One of the editing steps that many people find the most challenging when editing portraits is how to make skin tones more accurate to the subject and pleasing to the viewer.

It is important to mention that skin tones is not a simple subject because much of the "tone" comes from the camera and photographer, but only the editing of skin tones will be discussed in this tutorial.

Correcting skin tones in Lightroom

This tutorial will show how brushes from the Perfect Portrait custom brush collection can be used to correct skin tones in Lightroom. Brushes are local adjustments that can be done at any time of the edit process.

The key ingredient to any edit is starting with a great image. This is incredibly true for skin tones. Here are a few quick tips getting better skin tones in camera.

  • Expose correctly - Underexposure can add noise and nasty contrast to your subject.
  • Look at the light - Make sure you position them to prevent dappling or harsh shadows.
  • White balance - Use a camera preset such as shade, cloudy, daylight, flash, etc., to get a better white balance (the overall color temperature). If the auto WB is not good, but none of the camera WB presets look good either, then try setting a custom white balance.


Skin Temperature Brush

Now, back to editing skin in Lightroom. There are three brushes in the Perfect Portrait brush collection that deal with skin tone:

  • Skin Temp Warm
  • Skin Temp Cool
  • Skin Tone and Even

Before working on the skin, you should make sure to correct overall exposure (brightness of the image), either with a brush like the Add Light brush in the Perfect Portrait collection or by using the exposure slider in the Basic panel. Also, adjust the white balance if needed. Your subject's skin may still be too warm or too cool, but that is okay because you can fix that with the brushes.

If your subject's skin color is a bit gray, purple, blue then use the Skin Temp Warm brush. If the skin is too orange or yellow, then use the Skin Temp Cool. More often than not the problem is that the subject is too COOL, so the Skin Temp Warm brush will be the one you use the most. For this image, the Skin Temp Warm brush was used because her skin was a bit cool.

Having trouble knowing if your subject's skin is too cool? An easy way to tell is to look at the RGB numbers just below the histogram (while in the Develop module). Move your cursor into an area of the skin and see what the numbers are. If the B (blue) is higher than the G (green), then the skin tone is too cool. The above screen print illustrates this problem, with the blue value being higher than the green value when the mouse was put over her cheek area.

Lightroom Histogram

What if the brush doesn't improve the skin color completely? Click "New" in the brush panel and do it again. You can layer on the changes from brushes.

Next the Skin Tone and Even brush was used. Now, this brush is very mild, do I often do it twice. Not a problem, though, because I love moderate changes because those are the best! Huge, drastic changes are not good; you want gradual and effective.

The image below is split screen comparison of before and after using the Skin Temp Warm, Skin Tone and Even brushes, along with the Eyes Blue, Skin Under Eye Circles brushes.

Correcting skin tones with LR brushes

Lightroom brushes

See the previous tutorials in our portrait series:


Amanda PadgettHello!  I’m Amanda, a quirky, introverted Mom of four, who is passionate about helping others learn their cameras and editing software. I also currently homeschool my four kids, ages 13 to 6, all whom run away when they see me carrying my camera.  Visit me at my website and facebook page.