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How to Create a “Soft Portrait” Preset in Lightroom 4


The following is an excerpt from the SLR Lounge Lightroom Workflow System Workshop on DVD, a system designed to increase your post production speed by 5 to 10 times! Click here to learn more.

A portrait image includes a subject (Usually their faces) as the primary focus. When we edit portraits, we do not want to sharpen fine details too much as this will of course enhance pores and blemishes on the skin. Instead, we want a soft, gentle look for our portrait images.

In this tutorial, we will show you how to create a “Soft Portrait” preset in Lightroom 4. This preset will make our portraits more flattering, because we will tell it to smooth out the highlights in our images, and reduce the appearance of imperfections on skin and other semi-smooth surfaces. This “Soft Portrait” preset is the same preset we use at Lin & Jirsa Photography to fit our needs for wedding and portrait photography, however you may want to change some of the settings to fit your own personal style. We hope that the tips in this tutorial will help you develop your own style of editing portrait images!

For this tutorial, we will use this standard portrait as our example.

origina 650

The Standard Import Preset Settings

For this tutorial, first select a basic standard portrait that you would typically shoot. Make sure that the portrait you choose is properly exposed with an accurate white balance, as an incorrectly exposed image will cause the preset to mis-represent the average photo you take.

Whenever you create a new preset for something specific such as protraits, we recommend that you start with another, standardized preset that has settings similar to what you’re going for in this image. So for example, we will select our original “Standard Import” preset to help us create the “Soft Portrait” preset.  For more information on how we created our “Standard Import” preset, click HERE.

We will base the “Soft Portrait” Standard Color Preset off of the Standard Import Preset, so we have selected “00 Standard Import (Reset)” in our Presets Panel. The Presets Panel can be found on the left of the Lightroom Develop module.


If you do not have the Standard Import Preset, these are the settings for it. Simply dial in these exact settings in the Basic Panel. To expand and collapse the Basic Panel, press “Ctrl + 1.”


Basic Panel Adjustments

Next we need to adjust the Basic panel settings to create the “Soft Portrait” look that we’re going for. Reduce the Highlights to -30. With the Shadows, bring them down to +10. Decrease the Whites to -30 and raise the Blacks to -10. These settings will smooth out the overall highlights in the portrait. Next, adjust the Clarity down to -10 to really smooth over the larger, harsher detail tones and to smooth out things like skin tones. Do not pull the Clarity down too much, because you will eventually lose important details in your portrait and create a “painted” or “smudged” look.

For Vibrance, we will leave it at +15. You can choose the amount of Vibrance to fit your own style, but we recommend not adding additional Vibrance if your portrait already has too much color in the skin. A high amount of Vibrance adds color to the skin which can make the portrait look unflattering, especially in mixed lighting!  Sometimes, if your images are too clear and crips, you may want to dial the Vibrance down as far as -10 or so.

Your Basic Panel adjustments should look similar to the settings below.


Tone Curve Adjustments

Next, we are going to adjust the Tone Curve in the Tone Curve Panel. To expand and collapse the Tone Curve Panel, press “Ctrl + 2.” To boost the overall contrast in the portrait, create a slight S-Curve. We recommend having at least 4 points on the Tone Curve so that you can control every quadrant. From left to right, these points will provide secondary control of your Blacks, Midtone Shadows, Midtone Highlights and Whites.

To create the slight S-Curve, pull down the Blacks a little bit, then pull up the Midtone Shadows and the Midtone Highlights. Finally, pull the Whites slightly down and to the right. Your Tone Curve should look similar to the one below, but feel free to adjust these points to fit your style.


Detail Panel Adjustments

To expand and collapse the Detail Panel, press “Ctrl + 5.” The Sharpening settings from the Standard Import preset should be good enough for your portrait, but always zoom into the subject’s face to make sure everything looks fine. If you find that skin tone is a little too “crunchy”, consider dialing down the Detail slider before the actual Amount.

Next, adjust the Noise Reduction settings. Bring the Luminance up to 20. Do not bring up Luminance too high as this will once again kill detail in your image. However a conservative amount is helpful, even for images captured at your lowest ISO.

Setting Luminance to around 15-20 maximum creates a nice softening effect, especially over the pores of skin, while leaving major detail (such as eyelashes, etc.) intact. Even though the Luminance Noise Reduction is a minor adjustment, it plays a very important role in helping to smooth out the skin tones in a portrait.

(Of course if you’re shooting your portraits at higher ISO’s for whatever reason, you may need to increase this slider even higher!)


Lens Corrections Adjustments

To expand and collapse the Lens Corrections Panel, press “Ctrl + 6.” After adjusting the Noise Reduction settings, we need to check the vignette of our portrait. The vignette refers to the darkness or brightness of the edges of an image. If you want to apply a faint amount of vignetting correction in general, we can leave the Lens Vignetting settings from the Standard Import Preset.  (Of course some photographers like to add vignetting to portraits, so this is going to be a subjective decision!)


Saving the “Soft Portrait” preset

Now that we have finished dialing in the settings for the “Soft Portrait” preset, we need to save this preset. First, click on the “+” sign in the Presets Panel.


The New Develop Preset dialogue box will appear; name the preset “11 Standard Color.” Select “Check All” to select all the settings. However, make sure that “Auto Tone” has not been selected. Next, un-check “Lens Corrections,” “Lens Profile Corrections,” “Transform,” and “Chromatic Aberration” because we do not want to sync these specific settings across every portrait we have.  (We recommend creating separate presets to manage those settings.)

Press “Create” once you are done. Your New Develop Preset Dialogue Box should look like the one below!


As you can see below, it may be a good idea to organize your presets by numbers, two or three digits is usually enough.  Either way, the goal is to have these default-related presets appear up towards the top.


This is what our final image looks like with the “Soft Portrait” Standard Color Preset applied.

soft portrait 650

Below you can see a cropped comparison of the original un-edited image in it’s muted, RAW state, as well as the “Standard Import” and “Soft Portrait” presets for comparison:


Once again, the goal with creating a preset such as this is to minimize the amount of work we need to do on a per-image basis.  With a preset like this, in theory you should be able to breeze through a portrait session doing batch corrections to settings such as White Balance and Exposure, only pausing here and there to tweak other settings individually.

It will take time to fine-tune the preset to your own personal taste, however this general rule can help:  If you find yourself applying the same adjustment to more than 50-60% of your images from a certain type of photography, then that adjustment should be put into a preset!  It’s better to perform slight changes on 20-30% of your images than to perform major corrections to 70-80% of your images!

The SLR Lounge Workflow System Workshop on DVD

The SLR Lounge Workflow System Workshop on DVD takes everything that we taught in the Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD and builds by teaching you how to maximize your shooting and post processing efficiency and workflow. This 7 hour DVD covers data safety procedures, file management, culling standards and overall develop techniques to increase your post production efficiency by up to 15x! In fact, using this Workflow System we can cull and edit over 1,500 images per hour! Don’t believe us, watch the teaser video! The Workflow System is also available as a part of the Lightroom 4 Workshop Collection. To learn more, click this link.

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I hate speaking of myself in the third person, haha. I am a Partner and professional photographer with Lin and Jirsa Los Angeles Wedding Photography, and the Senior Editor for SLR Lounge Photography Tutorials. I am passionate about photography as an art as well as my part as an educator in the industry. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel and feel free to hit me up with questions anytime on Facebook.

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