While I was at the SNAP! Conference, I was thrilled to meet one of my “bloggy BFF’s” in real life. I’ve loved Ann Marie from White House Black Shutters from way back- she has great style, is such a fun looking mom, makes delicious food, and is the sweetest thing ever. While we were there I talked her into letting me take some snaps for her headshots (we were all trying to get some pics in while we could as it was one of the only times we all had showered and put on makeup in months), and as I sent them to her, I realized- I have never really shown how I edit photos here!
I did do a few basic posts, but today I am spilling my formula for great portraits in minutes. You’ll be shocked how quick and easy it is- and if you dont already own a copy of Lightroom, head on over to Amazon and grab one. Its currently running right under $100. (no affiliate link- we poor souls in co can’t be amazon affiliates. But they have the best price and often put it on flash sale, so I’d urge you to watch for it!!).
Photo editing is all based on your own tastes and preferences- so this guide will show you how to do what you like. You might not love my edits, but with this you can find ways to get the ones you love!
While Ann Marie is gorgeous, the photo I took of her wasn’t as bright and sparkly as her personality, so I wanted to give it a little more shine.
Here’s a before and after of one of the pics I snapped of her at SNAP! I shot this as a RAW file because it is SO much more manipulate-able and gets a truer color- but you can still use this method with a JPEG, with a few modifications that I will go over.
The original was cute, but kind of flat. RAW images NEED to be edited because the color does not come out true to life like a JPEG does- so that was one of my top priorities. RAW also almost always needs more contrast to not look so flat.
The following instructional pictures were scaled down a bit to fit in the page- please click them to expand if it is hard to read.
A lot of my work in Lightroom is based on adjustments. I increase or decrease exposure. I change the color hues. I add vignettes, increase sharpening, play with the white balance. Then I re-adjust. You can buy presets to make it look great, but I find its really easy and fun to find your own favorite looks with Lightroom- so this is more a guide of HOW to play around in Lightroom than a recipe for exactly what to do since each photo is different!
Start off by selecting your photo and being sure you are in “Develop” mode.
You’ll note your camera’s aperture, ISO and shutter speed info in the top left corner. This is handy to check out if you LOVE the exposure of the shot and want to recreate it someday- or so you can identify problems. If you had a high aperture and it is dark, you know you didn’t let in enough light and you should up the exposure, etc.
In the top right, you’ll see a graph with a ton of colored lines. This is your histogram– the meter of blacks and whites and where the color concentration in your photo is. Ideally, you want the lines to form peaks towards the middle- meaning a balanced photo with the right amount of blacks and whites.
Often with portraits this won’t be centered because your subject might have dark hair and light skin like Ann Marie, which means it will automatically show a lot of black and whites in the picture- or could be blonde wearing a black shirt, etc. If we were looking at a photo of say a flower, we’d want it more balanced which means the exposure is correct.
When you adjust the exposure and blacks, you will see the graph move according to your changes.
I like to start my editing with white balance (for more about white balance, check this post). I rarely have to adjust the greens/pinks- but I almost ALWAYS adjust the blues and yellows. If you shoot in RAW, there will be a little drop-down with numerous choices to correct your white balance- but you can slide the blue and yellow bar to get your own custom look with either format.
Normally, I slide it a little towards the blue as I take a lot of photos inside and the overhead lights are very yellowing. But for this photo I wanted to give her skin just a hint of a yellow glow, so I very carefully slid it just a few notches (sliding it too yellow will make her eyes and teeth look yellow- I’m not going for jaundice-chic so this is a subtle adjustment).
I then upped the exposure and fill light to make her eyes sparkle, added some recovery and blacks so she wasn’t too washed out and so the colors were rich and beautiful.
This will be the majority of your editing. Everything else we do will add nice touches- but you want to spend the bulk of your time fiddling to find the correct contrast, exposure, fill light, black and white balance to get the most realistic, beautiful shot.
If you scroll down the right side menu bar, you will next come to a bunch of colors. I didn’t change the hues or color saturation on this picture, so I am not showing those for right now- but I will in another post soon. Scroll down past those and you will get to a little detail closeup box and some sharpening meters.
I usually only adjust these a little but in the photo above I slid it almost all the way so you could see what the sharpening does. Since I shot this at a low aperture, the picture is already pretty soft and wont look too jarring when I increase the sharpness. Her eyes are the only part of her face fully in focus, so they do get sharper and more interesting with more sharpening- but I usually avoid too much of this on faces. I slid it back down for the final photo because it made the eyes look a little too harsh.
Sliding the “masking” bar along with the sharpening bars will help smooth it out a touch so it is more realistic looking.
Below the sharpening, you’ll see my best friend and favorite sliders- the noise reduction sliders.
When increasing exposure for dark shots, or dealing with shots where you had to up the ISO, you can get dramatically less noise by just increasing these dials. It won’t take out all noise if you have a really grainy shot, but it will make small grain and noise disappear in just a second!
Next, we get to vignette options. By sliding these right, we get darkening around the edges. The top slider darkens the top and bottom of the photo, the next darkens the sides. Below that is a set of sliders you can use to adjust the vignette after cropping a photo. I tend to avoid those though because they look a bit harsher.
Down below the vignetting, we get to Camera Calibration. If you shoot in raw, you’ll get a big drop-down that allows you to chose different camera formats- even after you’ve taken your photo. This will subtly change your hues. I find that I love “Adobe Standard”, but you might find one that perfectly suits your photo!
note: I have Lightroom 2, so those with fancier versions might have slightly different functions. While I’d love to tell you what they are, I am not upgrading until I get a new computer- so you’ll have to google it to find out.
If you LOVE these tips, check out my handy guide to fixing sunny day photos in Lightroom! Make your skies bluer and your faces brighter- in just a few easy steps!
So… that was a ton of info. How excited are you to go try these edits? Did you get confused by anything? Need other tips? Let me know!