In this tutorial we’ll walk through the process of creating a nice, soft pastel effect in Adobe Lightroom. At the end of the tutorial you’ll also be able to download a free preset that will apply the settings shown in the tutorial, so you can use the preset on your own photos if you don’t want to work through the steps. This pastel effect can be used with a wide variety of photos, but they tend to work very well with portraits and outdoor photos.
The free preset at the end of the article is the Soft Blue preset from our new set of Pastel Lightroom Presets. If you like this pastel look please see the full set of pastel presets.
If you want even more Lightroom presets check out our Ultimate Photography Bundle, which includes more than 1,000 different presets.
Here is a “before” version of the photo that we’ll be working with.
And here is a sneak peak of the end result that we will be creating in this tutorial.
Step 1: The Basic Section of the Develop Module
To get started we will make some adjustments in the “Basic” section of Lightroom’s develop module. I’m going to change the exposure to +0.48 to lighten the photo a bit (this setting may vary depending on the photo that you are working with, for example, if you are starting with a photo that is over or underexposed). I’ll also give the photo a slight boost in contrast by setting the contrast slider to +10. In the highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks area I will change the settings to +5, +25, 0 and +12. This will further lighten the photo, but it will impact the dark areas (through the shadows and blacks settings) more than it will impact the lighter areas.
Next, we’ll change some settings in the “Presence” section. I’m setting clarity to -5 to give a subtle softening effect to the photo, which will work well with the lighter image and the soft tones that will be added. I’m also setting the vibrance to -15 and saturation to -25, These settings will make the colors of the photo a little more dull, which will also work well with the soft tones.
At this point our work in progress looks like this:
You can see the impact of lightening the photo and desaturating it.
Step 2: The Tone Curve
The next thing we’ll do is make a small edit to the tone curve, which will again lighten the photo a little. I’m going to raise the left end point just a little bit on the RGB curve, and that is the only change that will be made to the tone curve.
Step 3: Split Toning
So far we have lightened the photo and removed some of the color through vibrance and saturation. Now, we’ll add the pastel effect through the help of Lightroom’s split toning settings. For the highlights settings I am using 30 for the hue and 40 for the saturation. This gives a warmth to the highlight areas of the photo. And for the shadows settings I am using 220 for the hue and 60 for the saturation, which gives the shadow areas the soft blue effect.
And that’s it! Here is another look at the finished product.
This is a really versatile effect that will look great with a wide variety of photos. You can apply the effect by using this free preset – download the preset here. And if you like the soft pastel look don’t forget that we have more Pastel Lightroom Presets available.
Here is a look at a few before and after photos to show the effect of the preset.