Basic Color Correction With Lightroom 4

In this article, we will talk about color correcting for the skin tone. The Lightroom Develop Module has a set of adjustment tools that can help you get flattering skin tones for your subjects. We will cover the global adjustments in this tutorial.

We are also working with a RAW image because it gives us more latitude than a JPEG when it comes to correcting for color and exposure.

Color and Exposure Correcting in the Develop Module’s Basic Panel

In Lightroom, we correct for color and exposure in the Develop Module. To go to the Develop Module, hit the D key in either Mac or Windows.

We will start out in the Basic Panel. To quickly access this panel, hit Ctrl+1 in Windows and Cmd+1 in Mac. We always recommend dialing in the largest adjustments first, and with this image, there are two major adjustments that we have to work on right away. The first is exposure and the second is the color temperature.

Because it is difficult to dial in the correct temperature without having the correct exposure first, we are going to adjust our exposure first. You can hover the mouse cursor over the Exposure slider and use the Up/Down key to adjust the slider by a small amount or use Shift+Up/Down to adjust the slider by a larger amount. Let’s take the exposure here to +0.99.

One thing great about the new Lightroom 4 Process version 2012 is that if you overexpose the image a bit, you can pull some of that brightness down with Highlights and Whites. So what you want to look for when adjusting exposure is the shadow detail and midtone detail. You can then control everything else individually with the Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks sliders.

So now let’s move on to Temperature. For this image, we are going to warm up the temperature to 4300 K. It looks good for us at this temperature, but it is really up to your preference when it comes to how warm you want your image to be. As far as the Tint, the skin looks neither too green nor too red right now, so we’re going to leave this alone.

In regards to the Contrast slider, because this image is a close up of her face, we are not going to adjust the Contrast slider until the very end when we may need to add more contrast again.

Instead, we will be using the Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Black sliders to make our image pop.

For the Highlights slider, let’s pull it up +30 to brighten the background and some of the highlights in her hair. Conversely, we’re going to pull down the Shadows to -40. As we do this, you’ll notice that part of her face is becoming underexposed, so we’ll just bring the Exposure up to +1.22 to compensate.

From here we can bring the Whites slider to +40 and bring down the Blacks slider to -20 to add further contrast. When working with any of the exposure sliders, be sure to watch out for clipping in the highlights and shadows. You can turn on the Highlight Alert to see where you are clipping by hitting the J key. Any area in solid red is clipping in the highlights, and any area in solid blue is clipping in the shadows.

Now with this image, it’s ok to have parts of the background blown up because that is the look that we want. But if you start taking the Blacks slider down too far, you will start to lose information in her hair, and we don’t want that.

The rule of thumb that we have in our studio is that we want our images to just barely pop in order to ensure that our images will print out well on any printers. If we crushed the blacks, our images may not print that well on some printers.

Now that we have all of these exposure adjustments taken care of, let’s readjust the temperature again. At 4300 K, the image is still on the cool side, so we’re going to bring it up to 4500 K, as well as add a bit more pink to her skin by bringing up the Tint to +18 towards the red spectrum.

Moving on the Clarity slider, you’ll notice very quickly that if we start adding Clarity to portraits, we get the “old person” effect. This is where all the lines on the face are amplified, which makes the person looks older. Since we’re editing a portrait of a young woman, we’re going to take the Clarity down to -10.

Additionally, we’re also going to add +20 on the Vibrance.

Now that we have all of these basics dialed in, let’s go back to the Contrast slider to get the rest of the contrast in our image. Be careful about adding too much contrast, though, because that will start to amplify the colors on her skin and make her skin look overdone. In her case, we can increase the Contrast slider to +30.

Finally, let’s bring the Vibrance down from +20 to +15 to tone down the color vibrance on her skin, and bring up the Exposure to +1.32.

Detail Enhancement and Skin Smoothing in the Detail Panel

Now that we are done with the Basic Panel, let’s go to the Detail Panel. You can quickly access this panel by pressing Ctrl+5 on Windows and Cmd+5 on Mac. Once you are here, let’s zoom in to the eyes at 1:1 magnification. We want to make sure that her eyes are sharp.

You will notice that with RAW files, Lightroom has already added some default sharpening into the images. Jpeg files, on the other hand, start out with no additional sharpening because the camera would have added the sharpening already. For this image, let’s take the Sharpening Amount up to +80, the Radius to +1.5, and the Detail to +25.

While we are in the Detail Panel, here is a little trick to enhance your portrait images. If you add a little bit of Noise Reduction, you end up smoothing out some of the pores on the skin. So here we can add +15 on the Luminance slider to smooth out her skin a little bit and give her a light layer of “foundation” on her skin.

For the additional blemishes on her skin, we are going to cover how to remove them in our advanced portrait retouching tutorial.

Adding a Reverse Vignette in the Lens Correction Panel

Finally, we can go to the Lens Corrections Panel to add a reverse vignette to brighten the edges a bit. You can access this panel by pressing Ctrl+6 on Windows and Cmd+6 on Mac.

Go to the Lens Vignetting section under the Manual tab of this panel, and pull up the Amount to +20 and the Midpoint to +30. This will add some brightness to the guy’s face.

And we are done!

From here, we can save our work by making a new Snapshot from the Left Panel and saving the snapshot as 01_ColorCorrected. All you have to do is hit the + icon next to the Snapshot heading.

Here is how the image looks before and after our skin tone retouching. You can also check out the before and after of an image in Lightroom by pressing the \ (backslash) key.


We have done a great job with the image so far with just the global adjustments in Develop Module’s Basic Panel, Detail Panel, and Lens Correction Panel. We will do a lot more fine-tuning and local adjustments in our advanced retouching tutorial.

More Information

For more Lightroom 4 tutorials, please see the SLR Lounge Lightroom 4 LR4 A to Z DVD, the comprehensive guide to Lightroom 4. Learn how to achieve effects such as vintage fades, faux-HDRs, advanced color toning and more! You may also be interested in the Lightroom Presets, acclaimed as the best Lightroom 4 Presets on the market.