When it comes to detailed portrait touch ups Photoshop is typically the tool of choice, but if you’re a Lightroom user you may be able to do everything you need for the typical portrait touch up without even leaving Lightroom. While Lightroom doesn’t have some of the advanced functionality for extreme makeovers or photo manipulations, the spot removal tool and the adjustment brush make it possible to smooth skin, and it can be surprisingly simple.
In this tutorial we’ll walk through the two-step process of touching up a portrait in Lightroom with the goal of smoothing out the skin. By following the same steps and technique you can smooth skin in your own portraits without the need to open Photoshop.
I’ll be using some strong settings with the adjustment brush in this tutorial so that it’s easy to see the smoothing effect. You may want to achieve a more subtle effect with your photos, and this can be easily done by following the same process, just use lower settings with the adjustment brush.
Here is a look at the photo that we’ll be working with in this tutorial.
And here is a quick preview of the end result.
Step 1: Spot Removal
In this tutorial we’ll be using two different tools in Lightroom: the spot removal tool, and the adjustment brush. The first thing we want to do is fix the larger blemishes with the help of the spot removal tool. After that, we’ll use the adjustment brush to smooth the skin.
To access to spot removal tool, click on the icon shown below.
That will open up the settings for the spot removal tool. The first thing to point out is that you want to make sure “Heal” is selected, not “Clone”.
With Heal selected Lightroom will work some magic to heal and blend the area that you are correcting, resulting in a smoother, more natural look. Below you’ll see options for size, feather, and opacity. I typically work with feather set to 0 and opacity set to 100. The size will vary depending on the size of the area or blemish that you are correcting. As you increase or decrease the setting for size you will notice that the circle (shown below) will increase or decrease accordingly.
The size of that circle will determine the area of the photo that you are impacting. To get started, move the circle over an area that you want to heal and click the mouse. When you click the circle will be in a fixed position and it will open a second circle.
Use the mouse to grab the 2nd circle and drag it to an area of smooth skin, then click again. The area that is inside the 2nd circle will be used to heal the skin in the 1st circle. Lightroom will automatically blend it to look natural with the area of skin around it.
Next, repeat that process by clicking on another blemish and selecting a smooth area of skin for healing. Keep doing this until you have healed all of the major blemishes.
And here is a look at the sample photo after healing a few of the major blemishes.
Step 2: The Adjustment Brush
Now that we have addressed the most significant blemishes we can make more subtle tweaks to smooth the skin with the adjustment brush. First, select the adjustment brush by clicking on the icon shown below.
I will be working with one of the brushes from our Master Workflow Lightroom Presets, but if you don’t have the presets you’ll still be able to follow along. Master Workflow comes with more than 40 different adjustment brush presets, including three different brushes for smoothing skin (light, moderate, and strong). I’ll be using the strong brush for this tutorial, partly so it is easier to see the effect, but you may want to use the light or moderate brush if you are looking for a more subtle effect, or if your photo only needs a small amount of smoothing.
The strong brush will apply the following settings: clarity – 100, sharpness -30, noise +50.
The adjustment brush also has settings for size, feather, flow, and density. The size and feather settings are the ones that are important for this purpose. The size setting will dictate the size of the circle that will be used to edit the photo. A smaller size setting will allow you to make more precise edits, and a larger size setting will impact more of the photo at once. The feather determines the softness at the edge of the brush. A feather of 0 gives your brush a hard edge with no transition, and a feather of 100 gives your brush an soft edge with the maximum area for a smooth transition. For skin smoothing I generally use a high amount for the feather, like 75. And then I can lower that setting for the areas that need fine detail and more precision.
As you are using the brush, click on the “O” key to display a red mask showing the area where you have brushed. Now you can easily see what areas you still need to brush.
If you accidentally brush over an area you can hold down the Alt key (PC) or the Option key (Mac) while you are brushing and it will act as an eraser.
When you have brushed over all of the skin that you want to smooth you can click the “O” key again to turn off the red mask. Here is a look at the sample photo after the adjustment brush.
One of the nice things about the adjustment brush is that you can still change the settings after the brush has been applied. You can change any of the settings manually, or you can simply select a different brush preset. So if you feel that the effect is a little too drastic you can adjust the brush’s settings accordingly. For example, the image below shows the photo with the Smooth Skin – Moderate brush from Master Workflow instead of the strong brush. This result maintains a little bit more of the skin’s texture.
And that’s it! You can follow those steps to do some simple skin retouching without even leaving Lightroom. Here is a look at the before and after images.