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Streamlined Portrait Editing | Edit Like a Pro in 5 Minutes or Less

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Streamlined Portrait Editing

Years ago, when I started editing in Lightroom, I felt like I’d hit a goldmine! Suddenly I could transform an average (or even poorly exposed) photo into what I considered to be a masterpiece.

Did my editing process take forever with so many panels and options? Yes.

Did my editing style keep evolving as I learned? Yes.

Did I finally streamline both my shooting and editing processes? You guessed it... yes!

At one point, I went through nearly every panel of Lightroom to edit a single image, tweaking this or that. Thankfully those days are behind me, and they can be for you, too.

I’m going to explain the portrait editing process I use today. Polishing a single image used to take a long time; now it only takes 5 minutes... or less!

Everything below is a perfect example of what continuing education can do. I never stop learning ways to improve my photography, and I’m happy to offer my skills to other photographers through mentoring!

Three images with slight editing variations
Can you spot the differences in the images from L to R?

Lay the Foundation

Before I walk you through the editing steps, there are two foundational pieces to keep in mind and learn. White balance and trying to get things right while you’re shooting. Efficient editing starts with effective shooting.

White Balance

I know it’s easy to use auto white balance, especially when you’re first starting out. But when you can, experiment with the white balance a bit. It can speed up your editing time later, by using the proper white balance settings or temperature.

Why do I care about white balance? White balance is the setting that tells my camera what white should look like in the photo. If the camera knows what true white should look like, then your photo will have true-to-life colors. That's especially important for accurate skin tones, which is what portrait photography is all about. And with accurate skin tones straight-out-of-camera, I don't have to spend time correcting errors in my shooting technique.

I shoot with strobe lights in my studio and I use off-camera flash when I’m on location, so my white balance is always set for flash on the Kelvin scale. This saves me from needing to adjust the white balance and temperate during editing and is especially helpful when shooting in multiple outdoor locations.

Portrait Masters Award Winning Photo - Professionally Edited

Get it Right in Camera

When I say “get it right in camera,” I'm not belittling the novice who is trying their best and just learning. We’ve all been there. We’ve all messed up during shoots and had to fix things later in editing. And like everything else, it gets easier with each shoot.

When I mentor fellow photographers or students, I try to explain that “getting it right in camera” is never going to be perfect. But getting it as close to perfect as you can in-camera is going to save so much time when it comes time to edit.

If you see something out of place on a subject, fix it before taking the photo. Look for the stray hair or random thread and adjust it. If there is a distracting object in the frame, move the subject or yourself to get a better angle.

By taking a few extra minutes to fix things before clicking the shutter, you’ll save yourself loads of time when it’s time to edit.

In the end, my goal is to click the shutter and create the photograph that I see in my head. I never want to say to myself, "I'll save this in editing. I can fix it later." That's a waste of time and energy. Instead, create the photo that you see in your mind's eye and then polish it to perfection later.

portrait edited in photoshop and lightroom

Editing in Lightroom