A week ago I asked the Hacking Photography Facebook Forum Group what kind of blog post they would like to see and you answered!  Lightroom training, and how to edit portraits were the top two, so I thought I’d create a post on editing portraits in Lightroom.

In the video below I show you how to quickly edit portraits in Lightroom and what to keep an eye out for when starting the edit.


Creating a game plan when starting the edit

Have you ever opened up a portrait in Lightroom and wondered – “What now?”

When I first start editing an image in Lightroom I take a second to create a game plan.  Here is what I look for every time:


1. Composition:

Did I get it right in camera?  Does it need a slight adjustment?  Now is a good time to make sure you like how the photo sits in the frame.

If you don’t like it, use the crop tool to switch it up a bit to your liking.


2. Check the highlights:

How do they look?  Are they blown out/overexposed?  An easy way to tell is to take a quick look at your histogram.

Overblown highlights histogram

If your histogram in the Develop module in Lightroom is smashing up against the right wall, your highlights are going to be overblown.  Consider dropping the exposure or dropping the highlights slider.


3. Check the shadows:

If you underexposed the image, or if the image has a lot of contrast it could mean you have lost detail in the shadows.  If the histogram pushes to the far left, you probably need to bring up the shadows.

underexposed histogram


4. Look for vignetting

If you like shooting at big apertures, chances are you could have some vignetting (dark corners) in your image.  Sometimes this can work well to frame the shot, sometimes it is distracting.

If you want to correct the vignetting, you can either do it manually like I did in the video with the graduated filter tool, or you can use the vignetting tools in Lightroom.

If you haven’t cropped the photo, you can use the vignetting tool under the ‘lens corrections’ tab in the develop module under the ‘manual’ selection.

vignetting correction

If you have cropped the photo, you will want to use the vignetting tool under the ‘effects’ tab.  This will apply or remove a vignette after you’ve cropped the image down.

post crop vignetting correction

5. Take a look at the skin

How is the subjects skin?  If there are blemishes, you will want to edit those using the spot removal tool like in the video or an adjustment brush (covered in other videos).


6. Noise

Depending on your cameras sensitivity to ISO and the level of ISO you used, there might be some noise in the image.

The amount of noise used in an image is totally a personal preference, but its something to consider when editing your portraits.

If you want to drop the noise, just head to the ‘detail’ tab, and look for the ‘luminance’ slider under the ‘noise’ header.

Noise Slider

Pull it to the right to smooth out noise, just remember not to go too far or you will loose detail in your photo.


7. Color and hue

What feeling do you want your portrait to convey?  Do you want it to be as true to real life natural colors as possible?

Do you want it to be warm and happy (use warmer color hues)?  Do you want it to be intense, or gloomy (use cooler colors)?  Or do you want to create a vintage vibe (use split toning)?

Split Toning Slider



So here was the image we got straight out of camera vs a quick edit:

before portrait

after portrait

Much better if you ask me!  There are a million ways I could have edited this, but this was a quick illustration on what to look for when editing your portraits in Lightroom.


Click below to download my 12 free Lightroom presets!

If you haven’t already – click the image below to download my 12 free Lightroom presets!

free lightroom presets




  1. Bev April 6, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    Love your tutes. I would’ve cropped out the lights on the left entirely as my eye is drawn straight to them. Cheers

  2. mary ann April 7, 2015 at 1:06 am

    This tutorial was AWSOME! Thanks! I’d love to learn more about Lightroom & everything it can do. Any suggestions for me?

  3. Mo Ashkanani April 7, 2015 at 4:49 am

    I have seen many videos on this subject. Some of the one that I washed some were pay to watch like training on their web site, purchased, books and some free web sites.

    For me your video on 7 Tips for Portrait is the best of the entire one I watched so far. You touched some tips that I never heard of.

    Super-duper excellent job.

    Thank you for publishing this for us. Please keep the god job coming.

    All the best,


  4. Erin April 7, 2015 at 5:01 am

    Thanks Mike,

    really clear instructions for great results. I have never used split tones but I well now for sure!


  5. Erin April 7, 2015 at 5:02 am


  6. Tracy Telfair April 7, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Great tutorial Mike, very easy to follow and informative. Thank you!

  7. arant61@yahoo.gr April 7, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Hi Mike and thanks a lot, i d love to learn thanks again.

  8. Rich April 7, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    Mike, wonderful short, concise and thorough presentation. Outstanding. Please keep them coming. Thanks

  9. Jeff April 7, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    Thanks! Very helpful. I like how you explained what each setting does, versus just telling to use it. Often a lot of videos tell you what to do without explaining what each option does. Looking forward to future posts!

