How to Create Intense Portraits in Lightroom

Many times when you are processing portraits in Lightroom or Photoshop you are working towards a soft, pleasing look. However, with some portraits you may be after a more dramatic and intense look. In this tutorial we’ll take a quick look at how you can create an intense portrait in Lightroom, and we’ll also showcase some before and after images to show how the effect can impact photos.

For this tutorial we’ll be working with this sample photo:

man in romania

photo by jackmac34

And here is a quick preview of the effect that we will be creating:

portrait of man edited in lightroom

Dragan-Style Portrait

To get started, we’ll apply the following settings in Lightroom’s Develop module:

  • exposure: +0.36
  • contrast: +65
  • highlights: -65
  • shadows: +45
  • whites: -60
  • blacks: -60
adobe lightroom develop module

Basic Settings in Lightroom

The settings to highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks will give the photo and HDR-like appearance with a strong black point for deep blacks. We’ve also significantly boosted contrast and increased the exposure a little bit to avoid letting the photo get too dark with the changes that we are making. Adjust the exposure as needed for the particular photo that you are working with.

Next, make the following changes to the settings:

  • clarity: +100
  • vibrance: +60
  • desaturation: -60
control panel in lightroom

Clairty, Vibrance, Saturation

Increasing clarity to the maximum at +100 will add mid-tone contrast and give the photo a sharpened look.

Next, edit the following settings for sharpness:

  • amount: 120
  • radius: 2.2
  • detail: 60
  • masking: 0

And use these settings for noise reduction:

  • luminance: 30
  • detail: 50
  • contrast: 25
  • color: 30
  • detail: 50
  • smoothness: 15
sharpening and noise reduction in lightroom

Sharpening and Noise Reduction

Adjust the sharpening and noise reduction settings as needed for the specific photo that you are working with.

And the last step we’ll take is to add a vignette with the following settings for post-crop vignetting:

  • amount: -20
  • midpoint: 50
  • roundness: 0
  • feather: 50
  • highlights: 0
lightroom vignette settings

Post-Crop Vignetting

And now we have our finished product.

portrait of man edited in lightroom


Here are a few other before and after images with the same settings in Lightroom.

lightroom before portrait

Photo by skeeze

heavily processed soldier portrait


unedited portrait of men

photo by Unsplash

dragan style presets for lightroom applied to image


About the Author:
Marc Andre is the editor of and Loaded Landscapes, a new blog that focuses exclusively on landscape and nature photography.

With this new set of Lightroom presets you can easily transform ordinary photos into powerful photos with a strong impact with a single click. The set includes 17 different one-click presets plus 40 stackable workflow presets inspired by the popular Dragan effect.

Found here: Dragan Style Lightroom Presets

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6 responses to “How to Create Intense Portraits in Lightroom”

  1. Michal says:

    That is shockingly bad over-processing,

  2. William says:

    Took nice images and destroyed them. Sorry, way over processed and unnatural.

  3. Greg says:

    Don’t need LR for that over-cooking…plenty of free phone/tablet apps that can do that in one click. C’mon PictureCorrect you are better than this, right?

  4. Claude B. says:

    I agree with Michal & William.

  5. Dolan says:

    worst post processing article of the year

  6. Andrew Davis says:

    The images have impact alright, they make me impact my forehead with my palm. Unbelievably bad advice.

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