Basic Panel:
Now that we have done basic adjustments to our exposure and contrast of the overall image, we will go into our Tone Curve Panel and fine tune our tonal range even further. I like using the Tone Curve to make fine tuning adjustments to my image exposure rather than making large sweeping changes. Once in your Tone Curve panel, be sure that your Tone Curve is set to Linear and your curve is adjustable. If you are seeing the Highlights, Whites, Shadows, and Blacks sliders beneath the Tone Curve, then your Tone Curve is not on the correct setting to edit individual points. You can change this by clicking on the “Click to Edit Point Curve” icon on the bottom right of the Tone Curve Panel.
Now we will create an adjustment point by clicking on the Point Curve in the extreme highlight region of the Curve, which is located the upper right hand corner. We are going to drag this point down slightly, which will once again reduce our brightest highlights to smooth out the tones over the face. Next we will pull up the mid tone highlights, and then bring our blacks even further down. This will help to create a nice dramatic look with the lighting.
Below is the image with the Custom Tone Curve settings applied.
Lets drop down to our Detail Panel and sharpen our image, as well as reduce a little noise. Most images will really benefit from sharpening, and this image is no exception. For this portrait we are going to bring the Sharpening up quite a bit to +80, our Radius to +1.5 and our Detail to 25. Next we will use Luminance to reduce some of the background noise, as well as serve as a skin softening technique. Bringing Luminance up to +30 works well for this purpose.
Since this image is a dramatic portrait with mood lighting, adding a vignette will help to add to that effect. Let’s open up our Lens Correction Panel. I prefer using the Lens Correction Vignetting over the Post Crop Vignetting simply because I feel like it is a more subtle and natural adjustment. I think that the Amount at -40 and the Midpoint at 10 works well for this portrait, however this is our preference and you can use your judgment depending on each image independently.
The final touch we are going to put on this image is to darken up the right corner. If you look you will notice a white area in the image which is rather distracting. So let’s kill it, and to do so we are going to use our adjustment brush to darken this area. You can select your Adjustment Brush by hitting “K” on the keyboard or by simply selecting it in the Adjustment Tool Bar above the Basic Panel. Once you have selected your Adjustment Brush, you can reset the current brush settings by holding down “alt” on a PC, or “opt” on a Mac and clicking reset in the upper left hand corner of the Adjustment Brush drop down panel.
We are going to bring down the exposure on the brush to -1.15, then paint over the part of the image we want to darken.
And below you will see our final image after all of the basic adjustments.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this 3 part series where we will begin our retouching process smoothing skin, reducing blemishes, enhancing the eyes and more! If you enjoyed this tutorial then we know you will love the SLR Lounge LR4 DVD featuring 130 tutorials and nearly 14 hours of training covering Lightroom 4 from A – Z, nearly half of which is devoted strictly to image processing techniques. Click here to learn more and purchase via digital download.