Lightroom post production tips

I’ve been working on my post production workflow for portraits in Lightroom, and have some tips to share about how I’m working on my portraits at the moment.

All my work gets imported to Lightroom as much for management of the image collection as anything else. Now looking back it seems that for a good number of years I simply dabbled in Lightroom, crop here, gradient filter there and so on. I’m now mostly working in Lightroom and if I can avoid the step to Photoshop. For some images though, I will process the RAW file in DPP to extract the best from the file, and drop the DPP generated 16-bit TIFF back in to Lightroom.

Lightroom editing work flow

Starting with this recent shot of Abby, I did my usual clean up of the image, and applied a light skin tone smoothing with the adjustment brush. Not much else needed doing apart from a white balance adjustment as I’d shot with 1/4 CTO gels on the pair of Speedlite 600EX-RT flashes that were in the Lastolite Ezybox II Medium. I opted to change the crop to a 4:5 ratio taking some of the right side of the frame away.

Abby - step 1 in Lightroom

I liked the image and the narrow depth of field worked spot on. Her eye closest to the camera is really sharp, but the far one is less so. My good old ‘vintage’ EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens doing it’s thing at f/2.5 on the EOS 5D Mark III.

1. Lightroom – tone curve

Lightroom - low contrast tone curve

I ‘currently’ like images with more open blacks and shadows. For this I use the tone curve, lock the centre of the curve and lift up the shadow end. However I do this in the individual R G B channels, pulling the blue channel up even more than the red and green. I liked the look enough that I made this a preset that I can apply with one click. However since I know how I created the look, it’s easy for me to go and adjust the look if needed.

Here’s my three R G B curves. If you want the numbers then I pull the red up to 13.5%, the green to 15% and the blue to 24%.


I also have a lighter version as a preset, where I do the same in the individual colour channels but then move the combined RGB curve to make it steeper and push the highlights.

2. Lightroom – split toning

Lightroom - split toning

There’s a lot of possibilities to exploit within the split toning tool palette, here ‘I’ve gone for a warmer highlights and cooler shadows look. I have yet to find a single combination that works for a number of different images so I don’t make a preset but move the soldiers myself for each look. Since this shot in the post is one of a series with similar tones / exposure and colours I can always copy the result from one image to another.

lightroom split toneHere’s my split toning settings for this image. I’d say this is the a part you can spend hours on. A good start is to have the highlights and shadows toned with colours from the opposite sides of the colour wheel.

3. Making it monochrome

Lightroom monochrom

Some photos work well in mono, some not so well. I do find that if I’m expecting to end up with a mono I shoot better with the camera set to monochrome picture style. In RAW you see a mono picture on the camera LCD and can see if the colours work as you like. For Lightroom if you hit the black and white button it’s a starting point. Get yourself down the to the B/W sliders. Once there the target adjustment tool is my go to helper. Click it then put it where you want to change the mono, drag up or down to lighten of darken.

lightroom black and whiteAgain it’s largely choice and image dependent, but here’s what I ended up with on top of the above stages that this photo went through. If I took the split toning and tone curve adjustments away then the result is markedly different.

Lightroom presets

If you are so inclined, then make your presets from these. In all reality the only preset i’d make is the tone curve one. The others are too image specific to be consistently usable. I like to keep the presets to a minimum so that I know what they do and can work faster than simply click down a great long list.



Which picture do you prefer?

Lightroom post production tips

Let me know in the comments below?

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I posted my choice in a much larger size on my 500px portfolio