When done properly, editing can make a well-composed portrait shot even more stunning than its original form. There are many things I do to my portrait shots, but I’m going to keep it simple by focusing on the top five techniques I use. These techniques may also be applied to other types of photos that use people as the main subject.

There are a number of editing software, such as Nikon Capture NX, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, among others. I personally use Lightroom for most of my editing, although I also use of Photoshop when I need to perform more sophisticated pixel manipulation. There are also freewares that provide basic editing capabilities if you do not have the budget, but they lack the sophistication of the proprietary software.

#1 Adjust Exposure

To help the main subjects stand out more in the photos, I always darken the whole frame while keeping the main subjects bright enough to draw the viewers’ attention. This can be easily accomplished with Lightroom: import the image, move the exposure slider left until the frame is sufficiently dark, use the adjustment brush to paint over the main subjects and move the exposure slider to the right until the area is bright enough. Be careful not to make the main subjects too bright or it may look unnatural.

#2 Soften Skin

There are two ways to soften the subjects’ skin. The easier way is through Lightroom: paint over the subject’s skin with adjustment brush, then either use the Soften Skin preset or move the Clarity slider to the left. Another method, which is also what I prefer, is through Photoshop. When you have the image opened in Photoshop, duplicate the background layer and convert it into a smart object. Apply Gaussian filter and add some noise to the layer, then mask it by using paint bucket with black as the foreground color. Afterward, switch the foreground color to white and paint over the skin using the brush tool.

#3 Whiten Eyes and Teeth

The easiest way to whiten the eyes and teeth is to use paint brush in Lightroom to paint over the teeth and white of the eyes, and then decrease the level of saturation and contrast of the painted areas. However, if the eyes and teeth are under-saturated, they may appear gray and unnatural rather than being white and beautiful.

#4 Increase Luminance

In Lightroom, move the luminance sliders to the right until you are satisfied with its look. Usually you only need to adjust the luminance of red and orange, but you may experiment with other colors as well.

#5 Apply Graduated Filter

Apply a graduate filter in Lightroom by clicking on the Graduate Filter button, then move the curser to the bottom of the image and drag it roughly to the chin of the subject. Adjust the exposure setting so the bottom is darker than the rest of the image to give it a more subtle feel.

Depending on the circumstances, there are also a few things I may do to make the photos more appealing. I may remove oil shine from the skin, tighten the face, masks any unevenness on the face or enhance existing texture. To illustrate the effects of all the procedures I just described, I’m going to follow the five procedures above as well as a few additional to enhance the photo below.

Before Editing

The first thing I did after loading the image into Lightroom was adjusting exposure. I move the exposure slider to the left by 2 points while increase the subject’s exposure level by 1.3 points. I then exported the image to Photoshop to work on the skin. I applied a Gaussian filter with a radius of 3 pixel and added 2.5% uniform noise, removed some of the blemishes using Spot Healing Brush, and removed some shadows with Spot Healing Brush tool to make the face smoother. Next, I imported the image back into Lightroom and whiten the eyes and teeth of the subject, and bring up the luminance of red and orange by 10 and 40 respectively. I also enhance the texture of the hairs by adjusting the contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity and saturation of them. Lastly, I added a graduate filter of 1 point between the bottom of the image and the chin of the subject.

After Editing

After the procedures above, the image is much better than the original. You can also experiment with different tools to make your photos more to your liking. If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment below.