Getting skin tone right is one of the most important parts of taking and editing photos of people. When the skin tone is wrong, the client will know something is off about the photo, even if they couldn’t tell you what it is. Our brains have a pretty good general idea of what humans are supposed to look like, so when a skin tone is unnatural, it starts to trip some “uncanny valley” alarms.
Lightroom makes it pretty easy to adjust skin tones, and there are a couple of different ways to go about it. The tips I’m going to share will help you get perfect skin tones using Lightroom in no time!
Give Yourself a Solid Foundation
Editing something specific, like skin tone, is going to be so much easier if you get the look you want when taking the photo and then do some general editing. The lighting, the composition of the shot, and every other detail will affect the look of the unedited photo. The closer the tones are to perfect in the unedited version, the less work you’ll have to do in Lightroom.
No one’s perfect, so learning and improving your photography skills throughout your career will continue to make editing simpler over time.
If things like the exposure, highlights, and shadows of your image need to be edited, it will also be easier to edit those before you get started on skin tone. You can edit all of these using sliders in the Basic Panel.
Edit Skin Tones Using Tone Curves
Tone curves are one of the quickest ways to edit skin tone in Lightroom. For many people, they aren’t the most intuitive thing to use, but they can be really helpful.
Open the tone curve panel from the right side of the screen and set the channel to whatever needs to be adjusted (the red, green, or blue value). When you have the right color curve open, click on the Targeted Adjustment Tool (top left corner) and move your cursor to the parts of the image that you want to adjust. Click there and drag up (to increase the value) or down (to decrease the value).
You probably need smaller adjustments than you think, so start by clicking-and-dragging short distances and go from there.
Edit Skin Tones Using the HSL Panel
From within the HSL Panel, you can adjust hue, saturation, and luminance (brightness or darkness of colors). Each of these has sliders that can be changed individually, but there is also a Targeted Adjustment Tool that works the same as the one for tone curves.
To use it, select it from the top left corner of the panel, then click and drag up or down in the areas you want to adjust.
Smooth Skin Using Clone and Heal
You can remove blemishes, wrinkles, dark spots, and other skin imperfections using the Clone and Heal tools in Lightroom.
Set the size of the brush as small as possible; it should be just slightly bigger than the imperfection you’re removing, so that the edit is as small and natural-looking as possible. Heal often works better for small imperfections, and Clone often works better for large ones.
Keep in mind that skin texture and wrinkles are normal, so editing out too many can leave skin looking like plastic. Edit just enough to achieve the appearance of naturally smooth, clear skin.
Get Perfect Skin Tone Using Presets
Lightroom makes it as easy as possible to do all the editing yourself, but when you have tons of photos to get through, adjusting skin tone in each one individually can be time consuming.
My preset collections are designed to take care of this task, and many others, so that you can focus more on your creative vision and less on RGB values. The Boudoir Tones collection includes 37 presets and 9 skin brushes to take the hassle out of finding the perfect skin tone.
After applying a preset, you can always add your own minor adjustments until the feeling of the image is personalized to you. You can also use Lightroom’s Sync feature to apply your edits to all similar photos in a set (but don’t sync brush edits; those need to be done individually).
I think you’ll find that using presets makes the process of editing large sets of photos much less stressful. Since you now know how to edit skin tone manually, too, you’ll be able to make precise adjustments and get the photos looking exactly how you want them.
As you learn, edit, and grow as a photographer, you can even share your work or any questions that come up along the way, with peers to get meaningful feedback. So go get started on editing some photos with perfect skin tone -- we can’t wait to see what you create!
Want more resources? Check out my YouTube video below to learn more about fixing skin with Lightroom tools!
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