Finding the best Lightroom portrait presets can be a challenge for many photographers. With so many preset packs available in the marketplace, how do you find the right ones to suit your style?
In this article, I recommend some of my favorite Lightroom presets for portraits in 2021.
A quick note: When testing different preset packs, I loaded each option into Adobe Lightroom Classic. Then, to demonstrate each preset, I used the same RAW image taken on my Fujifilm X-T4 with the XF 56mm f/1.2 lens. I created multiple virtual copies in Lightroom, then had fun playing around with all of the presets and settings!
1. Brixton Film presets
First up for the portrait photographer is the Brixton Film preset bundle. These presets are brought to you by The Luxe Lens, a website that sells dozens of presets, Photoshop actions, LUTs, overlays, and much more. The names of each collection in the Brixton Film bundle evoke the type of mood they portray: Bold & Vibrant, Yesteryears, Earthy Moods, Film Essentials, and Love Story, to name just a few.
In particular, the Brixton Film Cinematic collection caught my eye, and I was instantly impressed when I applied the black and white Light and Lifted preset for a classic monochrome look:
There were a number of interesting color choices in this collection, but my next choice was the Teal and Berry preset, thanks to its eye-popping hues. It gave the portrait a completely unique look:
Another gorgeous collection from the Britxon Film stable is Oak & Ivy. This collection contains 25 film presets, 8 layer presets, and 62 tools presets, designed to bring out the organic colors of nature in your images. My favorite from this collection is Muted Forest, which did a great job of mixing earthy colors with clean skintones (see the image below). All of the Brixton Film presets were fun to use, instantly transforming my RAW file into a beautiful final product.
2. Mastin Labs
Mastin Labs are the market leaders for portrait and wedding photography presets, and it’s easy to see why.
These presets were first created over a decade ago by photographer and color scientist Kirk Mastin. After painstakingly scanning many different types of film, Mastin Labs developed a series of presets to give the classic look of your favorite film emulsions to digital images.
Mastin Labs claims to have the most authentic film emulation presets on the market, and many of their preset bundles reference names of classic film stocks, such as Portra Original, Fuji Original, and Fuji Everyday.
Full disclaimer: I’m a huge Mastin Labs fan. I’ve bought all three of the classic film packs I just mentioned, but while writing this article, I decided to use two new preset packs for the first time: Ilford and Portra Pushed.
Installation is a breeze; just download the presets, quit Lightroom, run the installer, and get ready to roll. Using the presets is simple with Mastin’s easy, three-step workflow: apply the preset, adjust the exposure, then adjust the white balance and tint.
Mastin Labs: Ilford Original pack
The Ilford Original pack contains three highly customizable presets that mimic classic British black and white film emulsions: Pan F, HP5, and Delta 3200.
Pan F gives you a high contrast look with low grain, the ever-popular HP5 delivers medium contrast and grain, and Delta 3200 gives your images glowing highlights and the chunkiest grain in the pack. Each emulsion gives you two further choices – 35mm or 120, with the latter giving you more subtle and smoother grain.
As with all Mastin presets, the Tone Profile section provides various combinations for making the highlights and shadows hard or soft in your image. It’s often hard to know which one you’d prefer without a bit of testing.
What I love most about the Ilford presets is the next two sections: B&W Filter and Paper. For decades, photographers have been using colored filters to control contrast and mood in their black and white photos. The clever people at Mastin Labs allow you to consider these creative effects by three different filter options: red, green, and yellow.
Next up are three paper types that mimic the effect of the image printed in the darkroom on warm-tone, cool-tone, or neutral paper. I really love these choices; I have a lot of fun playing around with them!
Mastin Labs: Portra Pushed pack
I’m a big fan of the Mastin Labs Portra Original pack, which is ideal for giving clean, warm tones and glowing skin to portraits. With this in mind, I was more than a little intrigued by the Portra Pushed pack. I’d heard it gave a wonderfully dark and moody look to images, but would it meet my expectations?
Note: You may be wondering why this pack is called Portra “Pushed;” pushed is a borrowed term from film development. A roll of film generally has a recommended ISO (e.g., 400), and you typically match it with the ISO dial on your camera.
If you set the ISO on your camera to 800 despite an ISO 400 recommendation, however, you are underexposing the film by one stop, so you’d typically ask for the film to be pushed in development one stop. In other words, you’d ask the lab to develop the film for longer to make up for the underexposure. Why would you want to do this? There are a couple of different reasons, but one is that the process typically gives color film more contrast and saturation.
