Image Processing: From Start to Finish 2

Well, here I am again with another post describing my image processing techniques. This time I decided to spare you the self portrait, and instead, use a proper model. Once again, this post will also be part of the After-Before Friday series, curated by Stacy over at Visual Venturing.

Here is the final image, but I will walk you through my editing process below. And please note that I have left the stray hairs in the image, because I do all of my image processing in Lightroom, and I have NO idea how to use Photoshop.

image processing sara

As I’ve mentioned in several posts before, I absolutely love shooting people and using off-camera flash. and oddly enough, this image came from only my second strobist-style shoot.

Though I enjoy scanning Instagram for those bright, natural light, vintage-style images that are used by so many wedding and lifestyle photographers, I personally like to play with the balance and relationship between shadow and light. At the time of this shoot, I owned nothing more than one flash unit, the Yongnuo YN-560 II, and a basic Westcott shoot-through umbrella.


Here is the image straight out of the camera. You can read a lot about the importance of the histogram and setting the correct white balance in your camera, but I find those points to be largely irrelevant. As you can see, the auto white balance brought out more of the blue tones, and made this image appear slightly colder than it should be, but that’s easily fixed in Lightroom. The histogram leads you to believe that the image is largely under exposed, but you can see that it is actually fairly well exposed, and very appropriate for the mood I was aiming for. Her dark hair, the shadow on her back, and the grey background largely contribute to the skewed histogram interpretation of the image.

Sara 1 import


My first step when working with an image is to always correct the white balance and exposure. When shooting with flash, you can often get a pleasing result when you adjust the white balance to Daylight. I also felt that the exposure only need a slight increase… about an 8th of a stop.

Sara 2 wb & exposure


When using Lightroom, I typically work my way down the adjustment panel beginning with white balance and exposure, as mentioned above. Here I dive a little deeper into the image by heavily increasing the highlights and shadows, slightly increasing the whites, and dropping the blacks. This is me basically creating my own “contrast” mix.

In my previous post, people found this next step slightly unusual, but I increased the clarity to +31. I did this to help bring out the highlights and shadows a bit more and make the image slightly more three dimensional.

Sara 3 highlight shadow clarity etc

BRUSH STROKE – hair and highlights

I wanted to make the model’s hair less flat, and give it a boost of contrast. Using the adjustment brush, I painted over the hair and slightly increased the exposure, highlights, clarity, and sharpness.

Sara 4 brush stroke hair adjustments

In the image below, you can see that the model’s hair in the image on the left lacks detail and shine, whereas the highlight streak in the image on the right is brighter and more defined, and her hair now has more detail in it.

hair before after


I next painted over the shadow areas of her face and darkened the shadows a little. You’ll notice from the red highlighted areas that I was relatively specific about which areas I wanted to bring out more shadows. You’ll see the adjustment in the next image.

Sara 5 brush stroke face shadow

Here is the before and after of the shadow treatment. It is a fairly subtle adjustment, but it helps add further depth to the model’s facial structure.

shadow before after

ADJUSTMENT BRISH – soften skin

Though you saw me increase the clarity of the overall image, I tend to like to slightly soften the skin of my female subjects. Though Sara is young, and has very nice smooth skin to begin with, it doesn’t hurt to enhance that ever so slightly. With men though, it often helps to do the opposite and increase the clarity.

The amount of softening you do will depend on your model and the look you’re hoping to achieve, but I find that an adjustment somewhere in the -30 to -50 range often creates a nice, but still very realistic result.

Sara 6 brush stroke face soften skin

Below, you can see the before and after of the skin softening. It’s a subtle adjustment, but I feel like you shouldn’t really be able to see that the adjustment has been made.

clarity before afterFINAL TOUCHES

Lastly, I made a slightly closer crop on the image, made one more minor clarity adjustment, and adjusted the vibrance and saturation to get the slightly desaturated look I like. I finished it off with a slight  vignette, and you have the final image that can be seen at the top of the post.

