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How to Edit Corporate Headshots in Lightroom

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

When it comes to making people look their best in corporate headshot photography, you should certainly start with lighting, exposure, and composition. However, even if you’re on top of your headshot photography game, there are plenty of small adjustments you can make in the editing process that’ll make your photos (and your clients!) look far more professional.

To start, it’s important to recognize that, on the day of the shoot, a lot of things will be out of your control. This is true whether you’re a complete newbie – or a seasoned pro.

Take a booking I had recently. It was scheduled for a Friday afternoon, and it happened to follow a full week of annual strategy meetings. All the head honchos were dead tired, and looking good for photos was the last thing on their to-do list. After a week of deciding the future of their company, a lot of them looked a little….less than fresh. Dehydration, bags under the eyes, and coffee-stained teeth were starting to appear – because we’re human and that’s what happens. And although I knew that soft light would help, I also knew that cameras are rather unforgiving of the sleep-deprived.

This is an extreme example, but there are always minor aesthetic problems that you’ll face as a headshot photographer. Fortunately, in every case, post-processing can come to the rescue. It’ll make you feel better about your photos, and it’ll make your subjects feel better about themselves. Although most of my corporate headshot clients know that post-production doesn’t mean they’ll end up as Heidi Klum, they do appreciate just a smidge of help once the photos are loaded up.

Corporate touch-ups are about making the subject look as fresh as can be. However, a post-processing workflow doesn’t need to take hours. I like to keep my post-processing efficient, effective, and easy – so I can get the photos off my computer and onto my clients’ desks as quickly as possible. Below, I explain how I edit my corporate headshots in Lightroom, using the streamlined workflow I’ve developed over the years. Specifically, I explain how you can take an unprocessed photo like this:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

And, with a bit of editing, get a result like this:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

(Note: While I certainly recommend Lightroom for your own post-processing needs, you can easily recreate my headshot editing workflow in Photoshop, Capture One, ON1 Photo RAW, and more.)

The Lightroom workflow I use for corporate headshots

The workflow I’m about to show you will suit a variety of corporate clients. But I’m going to use a single example photo from a professional photoshoot I did a few years back; that way, you can see my approach in action.

Let’s start with the shot straight out of camera:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom
This is an image I captured for a corporate client. The lighting is nice (the woman’s face is softly lit from the right, but with plenty of detail on the left), the composition is strong (minus the reflector on the left-hand side!), and the exposure is reasonably solid. However, there are some small tweaks I can make in Lightroom that’ll make a major difference, as you’ll soon see!

This particular company wanted to feature their employees in their native work environment, so the office became the background, which eliminated the need to bring a backdrop. I lit the subject with window light, an octabox, and a reflector, and I shot the image with a 50mm lens.

(Normally, I’d grab my 85mm for corporate work, but we were out of town and didn’t have our full complement of gear with us. The 50mm did the job just fine, however!)

Step 1: Make basic exposure, white balance, and compositional adjustments

As soon as I pull up an image in Lightroom, I start by considering some simple adjustments:

Cropping, lens corrections, exposure, and white balance.

Not all of these adjustments are needed in every case, but it’s always worth thinking about each one before moving on. Here, I need to crop the reflector out of the frame, as it’s intruding on the left-hand side. If you look carefully at the vertical lines on the right-hand side, you’ll notice some barrel distortion caused by my lens (the wall is curving slightly inward). Fortunately, this is easy to fix by checking the Enable Profile Corrections box in Lightroom’s Lens Corrections panel.

I’m happy with the white balance in this image, but I do want to boost the exposure – the unedited file is a little dark – while also dropping the Highlights slider to prevent the brightest parts of the image from getting out of hand.

After making those adjustments, here’s how the headshot looks:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

Hopefully, you’ll agree with me that it’s much improved. Those minor tweaks refined the composition while making the scene feel tonally balanced. However, there’s still more work to be done:

Step 2: Make local adjustments

Local adjustments are targeted to a specific part of the image, and while you can spend hours carefully retouching your subjects’ features, the changes I make are subtle.

In truth, the best way to get some of these effects is to have the client get a great night’s rest and stay hydrated, but as I said at the beginning of this article, that’s mostly out of your control. And again, these adjustments aren’t meant to turn anyone into an airbrushed masterpiece; they’re designed to give your corporate clients a small boost.

