Using Lightroom Brushes to Soften Skin

One really powerful part of Lightroom is the brushes feature. Brushes give you the ability to effect only a part of the image by brushing on a mask that you can apply effects to. This is just like creating masks in Photoshop. There are tons of uses for brushes in lightroom from dodging and burning to local color adjustments. Today I am going to talk about using Lightroom Brushes to Soften Skin. But before we get started here are some older articles you might find useful regarding Lightroom brushes:

  • Intro to using Brushes in Lightroom
  • Lightroom Brushes Video Tutorial
  • Free Lightroom Brush Presets
  • For everyone who wants to do a little retouching to a portrait here is a common request that I get from many clients during family portraits. Although I am not a big fan of retouching at all, I do have to honor my clients requests and also know that most people are not a fan of their wrinkles. Even younger people without wrinkles someone might have a few pimples or just oily skin so a quick touchup of skin always comes in handy. This is a super quick way in Lightroom to soften skin and in just a minutes you can have smooth skin for anyone. To start just select your image and zoom into the face area. Next select the brush tool right under the histogram.

    lightroom brushes

    Once you click on that you will see a menu appear below the brush with some settings like Exposure, Brightness, etc… There are also some presets that are included with Lightroom. In this example I started with the preset (under the Effect drop down right above the Exposure slider) Soften Skin. Then I customized it slightly by decreasing the contrast to -24. The soften skin preset basically moves the clarity down to -100 and the sharpness up +26. As with any presets these are just guidelines and you should always modify the settings to fit your style. Here is our starting image.

    lightroom brush tutorial

    When you mouse over the subjects face you will see two circles to indicate your brush size. You can change the size and feather of the brush by changing the sliders under the brush settings, or use the [ and ] buttons as keyboard shortcuts to increase/decrease the size of the brush. Now simply start to paint over the image to have the effects take place.

    When you are done painting in the effects you will see a small dot on your screen where you first started to click. This acts as an anchor point for these changes. You can do a few things with this dot. First if you don’t like the changes and want to start over simply click the dot to select this mask (when you select a mask it will change the dots color from all grey to black). After you select this mask just hit the delete key to delete this. You can also roll your mouse over the dot and hold it there for a second. This will bring up the mask painted in red so you can see exactly what section of the photo you are painting on. This image shows the parts of the photo that I have masked on with the brush.

    brush mask for lightroom

    If you notice here that you painted too much and the eyes are also selected you can erase part of the mask. To erase hold down the Option key and you will see in the middle of the brush a – sign appear. Now paint out any area to remove. Once you have your mask done you can still modify any of the sliders, so if you need to increase or decrease exposure you can and it is only effecting the area that you have masked off. I made a few minor changes to the contrast and here was the final image I ended up with. From start to finish took about a minute and you have soft skin.

    lightroom brushes for skin softening

    If this effect is too much and the skin looks too soft for your taste all you have to do now that you have the mask painted on is adjust the clarify slider. As you move this back and forth you will see the skin go from smooth back to normal.

    You can also create multiple masks by clicking on the New button under the brush which makes this a very powerful tool. You can soften the skin but then with another mask sharpen the eyes or make the color of her dress only pop a little more.

    What do you use the brushes in Lightroom for? Let us know in the comments or head over to our facebook page and post on our wall.

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    Author: Mark Stagi

    Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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    1 Comment

    1. Hi,
      I am very familiar with this feature, but in Lightroom 4 the little dots are gone and i cant go back and edit a mask :( Any Tips how to get it back?

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