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How to Make Creative Lightroom Develop Presets for Portraits

It’s natural for portrait photographers to take lots of photos during a shoot. Therefore, it’s also helpful to have a system in Lightroom that allows you to save time processing your portraits. The easiest way to do this is with Develop Presets.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

A Develop Preset is a record of the processing work you have done on a photo in the Develop Module of Lightroom. The idea is to save the settings you used in a preset that you can then easily apply to other photos. The end result is that you save time and finish developing your portraits more quickly.

Let’s take a more detailed look at how it works.

1. Select a portrait to process

First, select a portrait and adjust it in Lightroom. Alternatively, use a portrait you have already developed.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

2. Create a Develop Preset

Make a new Develop Preset by going to the Presets panel (on the left-hand side) in the Develop module and clicking the plus icon on the right (or, go to Develop > New Preset).

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

When you do this, the New Develop Preset window appears. There are three sections you need to pay attention to, see below.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

A. Preset Name and Folder. Give your preset a name and select the folder you want to save it in. The default folder is User Presets but you can pick another or create a new one by going to the New Folder option at the top of the menu. It’s a good idea to create a new folder for your Preset as it helps you keep your Presets panel organized.

B. Auto Settings. Lightroom gives you the option to tick the Auto Tone box. I recommend you leave it unticked. Otherwise your preset may behave unpredictably when you apply it to other portraits.

C. Settings. This is where you tell Lightroom which Develop Module settings you want to include in the Preset.

Some settings may be unique to your photo. For example, you may have used a Graduated or Radial filter to make the background darker. These won’t work when applied to another portrait with a different background, so you should leave those out.

It’s also a good idea not to include Exposure or White Balance settings. These need to be adjusted individually for each portrait. For the same reason, you should leave the Sharpening, Noise Reduction, Lens Corrections and Transform boxes unticked.

You can tick all the other boxes, as shown in the above screenshot.

3. Apply the Develop Preset to other portraits

The next step is to apply the Develop Preset you just made to another portrait. Open the new portrait in the Develop module. Click on the Preset you just created, which you can see in the Presets panel.

In this case, I created a new Develop Preset, especially for this article.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

You can also apply your new Develop Portrait to more than one portrait at a time. This is useful if you have several portraits that you would like to develop in the same style. Here’s an easy way to do it.

1. Go to the Library Module and select the portraits to which you want to apply the preset. It helps if you have already organized your portraits in a Collection.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

2. Go to the Quick Develop panel. You can access all your Develop presets under Saved Preset. Select the preset you just created from the menu. Lightroom will apply it to all of your selected portraits.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

3. Open the portraits one by one in the Develop module and tweak the settings or retouch them if needed.

The creative power of Develop Presets for portraits

Now we’ve explored the mechanics of creating Develop Presets for portraits, let’s look at some of the creative things you can do in the Develop Module. All of these can be included in presets. Eventually, you will build a personal library of your own presets for portraits.

There are four techniques that are useful for portraits.

1. Apply a vignette

There are two ways to apply a vignette in Lightroom.

The first option is to go to the Effects panel and use Post-Crop Vignetting. Move the Amount slider left to apply a vignette. Use the Midpoint slider to change the area covered.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

Here’s a before and after example.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

The only drawback of Post-Crop Vignetting is that the effect is centered. That leads us to the second way of creating a vignette which is using a Radial Filter. The advantage of Radial filters is that you can put them wherever you like.

Here you can see two screenshots of a Radial Filter I applied to a portrait. The first (left) shows the position of the Radial Filter. The second (right) shows the area affected by the Radial Filter in red.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

I moved the Exposure slider left to make the area outside the Radial Filter darker.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

This is the comparison so you can see the difference.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

2. Adjust colors in the HSL / Color / B&W panel

Lightroom also gives you the option of adjusting the saturation and luminance (brightness) of individual colors. You do this in the HSL / Color / B&W panel.

In my portrait, there is some blue paint on the wall behind the model. You can adjust only that color by going to the Saturation tab and moving the Aqua and Blue sliders left.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

These photos show you the effect.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

3. Split Tone

Split toning isn’t just for black and white, it’s very effective for color portraits as well. The effect is similar to color grading used in TV shows and movies.

One option for split toning is to apply blue to the shadows and orange to the highlights. Another is to apply teal to the shadows and yellow to the highlights. Here are some settings you can try.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

Here are the results.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

4. Adjust the Tone Curve

You can use the Tone Curve panel to create a matte look. That is where the blacks are dark gray rather than black as if the photo has been printed on matte paper.

Lift up the left-side of the RGB curve, as shown in the screenshot below. You can also do the same with the blue curve for a similar effect that also adds blue to the shadows.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

These are the results.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

Adjustment Brush presets

You can also create your own Adjustment Brush presets to make retouching portraits easier. A good example is Lightroom’s own Soften Skin preset, which sets Clarity to -100 and Sharpness to +25.

I like to make the model’s eyes more defined by creating an Adjustment Brush and setting Exposure to around +0.30 and Clarity to +70.

Lightroom Develop Presets for portraits

You can make an Adjustment Brush Preset from those settings by going to Save Current Settings as New Preset at the bottom of the Effect menu. Give the preset a name and Lightroom saves it in the Effect menu. You can also use this preset with the Gradient and Radial filters.


Develop Presets are powerful tools that help you leverage Lightroom’s advanced developing options. With the techniques in this article you can use presets to speed up the developing process and apply creative effects to your portraits.

Do you have any questions about using Lightroom Develop Presets? Please let us know in the comments below.

Are you a fan of the natural / vintage look in portraits? Then check out my Vintage Portrait Presets for Lightroom. There are over 30 presets to help you create beautiful portraits in Lightroom.

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Andrew S. Gibson
Andrew S. Gibson

is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He’s an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

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