How to Edit Portraits in Lightroom

Taking and uploading photos has become almost a symbol of our times. Who has never posted a beautiful holiday picture on Instagram, or shared a classic landscape on Meta? We all see photos, comment on photos; we almost live photos – text is not that important anymore.

A good photo cannot be simply raw. It needs to be edited so that it looks more elegant and fancy. Of course, for some people, Instagram filters are enough, but what if you want to go beyond that and edit pictures more professionally?

You have a few options, but most of them come down to using editing software. One of the common and high-quality photo-editing programs is Lightroom.

 It’s an intuitive tool that helps you make the most of a chosen photo without creating an artificial effect – it merely helps to emphasize your vision of a picture.

A natural, balanced effect is especially important when it comes to portraits. Below, you’ll find a tutorial on how to edit portraits in Lightroom effectively.

Lightroom – Basic Functions

Although Lightroom is an intuitive and easy-to-use software, it’s good to know some basics before starting to edit photographs. You may want to discover them by yourself or to get a course on Lightroom. Plenty of classes and lessons are available online, for example, at

The program consists of two panels: left and right. The left one contains automatic functions, while on the right one, you can find more individual options.

On the left panel, there are functions that let you choose a preset – a ready way to edit your photos. There is also the possibility of saving your files (the ‘Snapshots’ option), browsing through your file history, or creating your own collections of photos. Above all, you can find a useful navigation option on the left panel.

The right panel in Lightroom contains more adjustable options, such as basic photo-editing tools (exposure, contrast, white balance, saturation), and more advanced ones, like Tone Curve, Color, Split Toning, or Detail. You can also choose some more fancy options like grain or a vignette to your photo.

If you feel like you don’t require both panels at once and aren’t interested in all their functions, you can always click on the ‘hide’ button and make them temporarily invisible – the editing space won’t be cluttered, then. To read more about other basic functions of Lightroom, click here.

Editing Portraits in Lightroom – Step By Step

Once you get familiar with the toolbars and basic functions available in Lightroom, it’s time to start editing. Before starting your work, though, it is necessary to upload a picture to the program.

Lightroom recognizes and supports all the standard picture formats, such as .jpg, or .png, so uploading your picture shouldn’t be a big problem. Once you’ve done it, it’s time to start editing and using the toolbars.

Step 1 – Angle and Aspect Ratio

When you think of editing a photo, you probably think of starting by brightening up the colors, choosing the right tone, or white balance.

In fact, it is not the most essential point. It’s best to start with cropping the image to the desired size and adjusting the angle of the picture.

Using the Angle function (available on the right panel), you can adjust the angle so that it’s straight and relevant to your vision.

Then, you may want to crop the image so that it presents the desired features or objects – this can be done by adjusting the Aspect Ratio function.

Once you’re done with more formal aspects, it’s time to experiment with colors and light.

Step 2 – Tone, White Balance, Contrast

It’s time to use some of the most spectacular Lightroom functions – these are connected with colors. A huge advantage of Lightroom is the fact that it doesn’t create an artificial version of a photograph. It’s just a tool that highlights the best aspects of a picture.

There are three basic functions used to boost the colors of a photo – tone, white balance, and contrast.

The first one is used to make a photo brighter or darker, cooler or warmer – if you want to, for example, achieve an effect of a cool, dark, winter-like scenery, set the tone for a shade of black; if you prefer a brighter and warmer version, set it closer to white.

White balance allows you to brighten up the portrait – even if it was initially dark. The final effect is natural and subtle.

Lastly, it’s necessary to adjust the contrast of the picture – by doing so, you can make the picture extremely vivid and bright (when the contrast is high), or mild – if you set the contrast low.

Step 3 – Effects

If the subtle effect created by using the basic editing functions is not enough for you, you can always boost it by using additional features and effects.

Supposing that you want your photo to look sharper and more extravagant, it’s possible to add a vignette to it. It’s a kind of frame that’s fading away towards the picture. You can see some of its effects here.

Another option is using the Grain function – it will make the texture of the photograph sharper and more visible. If you don’t want to make the portrait look overdone, don’t use this function with reason.

If you don’t feel like experimenting with colors and functions, you can always use one of the presets that are available on the left panel. They’ll save your time and make an instant effect. To see some examples of presets in Lightroom, click here.


Experimenting with photo editing can be great fun, as you can discover plenty of new functions, styles, or effects. Depending on your preferences, you might get a sharp, dark photograph, or a milder and brighter one.

Lightroom lets you create all of these effects in a subtle, non-invasive way. Your portrait will still look natural and simple; its best aspects will just be emphasized. Using Lightroom for photo editing is an excellent option if you want to have an instant effect of refreshment and brightness to your works.

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