Here's my system. Try it a few times and see why it works. Remember, I'm really LAZY so whatever I do has to be quick and easy, and this is it!
First, review my five-step workflow:
1. Auto exposure
2. White Balance
4. Clarity, Vibrance & Saturation
5. Crop and straighten
I outlined these steps in great detail previously in this blog, so review them, because that's what you will do before starting any retouching on files. Then you're ready to retouch.
The above list is all you’ll have to do to most images, but if you want to retouch faces, especially on portraits; remove noise and moiré, or apply targeted sharpening or white balance, learn the Tools and the Adjustment Brush panel and the one-key shortcuts to open and close them. There are five adjustment choices in the Tool Strip above the Basic Adjustment panel: the Crop overlay (R); Spot Removal (Q), Red Eye Correction (no shortcut); Graduated Filter (M), and the Adjustment Brush (K). These all provide ‘tool overlays’—called pins or node points--while being used. The pin looks like a circle. If it’s active (which means you can make changes to that specific adjustment), it has a black dot inside. If it’s not active it’s all white. Toggle the H key to show or hide the pin. Select it and press DELETE to erase the entire adjustment.
WHERE’S THE LIGHT? One of the hallmarks of my work is the ‘repurposing’ of light in an image. I make sure the background is darker and the faces and subject are lighter-- which is usually opposite of what the shot actually looks like. To do this, once I’ve done the initial editing—I use a vignette to darken the edges plus either a MANGO MOJO Light The Face brush or an adjustment brush with increased brightness to bring light into faces.
Spot Removal for blemishes (Q): Choose clone or heal—same as the Cloning Tool or Healing Brush in Photoshop. For most spots, the Heal option works best, especially in clear areas like the sky or a wall. Clone would be a good option if you’re working along the edge of a subject. Don’t overuse this feature unless you have lots of RAM. This is a very memory-intensive process…but great for taking out blemishes, dust spots…even the stray power outlet at the side of an image. Same edge warning applies as in Photoshop—don’t get too close to it or the result is muddy. Adjust brush size with the mouse wheel or slider. Easy to delete—just select or right click and press Delete. If you want to see what you’re doing—or not--go to Tool Overlay below the image and use the drop down to select Auto Always, Selected or Never. Although I pump up the opacity to 100%, you can lower it if you want to leave a bit of the blemish to look realistic. Press Q when done to exit the tool. My philosophy is to only remove blemishes that would disappear within seven days, otherwise, leave it. Your goal should be to make the person look as good as they could THAT DAY, not ten years ago. I’m speaking from experience when I say that clients are happier when they think they look good NOW, not when they figure out you’ve had to retouch the hell out of them to make them look halfway decent. Subtle Lightroom is a skill!
Red Eye Correction: Hopefully you won’t have to use this much on professionally shot images, but if it’s there, this is an easy fix. Then, if Lightroom can’t fix on the red eye, just bump up the Red saturation in the HSL panel to give the tool something to hold on to and correct. Once you’ve corrected it, just go back to the HSL panel and undo the bump.
Adjustment Brush (K): The most valuable tool in Lightroom. This replaces all external editors except Photoshop, which you’ll still need for any deep pixel editing, like compositing, HDR, head or background swaps, but other than that, this feature will save you tons of time. You can do almost anything in Lightroom that you can do in Photoshop, even imitating Imagenomic Portraiture! Knowing how to do this will speed up your workflow while allowing you to create lovely, finished images for your clients. Before starting, remove any temporary blemishes with the Spot Removal tool. When you’re done with the adjustments outlined below, make sure to close the tool by pressing K before going on to the next image, because sometimes it won’t advance if the brush is open.
Secret Tips: While using the Adjustment Brush, hit O to see the mask you’ve painted. Hold down ALT/OPT while brushing to erase. Let go to continue applying the effect. Hit ENTER or click on NEW to start a new brush. If you wish, you can apply the same brush over and over, clicking NEW which doubles the effect each time. Hit O to hide the mask. To resize the brush—either while painting or erasing-- you can use the scroll wheel on your mouse (big WOW) or the square bracket keys ([ and ]). You can change the feathering of the brush by adding the Shift key to that.
Eyes—Undereye circles First I take out dark undereye circles, if any, with the MANGO MOJO Eye-lessen dark circles brush, or a brush with lowered clarity & saturation. Remember, each time you start a new brush, you must select NEW--or press Enter--or it will change all your settings on whatever you’ve already done. To edit an already completed brush stroke, either click EDIT or select the pin for the effect, and make changes as desired.
Eyes—Color and whites I usually bump up the color of the eyes (you can use the MANGO MOJO Eye Color Bump brush) or a brush with increased saturation and clarity. I also brighten the whites of the eyes (with the MANGO MOJO Eye Brighten Whites brush) or just lower saturation on a brush with a small brightness bump.
Eyes—Lashes You can ‘add makeup’ or lashes to eyes just by using a burn brush. Don’t make it too obvious, but you can darken lashes or eyeliner slightly to enhance the eyes.
Skin Once you’ve got a clear skin canvas to work on, select one of the MANGO MOJO powder brushes from the drop down depending on the skin color, which adds a Portraiture-like finish. I leave the feathering set at 100. Use the scroll wheel on your mouse to make the brush larger or smaller and watch the flow so it’s not too light or too dark. Paint over the skin. Toggle O on and off to see where you’re painting. Go ahead and paint over the eyes and teeth. When you’re done, hold down Alt/Opt, adjust the brush size, and erase the effect from the eyes and teeth, which should stay clear and sharp. aTip: Lowered clarity is what smoothes the skin. If you don’t like it, you can lower the Sharpness instead. Lowered clarity on skin is for girls; slightly increased clarity looks good on male skin.
Hair Highlights & Lip Color You can also add highlights to the hair with MANGO MOJO Hair Highlights, or emphasize the lips with the MANGO MOJO Lips Pink or MANGO MOJO Lips Red brushes. If you want the effect brighter and/or more saturated, use the sliders.
See what you’re doing As mentioned, use the O key to toggle the Mask Overlay on and off (or hover over the selected pin). Super useful to see where you’ve applied the effect. To change the color from the stock red, hold down Shift +O to cycle through the overlay choices of red, green, white and grey. To quickly change the overall effect, click and drag left or right on the pin to increase or decrease all adjustments for that specific adjustment.
To reset any slider, double click the name. To toggle all your brush adjustments on and off to see what you've done, use the switch at the bottom left of the brush panel...or if you want to remove all the brush adjustments, press reset.