Before we dive in, let’s review some local adjustment keyword shortcuts to help you speed things up:

Adjustment Brush keyboard shortcuts

  • Press H to hide or show the pin you’re using. This is helpful when the pin is in the way and you want it to disappear.
  • Press O to hide or show a mask overlay of the Brush’s effect; you can also check the Show Selected Mask Overlay option in the Masking panel. This is helpful so you can see exactly what areas you’re affecting. (Repeatedly tapping Shift+O will run through the overlay colors: white, black, red, and green).
  • Press Ctrl+Z (Windows) or Cmd+Z (Mac OS) to undo your most recent adjustment.
  • Hold Alt to turn the Brush into an Eraser. This will help you clean up any minor mistakes you make while adding adjustments.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are the local adjustments I make to my corporate headshots (and in this order, too):

1. Soften Skin

This helps clear up pores and deals with any blemishes. These are the settings I add to my Adjustment Brush in Lightroom:

  • Clarity: -50
  • Sharpness: -10
  • Contrast: +5
  • Highlights: +15 (to counteract the loss of highlights that comes from decreasing the Clarity slider)

I brush over the subject’s entire face with the exception of the eyes, eyebrows, and lips. Since I like to use a green mask overlay, when I’m finished, my subject’s face is fully Hulkified:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

As mentioned in the previous section, you can change the color of the mask overlay by tapping Shift+O. These days, red is the default, but I use green as it’s nice and easy to see.

If you make a mistake while softening the skin and go over any of the areas you don’t want to target, just use the Alt key to turn the Brush into an eraser, then paint the mask away.

2. Diminish lines

I use this edit to soften any shadows created by wrinkles and smile lines, Here are the settings I apply with my Brush:

  • Contrast: -30
  • Shadows: +15
  • Clarity: -50
  • Sharpness: -10

Note that I keep the Brush small and soft as I paint across any lines on the person’s face:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

Let’s look at the before and after of what we have so far (focusing on the local adjustments):

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

You’ll see that the skin is more even throughout, and the deep shadows of the lines are reduced and softened (but not removed completely). Remember, the goal is to freshen, not to make the subject look like a plastic doll.

Next up, let’s get those eyes popping a little more. This is easy to overdo, so be judicious.

3. Brighten the eyes

Slight adjustments to your subject’s eyes will make them look more lifelike and animated. I like to start by brightening up the entire eye with these Brush settings:

  • Exposure: +0.2
  • Contrast: +10
  • Clarity: +10

As you can see, I’ve applied the mask to both eyes, taking care to cover the whites, the irises, and the pupils:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

4. Enhance the iris

Once I’ve brightened up the eyes more generally, I like to focus on just the colorful part of the eye: the iris. I’ll generally add a bit of positive exposure and a touch of saturation, as well as a few other minor adjustments to help the irises stand out:

  • Exposure: +0.40
  • Contrast: +20
  • Highlights: +35
  • Clarity: +5
  • Saturation: +20
How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

Let’s check back in with another before-and-after comparison:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

It’s subtle, but there’s just enough pop around the eyes without it being overdone.

5. Whiten the teeth

It’s time to make your subject’s dentist proud! This is another adjustment you’ll need to be careful not to overdo, and the specifics will depend on your subject’s teeth, but here’s what generally works for me:

  • Temp: -25 (adding blue gets rid of any yellow in the teeth!)
  • Exposure: +0.25
  • Saturation: -20

I carefully paint over the enamel while avoiding the lips and gums:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

6. Define the hair and eyelashes

Now for the final touch, where I give a bit of definition to the hair and eyelashes. Here are the settings I like to apply:

  • Contrast: +10
  • Highlights: +20
  • Shadows: -10
  • Clarity: +30
  • Saturation: +10
  • Sharpness: +30

I’ll paint over my subject’s hair and eyelashes, and I’m careful not to accidentally enhance their skin – though I don’t worry too much about brushing every single bit of hair:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

Wrapping up

That’s pretty much all I do to enhance my corporate headshots! Let’s take a final look at the before-and-after images after I’ve made my local adjustments:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

And here’s the photo that was delivered to the client:

How to edit corporate headshots in Lightroom

All of these changes are delicate. When done right, they’re almost imperceptible.

Remember: Retouching your corporate headshots doesn’t need to be an hours-long endeavor. Your clients don’t need to be on the cover of Vogue – they need a no-fuss photo that’s LinkedIn-ready and that shows them at their best.

With the small edits I shared above, you can ensure that your headshot clients are satisfied by your work, and keep your portfolio looking polished!

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Tim Sullivan
Tim Sullivan

spends most of his summers in the Pacific Northwest. He shoots with his wife, Laura Huysman, and their company Lightworks360 Photography. Together, they shutterbug around the globe and run retreats for creatives in the most beautiful places they find. Keep up with their travels at lightworks360.com, on Instagram, or on Facebook.

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