The key to a great portrait session rests on the proof that the subject sees after it’s over. The way the proofs from the portrait session look will directly affect the way the person sitting for the photos feels about them and often, about themselves.
In the days of portraiture on film, soft focus filters and over-lens vignettes assured the results would be dreamy and striking. Today those effects are created after the session is over in post-production. This can be time-consuming when working on a large number of poses. It doesn’t have to be …
Begin each portrait session with the right exposure and color
Two areas that take up a lot of post-production time are fine-tuning exposure and correcting color. Both of these fixes can be solved during the portrait session itself so they take up almost no time at the computer. The two tools I use for this are am incident light meter and ColorChecker chart.
I use the incident meter to read the light falling on the subject so there is no issue with its tonality — light or dark, the subject’s true tone shines through.
The ColorChecker helps me refine the exposure, set the white point and neutralize any color casts.
The initial exposure is set with an incident light meter like the Illuminati IM-150 that connects to my iPhone and Apple Watch. It also works with Android. This is the setting that goes on the camera.
Tweaking the portrait session’s exposure and color in post
Next, I make sure to take a photo of the ColorChecker Passport Photo 2. I do my best to shoot it immediately after I read the light so I’ll be sure to have it. After the camera work is finished I go to the computer for neutralizing the color balance and refining the portrait session’s exposure.
Setting the color
In Lightroom Classic, I select all of the photos in the same light by clicking the first one in the grid view then shift-clicking on the last one.
Then I move into the Develop module. I click Sync at the bottom of the right sidebar so it reads Auto Sync. Now, I correct the color by using Lightroom’s White Balance tool. I hover it over the fourth patch down from the white one then click. That’s all there is to color correction.
Refining the exposure of the portrait session
I check the numbers under the histogram at the top of the Develop module’s left sidebar. I want the numbers under the histogram to read between 95.1 and 96.0. If they are under or over, move the Exposure slider to get into that range. Ideally, it wants to be in a range between -.50 and + .50.
Next, I hold down the Option (Alt on Windows) and move the Whites slider to the right until the white patch is visible.
The final step to slowly move the Whites slider to the right until the white patch disappears. This sets the brightest point in the photo so there will always be detail in the highlights.
Making batch enhancements to the portrait session
With this work complete in all of about a minute, the last step is to get the proofs looking great. For this, I use Luminar 4.
In Lightroom Classic, with all of the photos selected, right-click one of them and choose Edit in > Luminar 4. The plug-in goes to work making a copy of each image according to the settings you choose. Once these have been generated, the Luminar 4 window opens with the selected photo previewed.
AI Portrait enhancements
Since I’ve already made the color and exposure adjustments, it’s on to the portrait enhancements. First, I use the AI Skin Enhancer with the blemish remover. Then I add just a bit of eye whitening in the AI Portrait Enhancer.
Remember — the eye whites are light gray, not white. Eye enhancements brighten the irises and darken the pupils. If the subject has dark circles under the eyes, the Dark Circles Removal slider is wonderful.
Face slimming, eyebrows & lips
I’m very careful of the Slim Face 2.0 slider. A little push goes a long way. The same goes for the Improve Eyebrows. This tool is great for light completed subjects with blond eyebrows.
I adjust the lips to saturate their color, add some redness and, maybe, darken them slightly. Last, I apply a tiny bit of Teeth Whitening. Keep in mind that Ultra Brite teeth are only for that company’s advertising. Nobody sports glow-in-the-dark pearly whites. Period.
Adding some glow to the portrait session proofs
With the portrait enhancements complete in all of about a minute, I click on the Creative icon and head right to Glow. Here is my digital soft focus (but-not-really-soft) filter. It adds a beautiful dew-like glow to the skin when added in very small amounts.
Once this finishing touch is added, I click the Apply button for each image in the batch, and Luminar goes to work using its artificial intelligence to match my choices to the subject’s changing poses and head positions. This is truly amazing.
If there are a lot of images, I export the photos from Lightroom Classic to a folder then import it into Luminar 4 and use the batch processing option to avoid having to click apply for each proof.
Portrait session batch processing & the AI difference
Luminar 4 makes all the difference in the ability to deliver a professionally retouched proof in minutes. This software is something that I use for my clients to make them feel great about their proofs and delighted when they see the final, finished photograph that I spend a lot of time making certain it is perfect.