The Portra Pushed presets mimic this effect with intense, moodier colors and boosted saturation. The pack has a choice of three different film looks – Portra 160, Portra 400, and Portra 800 – and with each, you can apply the one-stop or two-stop push look.
This pack may not have the B&W filter and paper options of the Ilford pack, but it does include a tone profile, a toolkit with auto white balance and lens correction, and a choice of 35mm and 120 grain.
I was impressed by the clean and consistent look of the Portra Pushed presets. They gave a high-contrast, moodier look to images than the Portra presets and really brought out the earthy tones.
3. Julia & Gil
For the last seven years, Julia & Gil have been photographing people in love all over the world. Not only are they skilled photographers, but it’s clear they’ve learned a thing or two about editing photos along the way.
Julia & Gil offer three stunning sets of presets: wedding, portrait and mobile. I took the wedding and portrait presets for a spin in Lightroom and was impressed by what I saw.
The Wedding collection is designed to add soft colors and “a little magic” to wedding photos. Julia & Gil are fans of soft tones, creamy whites, beautiful skin tones, and natural colors, as you can see from the image below. The collection is perfect for all lighting situations.
The Portrait collection is made up of eight presets for couple and portrait shoots. They are billed as “the modern answer to creating that popular film look” and are designed to add soft colors to your photos. As you can see from the Cream preset below, this collection gives a soft, dreamy look which I really love.
Both preset packs offer a range of tools, including colors down, colors up, a range of options for grain, three different sets of tones, vignette tools, and several ways to warm up your images. In just a click or two, Julia & Gil presets give a wonderfully unique look!
4. @rwpho Portrait Lightroom presets
@rwpho Portrait Lightroom presets are brought to you by Filtergrade, an online marketplace offering a range of resources for photographers and videographers, including actions, presets, LUTs, overlays, and templates.
Created by photographer Reed Walchle, the @rwpho presets are focused on adding warm, complementary, orange and teal tones to your images while keeping natural-looking skin. The presets shift the overall palette toward complementary colors to make photos stand out, adding character and depth. They seem to work especially well on pictures where the subject is well lit compared to the background.
There’s only a handful of presets in this pack, but sometimes less is more. I really liked the tones of both the Joyce Warm and Elena Cupcakes presets. All in all, the presets were easy to apply and gave great results instantly.
5. Etchd Portrait presets
The next set of Lightroom portrait presets come from award-winning portrait, landscape, and travel photographer Matt Horspool, better known by his Instagram handle, @etchd.
Matt is incredibly well traveled, having backpacked across 48 countries on all seven continents. His images and articles have been published by National Geographic, Australian Photography Magazine, The Australian, and Olympus Passion.
Etchd Portrait Presets Volume 1 contains 15 timeless and beautifully refined presets that “soften and breathe life into your portraits.” The presets come with a detailed, 37-page, step-by-step installation and application guide. I really like the information in the second part of this guide – Matt gives you a detailed description of each preset, along with information on what to adjust in your images. For example, there are tips on suggested adjustments to the RGB tone curve, white balance, and split toning.
Many of the preset names are a nod to Matt’s travels: Roadtrip, USA, India, and the preset I used for the image below, Verona. The latter preset comes with two versions, and the one I’ve used has a built-in Radial Filter. (The guide also gives step-by-step instructions on how to apply Radial Filters to your portraits.)
Last but certainly not least are the comprehensive range of portrait presets by our very own Digital Photography School team. The dPS preset bundle consists of three packs, each containing 101 presets: 101 Lightroom Presets, 101 Landscape Lightroom Presets, and 101 Lightroom Portrait Presets.
For this article, I tried out some of the portrait presets created by Rachel Devine. These give you countless image-enhancing options, and included in the pack are the Art Series, Black and White, Film Series, Traditional Series, and a Touch-Up Kit featuring 37 brushes.
I really love the look of all the Art Series presets, but perhaps my favorite was Art Series 50s, which gave my images a classic vintage appearance. Another fantastic preset is Found, which has a beautiful, warm effect reminiscent of film stocks such as Kodak Gold.
What are the best Lightroom portrait presets in 2021?
The best portrait presets for Lightroom will differ from user to user. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which look and feel suits the images you take!
I love using all of the preset packs recommended above; they’re simple and give incredible results.
So which preset is your favorite? Tells us in the comments below.
Best Lightroom portrait presets: FAQs
Lightroom presets are a fantastic way to get a consistent look in your portrait photo shoots.
That depends on your photographic style and your budget. Take a look at the images above and visit the websites featured to find the presets best suited for your images.
Most of the presets featured here are very easy to use. You can transform images in one or two clicks.
Yes, many professional portrait and wedding photographers use off-the-shelf presets.