How to edit portraits with low-key lighting
01 Raw adjustments
Download our image and follow along! Open the start image in Adobe Camera Raw. Set Exposure to +0.85, then set Shadows to -15 and Blacks to -23 to darken down the shadows.
Set Clarity to -20 to soften the skin; positive Clarity settings are used to enhance detail, but negative settings enable you to subtly blur fine detail such as skin blemishes.
Click Open Image to open the image in Elements’ Expert/Full Edit mode, and press Ctrl+J to duplicate the ‘Background’ layer. Rename the new layer ‘Skin’.
02 Retouch the skin
Use the Spot Healing Brush to tidy up stray hairs and spots, and the Clone Stamp tool for larger blemishes; set its opacity to 25%, Alt-click to sample clean areas and clone these over the marks.
Duplicate the ‘Skin’ layer and rename the new layer ‘Blur’. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set Radius to 2 pixels.
03 Blur the skin
Alt-click the Layer Mask icon to add a black mask and hide the blur effect, then paint over the skin with a white brush to reveal the blur.
Click the layer’s image thumbnail, then use the Brush tool to even out areas of uneven skin tone by Alt-clicking to sample lighter or darker tones and painting over areas at 15% opacity.
Click the top layer, and press Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E to create a merged layer. Go to Enhance > Convert to Black and White, and select the Newspaper style.
04 Contrast and sharpening
Add a Levels adjustment layer, and set Shadows to 29 and Midtones to 1.22 to lighten the subject’s midtones and darken the shadows further. Set the layer blending mode to Overlay, and reduce its opacity to 60%.
Target ‘Layer 1’, select the Dodge tool, set Range to Midtones and Exposure to 25%, and brush over the eyes and hair to lighten them.
Create another merged layer, go to Enhance > Unsharp Mask and set Amount to 60% and Radius to 2.8 pixels. Add a black mask as before, and paint the sharpening back into the eyes and mouth with a white brush.
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