Hidden Gems In Adobe Lightroom: Skin Smoothing

I’m going to be writing a few posts in a series that feature some of the more unique and hidden features of both Adobe Lightroom & Aperture. I call them my ‘holy grail’ adjustments or my ‘hidden gems’ because not many professional photographers I know that use Lightroom on a daily basis even consider using these adjustments in their workflow.

For this first part I’d like to concentrate on SKIN SMOOTHING for portraits in Adobe Lightroom 4.

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom

I know, I know… there isn’t any skin smoothing in either program. Well, YES there is!

Adobe Lightroom

Step 1: Go into your brushes.

Adobe Lightroom

Step 2: Adjust the CLARITY of your brush. In this case, we don’t want to add clarity, rather, take away clarity or smooth out the skin of your subject.

Adobe Lightroom

Clarity is somewhat similar to sharpening in that it adds mid-tone contrast to the photograph, which results in an emphasis on textures and details. If you take away clarity from an image, you are doing just the opposite: taking away texture and details!

Step 3: Adjust the size, feather, and flow of your brush (directly below the effect).

Depending on how much you are zoomed into your image (I like to zoom in to at least 100% to see the subjects face really big), adjust the size. For my example, my size is 19. To be honest, the size doesn’t matter. Just don’t make it too big so that you’ll start painting in the eyes or lips/teeth and lips/hair.

* Bonus tip: To zoom in and out of your image: press the + button or the – button while holding down the command key.

Feather: Determines how fine of a brush you are using. I set my feather to 30 and have left it there 95% of the time.

Flow: Set to 100%. You can later adjust how much (or lack thereof) clarity you want later.

Adobe Lightroom

Step 4: Start ‘painting’ on your subject’s face. As a general rule, don’t paint over the eyes, teeth (sometimes lips are okay), and hair. For the most part, portraits should be focused on their eyes – not center focus on their chest. If you’re a Canon user, you need to start experimenting with AI Servo and AI Focus. 95% of the time I use AI Focus to focus on the subject eyes or eye that is closest to the camera.

Adobe Lightroom

I cranked up my clarity slider to -88 so you can see more of an example. The left side of her face (right side of your monitor) has had the negative clarity applied to her face, while the right side of her face is untouched.

* Tip: Hover of the small black dot (that indicates you added a brush) and you can see the area where you applied that brush:

Adobe Lightroom

If you made a mistake a got into the eyes or teeth area, then you’ll have to ‘erase’ that area. To do that, just go back to the Erase button (you’ll see that your brush now has a – sign in the middle of it.

Adobe Lightroom

Step 5: When you’re done brushing out the parts of your image that you want smoothed, then adjust your clarity slider accordingly. The more you take the slider to the left into the negative area, the more smoothing you are applying.

Then click back on your brush to exit the brushes.

Adobe Lightroom

As you might think, applying a brush to your image is a non-destructive edit and you can always go back and change the settings of your slider as well as erase areas that you don’t want effect.

A few rules:

* Being a guy, I definitely don’t want my skin smoothed to the moon and back. Leave it for the females and be gentle. Only add just enough so that it smoothes the skin, not takes away from the subject.

* To see the before and after, just press the \ key on your keyboard.

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom


If you enjoyed this article please let me know in the comments section!

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  1. Sandy

    Have to say I’m not a fan of over-skin-smoothing, unless you’re going for a very unrealistic look; it can be cool and doll-like if that’s your thing – but I prefer the first photo on the page to the second photo by a mile! So much more beautiful and natural. Just my two cents. Thanks for great posts, I really enjoy perusing your site.

    • Chaz Curry

      Hi Sandy!

      I agree. As I mentioned in the article, be gentle! “Only add just enough so that it smoothes the skin, not takes away from the subject.”

      Sometimes LESS is MORE, and that can be said for lighting your subjects or editing in post production as well.

      Personally, I like second photo (the ‘after’) on the page but that’s my opinion as well.

      Hopefully this tip helps you if you use Lightroom.


  2. Cris

    Thank you for sharing!I’m a begginer and LR is rocket science to me, specially the brush!

    • Chaz Curry

      Hi Cris.

      To be honest, every one always asks me how much often I am in Photoshop nowadays and my response is always, ‘hardly.’

      The brush is extremely powerful, just be sure you are shooting in RAW if you want to take advantage of the adjustments (especially when it comes to adjusting white balance).

      Hope this helps!

  3. Brian Gayley

    I am still using lightroom 3 and it has a skin smoothing brush in the brushes pallet. Has this been removed from LR4? If not, why not just use that?

  4. Alex

    Great LR Tip! Will def. have to try these out… thank you!

