How to Get Beautiful Skin Tones in Lightroom (Every Time!)
In Lightroom, perfect skin tones are quite achievable but definitely takes some know-how and practice. By following the steps below, you can have picture-perfect skin in every photo you shoot quickly and easily!
Step 1. Check the Skin Color Balance
You can't fix something if you don't know what needs to be fixed. By checking the color balance you can see what the particular needs of the image are and then take steps to correct them.
To check the color balance of your skin tones in Lightroom, go to the Develop Module and hover your mouse over a medium tone area of your subject's skin. RGB number values will appear in your histogram area on the right. These RGB values will help you analyze your skin tones.
RGB Rule of Thumb for Beautiful Skin Tones:
- The blue % value should be the lowest value.
- The green % value should be higher than the blue value by at least one percentage point.
- The red % value should be the highest value and at least two percentage points over the green.
Now that you know the RGB values of your skin tones and what the optimum values are, you will know what color needs to be corrected on your particular image!
Note: One question you might be asking is why the RGB values are higher in some images and lower in others? Answer: The higher the percentage values, the brighter the skin tones are. The lower the percentage values, the darker the skin tones are.
Step 2. Adjust the Exposure and White Balance
A really easy way to adjust the image exposure is to use the Exposure slider in Lightroom's Basic Panel. You may also want to adjust the Highlights and Shadow sliders as well since those can also impact the exposure of your image.
To adjust White Balance, click the White Balance Dropper in the upper-left of the Basic Panel. Then click over a medium-gray tone in your image - good options for this are the whites of the eyes or any element of your image that is gray (i.e. cement, clothing, etc.)
You can also adjust the Temperature and Tint sliders, however, this will require you to visualize what colors in your white balance need adjusting.
Ask yourself: Should the image be warmer or cooler? Is the image too red or green?
In general, moving any of these sliders to the right will cause whichever value you are adjusting to brighten or increase. For example, if you are moving the Exposure slider to the right, the overall exposure of your image will brighten (increase). If you are moving the Shadows slider to the right, the shadow areas of your image will brighten.
Step 3. Adjust Skin Tones Using the Tone Curve Panel (Option 1)
Quickly check your skin tone values one more time to determine which color value needs to increase or decrease. Then open the Tone Curve Panel. You will see a tone curve appear. This panel seems less straight-forward to many but it is POWERFUL when it comes to skin tones!
Change the "Channel" to whichever value you feel need to be adjusted. (Tip: If you don't see the option to change your channel, tap the square in the lower-right corner with a diagonal line through it).
Is your blue value too high? Open the blue curve. Click on the Targeted Adjustment Tool to activate it. Move over to the skin tones in your image and click and drag DOWN to decrease the amount of blue in the skin tones.
You will probably only need to make small adjustments, so don't overdo how much you drag downward (or upward).
You may need to adjust more than one curve. For instance, after decreasing the blue in the skin tones using the blue curve, you may also need to increase the warmth a bit using the red curve. And If your photo includes a lot of green trees or grass, you may need to make some adjustments to the green channel as well.
I find that I use the red and blue curves the most.
3. Adjust Skin Tones Using Luminance & Saturation (Option 2)
Another option for adjusting your skin tones is to use the Luminance section of the HSL Panel. The Luminance sliders adjust the brightness or darkness of colors in Lightroom.
To correct skin tones this way, select the targeted adjustment tool in this panel and click and drag UPWARD over the skin tones to brighten those tones. More specifically, click and drag upward over areas where you are noticing troubling tones.
If a specific tone is troubling, you can also switch to the Saturation section of the HSL panel and use the same Targeted Adjustment tool and click and drag down over an area with that tone in it. This will decrease the saturation of that tone.
Of course, you can also manually adjust these sliders, but I do think you will appreciate how precise the Targeted Adjustment tool is.
Step 4. Clone and Heal
This is a very important step to beautiful skin. During this step, you should clone out any blemishes and dark spots. On more mature skin, you may even clone out a few wrinkles and adjust the opacity of the clone tool to help it look natural.
Tips for using the Clone/Heal tool:
- Set the size so that the smaller inner circle of the brush is just slightly larger than the blemish to be removed.
- For smaller skin blemishes, generally, the Heal tool is the best option.
- For larger skin blemishes or blemishes close to the edge of the face, it may be best to use to the Clone tool.
Remember that the goal is a natural and beautiful skin tone. So don't go overboard and over edit every wrinkle and pore on your subject's face.
Step 5. Portrait Brushes and Presets
Why not make your life easier and save A LOT of time editing?
The portrait brushes in the Perfect Portrait: Retouch and Makeup Brushes, as well as the portrait brushes included in the Clean Edit Portrait Workflow, are both wonderful options for creating perfect, creamy skin tones.
This is also the time to use your favorite Pretty Presets in order to give your portraits your signature look and feel. Once you've added your preset, you may find you need to make some slight slider adjustments in order to achieve the perfect look.
When you finish your edit, take advantage of one Lightroom's important features to SYNC the edits to all images in a sequence that have similar light and white balance. Important Note: Brush edits should not be synced to other images - those edits are very image specific and should only be applied to images individually.
Additional Reading: How to Edit Darker Skin Tones in Lightoom
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