Sara 7 crop vibrance saturation vignette- final

I hope you found this little tutorial helpful, and I hope that I was able to bring something different than I had in my last image processing post. Looking at this image, there are a lot of things I would do differently if I was shooting it over again, but those things also include using the additional flashes and accessories I now own. But that’s a story for another day.











  1. Thanks Shane will be taking your tips on board. I am glad I am not the only one who doesn’t really know photoshop, so thanks again for that 🙂

  2. Great post Shane, and some very useful this here! I’ve not long been using Lightroom and I’m really enjoying using it. I have photoshop too but I haven’t really delved into that yet, keeping it one at a time 😊 love the light and shadows in this photo, very nice finished piece.

    1. Thanks a lot 🙂 I really enjoy using Lightroom and find it pretty easy to navigate. There are also loads of tutorials online, so the resources are definitely out there to help us use it effectively.

      1. You can buy photoshop and Lightroom from Adobe for $9.99 per month. It’s a membership based purchase and Adobe will not be making Photoshop for sale as a stand alone. You will have to get the subscription.

  3. Great post Shane! You work in such a similar way to me with Lightroom. In portraits I also use selective tools to brighten and add clarity to eyes. I’d not thought of trying the daylight setting for portraits with flash! The desaturated look works beautifully with this and I love the angle that highlights the size of her beautiful eyes 🙂

    1. Hey Sarah, thanks so much! I got the daylight setting tip somewhere along the way, and it’s only about 500k cooler than the flash setting I believe. The desaturated look I went with is a look I often like to use; it gives the image a more cinematic look in my opinion.

      And yes, her eyes are enormous. Her eyelashes will his you If you’re anywher within three feet of her 🙂

  4. Shane, I swear I commented on this post, but when I saw that nowhere did it appear, I am mortified. Here your participated in ABFriday and I have left no comment, no mention of how much I appreciate you taking part! Please forgive me.

    As for the post, the timing of it is perfect for me as I have portraits of my daughter taken by one of her friends that she wants to use for her senior picture in her school’s yearbook. The photos are lovely but need post-processing, and I’ve never attempted this on portraits before. Your wonderful step-by-step outline will be a huge help! I hope I can do as much justice to my daughter as you did for this lovely young lady.

    And as for Photoshop, I’m right there with you. I’ve taken two 8-hours classes on the program and still can’t wrap my head around it. I don’t know why that is, but 9 times out of 10, I’m delighted with the results from Lightroom, and if not, I have a couple of plugins from Nik Efex that I like to use.

    1. Hi Stacy, You probably have commented and I may have somehow missed approving the comment. For some reason I now have to approve all comments that come in and I find it a little frustrating.

      I’m glad you’ll find some value in the post for your daughter’s photos. Feel free to ask me anything you like, and I’d be more than happy to process something for you as well, but I guess you wouldn’t get any practice that way.

  5. Thanks, Shane. Very nice image and your explanation was crystal clear. And the timing is perfect, I have a head shot session coming up (helping out a friend who needs one) and it’s been years since I’ve done a portrait. If it’s OK, plan to steal your pose and your processing techniques. The bit with the clarity is something that never would have occurred to me.

    1. Hey Robin, that a awesome! I’d love to see how the shots of your friend turn out. use any pose or other info you find helpful… that’s the whole point of me writing these posts.

      If you have any questions, about processing or anything else, don’t hesitate to message me.

  6. To get great shots you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment single light source is good enough. Loved reading your processing, not a huge portrait photographer myself; it was interesting read how you approached the image.

    1. Thanks Ben, I’m really interested in lighting and how slight changes can affect an image. I’ve started working on a three light setup that I’ll share at some point.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Thanks a lot for the visit and comment 🙂 Yes, the smallest detail can make all the difference in the success of an image, so it’s often nice to tinker with little changes to see how they might affect the image.

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