Five Reasons For Retouching Portraits in Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
Five Reasons For Retouching Portraits in Lightroom Classic

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Some photographers use Photoshop for retouching portraits, especially if they like the heavily retouched look common in advertising and movie posters. Some use plugins. But what you might not know is that Lightroom Classic is also an excellent application for retouching portraits. And that was before the addition of the new masking tools, which make retouching portraits easier than ever.

Now I’m going to make a bold claim – for all but the most demanding portrait photographers, Lightroom Classic is the only application you’ll ever need for portrait retouching. Let’s look at some of the reasons why.

1. Retouching portraits in Lightroom Classic helps you create a natural look

The biggest problem with using Photoshop or plugins to retouch portraits is that it’s easy to go too far and overdo the effect. Photoshop in particular makes it easy to cross the line from photography to illustration. It’s easy to make the model’s eyes larger, her waist narrower, to remove all skin texture or change the shape of the model’s face.

Humans are good at remembering and recognizing people’s faces. Because of this, when we see an over-retouched portrait we automatically know that there’s something wrong with it.

The advantage of using Lightroom Classic for portrait retouching is that you there are no tools for warping, liquifying or otherwise changing the fundamental proportions of a portrait. There is no temptation to distort a model’s face or make her thinner.

In other words, Lightroom Classic helps you keep it real and create authentic portraits that capture character as well as likeness.

An interesting thing happens when you don’t use Photoshop to slim somebody’s face or body, or to compensate for poor lighting. You have to learn how to light and pose your model properly. These are skills that portrait (and wedding photographers) have had to learn for decades. They’re in danger of being lost to photographers who are over-reliant on Photoshop. In this way using Lightroom Classic encourages you to be a better at all aspects of portrait photography.

Retouching portraits in Lightroom Classic

2. Lightroom Classic helps you create authentic portraits with presets

If authenticity and character are an important part of your portraits then Lightroom Classic is a great tool for developing your portraits. One of the reasons often given for the increase in popularity of film photography is that it’s somehow more organic or authentic than digital.

Another is that it’s better at rendering skin tones and other highlights than digital.

These are interesting ideas, and they do have some validity, but it’s important to note that there are many portraits made using digital cameras that have the same characteristics. Good skin tones and highlights are as much about exposure, lighting and the sliders you adjust in Lightroom Classic as they are about the medium (in this sense, film is one medium for photography, and digital is another).

Lightroom Classic has a powerful tool for creating authentic portraits with interesting color and tonal treatments. You know this tool as Develop Presets. There are several advantages of using Develop Presets to help you develop portraits.

  • Develop Presets help you apply a consistent developing style or color treatment. Once you have created a certain look in Lightroom Classic, you can save it as a preset and apply it to other portraits taken in similar lighting conditions. In this sense, the preset contributes to your style.
  • Using Develop Presets created by other photographers helps you explore all of Lightroom Classic’s tools for altering tonal and color values. If you are new to Lightroom it might seem to lack the imaginative options that presets in other applications, or even Instagram filters, give you. Nothing could be further from the truth, once you understand how to use its tools.
  • Develop Presets help you develop portraits in bulk. When you do a portrait shoot it is likely that you have anywhere between ten and fifty portraits, maybe even more, that are worth developing in Lightroom Classic. The final figure depends on the exact nature of your portrait shoot, but it’s helpful if you can apply the same settings to all of your portraits to start the developing process. Then you can look at each portrait individually for retouching and tweaking. Develop Presets help you do this. The end result is that they save you a lot of time and effort.
Retouching portraits in Lightroom Classic

3. Lightroom Classic helps you create powerful black and white portraits

If you like the idea of creating powerful, authentic portraits that capture the model’s character then you are probably drawn to the most authentic medium of all – black and white. The potential of Lightroom Classic when it comes to black and white cannot be understated. You have so much control over tonal values and contrast that it makes using black and white film obsolete. You also have lots of ways you can improve your portraits by making local adjustments. If black and white portraiture is your thing, then digital is where it’s at, and Lightroom Classic is one of the best tools for helping you realize your vision.

Retouching portraits in Lightroom Classic

4. You can retouch skin quickly and easily in Lightroom Classic

If you have been tempted by adverts for portrait plugins you know their main selling point is that you can use them to make anyone’s skin look beautiful. The downside is that these plugins do this by removing skin texture. The result is that your portraits look over-processed, as devoid of character and interest as a store-front dummy.

Lightroom Classic solves this problem by providing you with the perfect tools for retouching portraits while keeping skin texture and helping you create the natural look. You can use the Healing tool to remove blemishes, and the Brush with the Soften Skin or Soften Skin (Lite) presets to smooth skin without losing skin texture. The Brush is versatile because you can adjust the strength of the effect just like you can change the opacity of a layer in Photoshop. The Healing tool and Brush let you retouch nearly any portrait.

Retouching portraits in Lightroom Classic

5. Lightroom Classic’s masking tools make portrait retouching easier than ever

The masking tools added by Adobe over the last few years make Lightroom Classic a more powerful retouching tool than ever. For example, you can use Select Subject and Select Background to make separate adjustments to the model and background. This gives you much more control than the Brush ever did, and is faster and more accurate.

Retouching portraits in Lightroom Classic

You can also use the Select People masking tool to create masks that cover part of the model’s body, like hair, eyes or lips. This is another tool that’s faster and more accurate than the brush.

Retouching portraits in Lightroom Classic

Next steps

Convinced? I retouched and developed all of the portraits in this article in Lightroom Classic.

If you haven’t considered using Lightroom for developing portraits the next step is to start exploring its portrait retouching tools. Lightroom is an excellent application for creating natural, authentic portraits. That should be good enough reason for most portrait photographers to use it.

Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module

You can learn more about masking, retouching portraits and all aspects of developing photos in Lightroom Classic with my ebook Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module

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