  5. Dan Holahan

    Excellent post. Great help to me. I use lightroom exclusively and haven’t been able to figure this out. Have tried the technique on a few photos and it works great.
    Thank you!

  6. anne

    Wow. This guide was very informative and had lots of details.
    My skills in skin smoothing are quite basic but thanks to you i will use it more.
    Great job!

  7. Steve Harris

    Thanks for the tips, I am starting to realise just how powerful Lightroom is.
    I used to have a very long and documented workflow for processing my images and now I find myself having to go into Photoshop less and less.
    Again Thanks
    Steve Harris

  8. Janet Reider

    Excited to try this. I am not using nearly the Lightroom 4 potential as unlike this simple explanation most Lightroom enhancements
    appear to involve more work than it takes to do the same correction on CSS 5 …..

  9. Tord S Eriksson

    Most of the girls looked more natural in their flesh, so to speak, than after the improvement (especially the next to last). Totally uniform skin color is unnatural, either made in the photo lab, the solarium, or by being covered by a nicab, Saudi style. Even a classic nun will have some color on her cheeks!

    But the trick itself is excellent, taking away roughness in skin, or elsewhere, thanks!

    Is there a good LR technique book available, anywhere, go you know?!

    • Chaz Curry

      Skin softening is always a very subjective art-form and takes a skillful, professional retoucher to get it right.

      With that said, it all starts with great base (makeup artist, photographer, even lighting…) not to mention a model that has great skin.

  10. mohan.h


  11. Amanda Worrall

    Great tips for using the skin smoothing brush! Would you mind sharing what other adjustments you made to the image (at the top of the article). White Balance? Split Toning? Thanks! Nice images:)

  12. Denise Zabor

    Great skin smoothing effect in Lightroom. I am new to Lightroom and found this tutorial very helpful. Thank you for posting.

  13. Elissa Shaw

    Just starting using LR…this was very helpful. So on the last two photos did you also you a brush for the background?

    • Chaz Curry

      Great eye Elissa.

      Yes, I am a brush junkie. Rather than using all of the global sliders I tend to focus on certain areas.

      It’s the dark room (dodge and burn) in me that see it’s that way.

      Glad to see you noticed.

  14. Barry EliS

    I did find this very informative, & potentially useful. however there’s very little need or value in showing this technique on girls who seem to be about 20 . Your work as demonstrated seemed a pretty pointless exercise for such a trivial goal & result.

    It would lend much more authority & value if you used models in their 60s to demonstrate the process. Those are the girls who really need skin smoothing, (both in an image & reality)

    Please try again.

    • Mary

      Whatever. Chaz doesn’t have to try again, he demonstrated a technique – one that you yourself said was useful – on photos that he happens to have. Photographers can use this tool in varying degrees on anyone of any age or gender according to the photographer’s goals. If your goal is to make a 60 year old look like a 20 year old (which would be a more pointless exercise than emphasizing a young person’s already nice skin, IMO), then you need to do this yourself on a photo of a 60 year old.

      Thanks for the demo Chaz.

    • Chaz Curry

      Hi Barry.

      We would find your critique much more useful if you gave our readers some of your tips and tricks on skin smoothing rather than what you did.

      Please try again.

  15. Judith Klapper

    Great tip, thanks so much. It’s so easy to lost in Lightroom. You can do so much with it, but can take time figuring out all the tricks.

    • Chaz Curry

      I feel ya. I tend to get lost and forget to apply some of the adjustments myself. I’ll actually export the photo multiple times because I narrow down the changes each time.

  16. Cheyenne Henderson

    Hello Chaz,

    I was just wondering as to how you got started with photoshop? Like how many classes and things like that? I’m an aspiring photographer, and sometimes find Lightroom to be really frustrating. Also, do you have any other tutorials that would pertain on how to make an image “pop”, such as in the above images?

  17. Nancy Center

    Great post. Very informative and well done. Thank you for the step by step.

  18. Gustavo Alonso

    Great tip. It might be tricky when the model’s make up is so intense or heavy make up, doesn’t? Nice tut.

    • Chaz Curry

      I agree. Obviously it’s the most tricky when the makeup is bad, the model doesn’t have great skin, or trying to make an older female look half her age. Definitely an art form.

  19. Bob Hall

    Works the same in ACR if you don’t have Lightroom.

  20. Andrea Johnstone

    Wonderful article. Not complicated like some of the skin smoothing tutorials I’m left shaking my head at.
    I do agree, less is more; you always strive for natural, yet flattering. Can’t wait to try this out on my first subject!

    Thanks so much for sharing.

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