Want to bring out the most of your action shots? Here are five tips to edit badass sports portraits to realize with any software.

Starting point

To help you visualize the five steps taken to edit sports portraits, we’ll go through the complete workflow of a single image. It can easily be reproduced with the universal tools of your favorite editing software. I like to use a combination of Photoshop and Luminar 4 because that’s what I’ve been used to work with for years. Below is the original RAW file.

RAW Badass Action Portrait
The original RAW file. Great expression, great movement but underexposed and kind of boring. I definitely need to make it stand out a lot more.

Tip 1: Crop

Don’t be afraid to crop. By getting rid of unneeded/unwanted information in your photo, you pull the viewer’s eye more toward the action. I always crop my images. Sometimes just a little … and sometimes I get rid of almost half of the frame!

Crop Badass Sports Portrait
I chose to place the right rule of third line on the athlete’s eye

Tip 2: Exposure and increased contrast

This sports portrait desperately needs more contrast. One of my favorite tips is to increase Whites instead of Exposure. It’s going to naturally bring out the contrast. I either play with the White slider or with a curve. In this case, all I did was to increase both Exposure and Whites.

Tip 3: Adjust colors

For badass sports portraits, I like my photos to be a little desaturated. I either decrease the Vibrance slider to affect the overall image or play with the HSL tool (hues/saturation/luminance) if I want a more specific look. Sometimes, a black and white edit can suit very well a scene and bring more impact. In this case, I’ve simply applied the B&W conversion tool.

I strongly suggest reviewing Contrast once your black and white conversion has been applied in order to bring out the best of your photo. If you’re interested in black and white, here’s a guide to help you simply create powerful black and white images.

Tip 4: Add structure and details

Since I had an ISO 1600 image and already recovered my exposure for almost a stop, noise could show up if too many details are being added. In order to minimize this undesirable noise, I’ve created a mask on which I’ve painted my structure and details layers. This is a totally optional step. If I was outdoors and had a very low ISO, I’d bring them out in the whole scene.

Tip 5: Enhance the athlete’s face features

Even though I create sports photographs, all I am doing really is action portraiture. The main subject of my pictures is people. Enhancing the athlete’s faces features is perhaps one of the most important steps of all.

It doesn’t matter how great you stylize your images if your subject is lost in the background or looks bad! I like to recover a little more exposure if needed, enhance eyes, eyebrows and whiten teeth.

Here’s our badass sports portrait’s final look with all five steps completed:

Wrapping it up

Let’s finish with one last comparison to underline an important fact. You might think that there wasn’t much difference between Tip 4 and Tip 5 before/after sliders. Just for fun, let’s look at the image when we skip from Tip 3 to Tip 5.

These small two steps added makes the difference between a good image and a better one. As they say, the devil is in small details!

I hope these tips will help you edit YOUR badass sports portraits. If — just like me — you edit underexposed photos from time to time, here are more tips to recover tough exposures right here!

Don’t have Luminar 4 yet? Click here to get our bundle of free Looks, skies and online training — and save 42% off the retail price!