A simple rule when enhancing skin: Don’t make it look fake.

Too often photographers don’t know when to stop when enhancing skin. They take the edit a little to far and it’s obvious the skin was touched up. The best option, but most expensive, is to hire a make up artist when shooting. It’s their job to make sure the skin tone is even and blemishes are removed. This will save you time in post production. But what if you can’t afford a make up artist or one isn’t available for you? Lightroom is the next best option. Using Lightroom’s powerful spot removal tool and adjustment brushes, we are able to edit our images at lightning speed. So if it’s fast and easy to make these edits, why use a make up artist at all? It’s simple, getting in right in camera is always the best choice. Not to mention it’s very tedious to edit 50 plus images from a shoot. This article will take you through 3 simple steps to Perfect Skin inside Lightroom. It’s a companion article to Enhancing the Eyes with Lightroom.

3 Step Process

There are several different ways to enhance skin. For quick edits that produce great results, start with removing blemishes with the spot removal tool. Once the blemishes are removed, continue with Lightroom’s adjustment brushes followed by adjusting the Noise Reduction. The overall process should take less than a few minutes, with practice. This style of skin enhancement is ideal for quick, mass edits such as Senior Portraits and Weddings. For high end, magazine quality edits, Photoshop is still the preferred tool.

Step 1: Spot Removal Tool

Start by zooming in on the image to a 1:1 view. Select the Spot Removal Tool from the tools panel or use the keyboard shortcut (Q). Select Heal as the brush type and adjust the brush size to match the blemish. Set feather to zero and opacity to 100. For simple blemishes, a single click will do. For a longer blemish, click-and-drag to paint over the area. Lightroom will match the area. If the area Lightroom tried to match isn’t perfect, click on the spot and move it to an area that looks better. Once you move to a new blemish, Lightroom places a pin on the area you fixed. You can always go back and readjust an area.



Step 2 : Adjustment Brushes

Start by zooming in on the image to a 1:1 view. Select the adjustment brush from the tools panel or use the keyboard shortcut (K). We want to smooth the skin without making it look plastic or fake. Set Clarity to -45, Sharpness to +43 and Noise to +40. Under the Brush section, adjust the brush size to a size you feel comfortable painting with. Feather, Flow and Density should remain at 100. Place a check mark next to Auto Mask. This will help you apply the effect only on the skin. Start applying the effect to the skin. Stay away from the eyes, eyebrows, lips and nostrils. Pressing keyboard shortcut O will show a red mask on the area you are painting. This will help you see where the effect is being applied. Pressing the Alt Key [PC] or Option Key [Mac] will turn the brush to an eraser tool. This will allow you to paint out the effect. If Auto Mask isn’t helping, you can turn this feature off by unchecking the box. Experiment and using a Wacom tablet will make you proficient.

Step 3 : Noise Reduction

Lightroom 5 has superior noise reduction. Normally you use this feature on high ISO image. Applying a low setting on portraits help smooth the skin and, as an added bonus, the whites of the eyes. Set Luminance to 31, Detail to 50, Contrast to 0. The default Color 25, Detail 50 and Smoothness 50 are good settings. View the image at 2:1 to see the subtle change. These setting can always be changed to match the image.

Added Bonus

Once the image is looking the way you want, try a few different variations. It’s best to apply the changes to a virtual copy of the image. To create a virtual copy, right mouse click on the image and select Create Virtual Copy. To get your creative juices flowing, I created a special preset. If you need help with installing presets, view this short video or read the steps here.

FREE Preset: Soft Beach Light


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Join the conversation! 16 Comments

  1. That is amazing thank you! I agree a lot of people go way over board with photoshop but this is perfect it’s not to fake but it’s still touching the skin up enough for it to look amazing :)

  2. Thank you for such a detailed and easy to follow tutorial. Please keep them coming.

  3. Bob…(and anyone that would like it)

    Here is a link to the skin preset: http://bit.ly/Vanelli-skin

    If you need help installing the preset, follow this tutorial: http://bit.ly/InstallLRPreset

    send samples when you’re done

  4. […] 3 Tips for Perfect Skin inside Lightroom | Photofocus http://photofocus.com/3 Tips for Perfect Skin inside Lightroom. A simple rule when enhancing skin: Don't make it look fake. Too often photographers don't know when to stop when enhancing skin. They take the edit a little to far and it's obvious the … […]

  5. Thanks for the tutorial.
    Is it possible the idea mentioned in step 3 (‘Noise Reduction’) are very dependent on camera-type, ISO of the photo, and most of all sensor-size? Or perhaps they are more obvious in JPG’s? The settings you mentioned are completely invisible (zoomed in at 100%) and also higher settings do virtually nothing. Just for reference sake, I use a D4 and D800 and photograph in RAW.

  6. For blemishes the LR retouch tool is OK, but trying to fix hotspots is nearly impossible.I wish the tool worked with more finesse like in PS.


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About Vanelli

After a successful career as a three time Triple Crown Karate champion, Robert Vanelli turned his attention to teaching. As an educator for over 30 years, Vanelli has created several photography and digital workflow program including a special program, Click for Kids. Borrowing concepts from the martial arts, Vanelli instilled values such as integrity, and goal setting using photography as a vehicle to motivate children. As the lead photographer for Exposure Photographic Art Studio, Vanelli has had the opportunity of capturing images of special VIP’s, including the President of the United States, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former president of Toyota, Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, CEO’s of companies such as Yahoo,the Oakland A’s and several martial arts legends.


Adobe, Portrait, Software, Technique & Tutorials


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