Friday, December 19

CoffeeShop Lightroom Portrait Tutorial: Clean Edit and Split Toning!

Today I am really excited to post a new Lightroom portrait tutorial where I walk you through a clean edit and split toning.  If you love editing and don't have Lightroom you should check out this program.  Lightroom allows you to do nondestructive editing on your images and it is so fast and easy to use once you learn some basic techniques.  If you have limited funds I would suggest purchasing Photoshop Elements and Lightroom.  You would be completely set!

If you are completely new to Lightroom you might want to read The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book or The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book to get the basics (and a huge overload of info that might make your head explode!).  Pretty Presets also has tutorials (and gorgeous presets) on her site.  Or you can just follow my tutorial below.  :-)

This tutorial is for beginners to advanced users of Lightroom.

CoffeeShop Lightroom Portrait Clean Edit and Color Toning Tutorial:

Sometimes you might have a beautiful image that has lighting issues and needs a basic clean edit.  I found this really nice image of a lovely young woman on Pixabay and I want to brighten it up and add some color.

1.  Basic Clean Edit:  In the Lightroom Develop Mode you should start on the top right of the editing pane and work  your way down.  On this edit I started on the "Basic" pane, under the histogram.

Remove Color Cast:  You can use the eyedropper tool and click on a neutral gray area to remove color casts, but that does not always work so you will have to manually adjust the Temp.  On this image I warmed her up a bit by adding some yellow (Temp, +3) and then removed some green tint (Tint, +15).  You will have to play with both of these settings on your own images.

Honestly, I was not too concerned about the color cast as I am going to be adding some "artistic" color tones to the final edit.  But it is still nice to make sure you are starting with an image properly white-balanced.

Adjust Exposure:  This image was too dark so I raised the Exposure setting to 1.20.  As you can see her skin looks pretty nice but her dress is completely blown out.  I will fix that in the next step.

You can also play around with the Contrast setting if needed.

Rescue the Whites:  Next you will want to adjust the Highlights and Shadows.  In this case I dialed down the Highlights to bring back the shadow detail in her dress and dialed up the Shadows a tad bit to darken the background.

I dialed down the White setting (to -78) to completely recover her dress and then added some Black to add a bit more contrast to the background.

Add Color:  I then dialed up the Vibrance to +20 to add a pop of color.  Vibrance doesn't affect the skin as much as Saturation so I usually prefer to use that setting on portraits.

After adjusting the exposure I noticed the image had a lot of noise.  Luckily Lightroom has a wonderful Noise Reduction feature.

Noise Reduction:  The beauty of Noise Reduction in portraits is that you can use it to soften skin.  The settings are below the "Detail" pane and are very easy to use.

I usually start with the Color setting and move it up until I don't see any weird noisy color, especially on the skin.  In this case I left the Color Detail at 50.  Then I moved the Luminance up to remove the noise and dialed up the Detail so that her eyes, hair, lips, etc. where not affected by the noise removal.    Finally, I added a bit of  Contrast.  Now her skin looks beautiful but there is not real loss of details.

These settings have to be adjusted for your own images, this is just an example of what I used on this very noisy image.

2.  Matte Effect:  I wanted to add a subtle "matte effect" so I opened the "Tone Curve" setting and made the adjustments you see in the screenshot above (if you don't see that same curve please read the note below).  I pulled out the lower left setting to add some matte contrast, moved up the center of the curve a bit to brighten up the midtones, and then moved the upper right down a bit to remove some lightness from the highlights.

NOTE:  If you don't see that Tone Curve on your program and see this one instead, just click on the little curve circled in red on this screenshot to change it.

2.  Split Toning:  I wanted to add some artistic color to this image, so I decided to use the "Split Toning" setting.  This is a really fun adjustment as you can add different colors to both the highlights and shadows of your image.

I wanted to add some almost yellow-ivory to her skin (highlights) so I set the Highlights Hue to 50, Saturation to 13.  I wanted to add a bluish tint to the shadows in the background, so I set the Shadow setting to a purplish (Hue 244, Saturation 37).  I adjusted the Balance to +20 for this edit so that the highlights were affected more than the shadows.

These settings are only an example.  It is so fun to play around with the Split Toning settings to see how it affects your image.  I went pretty subtle with this edit, but if you are split toning a landscape or still life you can really go color crazy!

4. Gradient Filter Finale:  Gradient Filters are a wonderful way to add a custom gradient to finish up your edit.  I wanted to brighten/soften up the model a bit more and have some "light" coming from the top of the image, so I clicked on the Gradient Filter (M) located just under the histogram on top (circled in red on my screenshot above) and set the Exposure to 0.2, Highlights to -14, Clarity to -10 (to soften), and the color to ivory.  Then I dragged the gradient from the top until the middle little dark circle was at the bottom of my image.  Then I clicked "Close".

Gradient Filters are really adjustable so you can add the gradient and then play around with the settings live to see what looks best before you close it off.  You can also reopen it later and tweak it.  :-)

This is an optional step, but gradient filters are amazing ways to soften skin and add directional light and contrast.

Here is my before and after.  I am really happy with the colors and contrast in this edit.  I hope this tutorial makes you feel more confident about editing in Lightroom so that you can completely customize this tutorial for your own images.

I love presets (I use Pretty Presets and my own), but there are times you just want to do a custom edit on a special image.  I hope this tutorial gives you confidence to go preset-free sometimes!!!

Do you want to download my favorite CoffeeShop PSE/Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets or Design Elements in one convenient zipped file AND help support this blog? Just click here for my action pack or here for a download of some of my most popular design elements, storyboards, and textures. 

For complete info on installing all of my actions, click here.


  1. Thank you for this brilliant tutorial! I've been playing around in Lightroom for months, getting more and more confused by all the editing panels, but following your tutorial has really helped me to figure it all out.


  2. Great tutorial. You really made the picture fabulous!

  3. You always teach me something new! Thanks so much!


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