  10. Mike Newton April 7, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    I thought of that after recording the video! hahah, great eye Bev :)

  11. Mike Newton April 7, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Mary,

    I have a lot more videos coming soon! Feel free to subscribe to my Youtube Channel to get updates as soon as they come out. Thanks for the comment!

  12. Mike Newton April 7, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Wow, thank you so much for the kind words Mo! It means a lot. I’m glad you enjoyed the video. I’m going to start putting out a lot more soon!

  13. Mike Newton April 7, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    My pleasure Erin. Split toning can be really fun once you get the hang of finding complimentary colors. It can give photos a really cool vibe.

  14. Mike Newton April 7, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Absolutely Tracy!

  15. Mike Newton April 7, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    I’m glad you enjoyed the video and post!

  16. Mike Newton April 7, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    I appreciate it Rich! I’m going to try and keep them fairly short because my own attention span makes it difficult to follow a 2-30 minute long tutorial :)

  17. Mike Newton April 7, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Jeff. I’ll keep in mind to make sure and show what the tools do when I cover them vs. just telling people how to use it. I learn best that way and assume that others do to. I’ll keep the posts coming!

  18. Sharon April 10, 2015 at 10:33 am

    great video….very well done….clear and concise….I love portrait photography these tips will help take my photos to the next level.
    Thanks…..you keep videoing and sharing & I will keep watching and learning!

  19. Tiffany April 11, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    So glad I found your article! You give me hope in becoming better artist of my craft. I’m fairly new to LR and I’m always looking at my photos trying to figure out what small adjustments I can make just to enhance them overall and still look natural..thanks so much.

  20. Mike Newton April 14, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    I’m happy to help Sharon!

  21. Mike Newton April 14, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Hi Tiffany,

    Thanks for your comment! I really appreciate your feedback. I’ll keep putting out videos if they help!

  22. Robin July 10, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Hi Mike, great video loved the tips. Question for you – What version of lightroom are you using? I have LR 4 and can’t find where to open up the preview panel you’re using in the upper left corner of your screen when deciding which preset to apply. Thanks again and btw I love the preset bundle I bought from you – they really make my images pop!

  23. Mike Newton July 10, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Robin, thanks for your order!

    I’m using LR Creative Cloud, but LR 4 works just the same. You likely have your “presets” window hidden.

    Go to “window” in the menu bar, then ‘panels’ then click ‘presets’.

    Another way to do this is if you see the word ‘Presets” on the left of the screen click the little arrow to the left of the word “presets” and it will open up the preset window.

  24. Gary August 23, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Great video!! I learned some things that I didn’t know existed in Lightroom. They’ll save me a lot of time with editing. You need to do more of these. You touch on things that others don’t even mention.

  25. Mike Newton August 25, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Hi Gary,

    Thank you for the great feedback! I will start doing more of these if you find them so helpful! Thanks for the comment :)

  26. Dave October 13, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Great video, thanks. The one thing I do a little differently is I always begin with perspective correction, followed by the crop. That way I’m not making adjustments on parts of the photo that I’m only going to crop out later.

  27. Mike Newton October 14, 2015 at 6:28 am

    Good point Dave, thanks for sharing!

  28. Leda October 16, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Hi Mike, I love to watch how others edit – one question in the spot removal why do you use clone instead of heal? I often find clone leaves a noticeable circle even if I feather the edges but heal makes a really nice smooth unnoticeable spot. – Leda

  29. Mike Newton October 18, 2015 at 1:09 am

    Hi Leda,

    Good question. In this case the spot removal brush would have worked just fine as well, and is likely a better tool to use than the healing brush in most cases with skin. I used the clone tool because the blemish was pretty small and the opacity was dropped down so it didn’t make an exact copy of the surrounding skin.

  30. Kelly Kopp May 28, 2017 at 2:55 am

    Love this tutorial Mike! One of the best I’ve seen. Very straight forward, and very easy to understand. Kept my attention. Sometimes when I watch someone’s tutorial I get lost trying to figure out a step. Great job!

  31. Mike Newton May 31, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    Thank you Kelly! I try to keep them short and to the point when I can!

  32. Georgia Brooks February 11, 2018 at 10:13 am

    Many many thanks for sharing such a superclass tutorial. No doubt! I am so much impressed by your tutorial. keep posting such kind of information on your page. I will certainly dig it and personally suggest to my friends. I’m sure they’ll be benefited from this website.

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