I photograph portraits practically every day, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the vast majority of people look better with a bit of warmth added to their portrait. Here are three techniques I use to make my portraits warmer with lighting, in Lightroom and in Photoshop.
The simplest way to make a portrait warmer—more yellow or orange toned—is to add a warmer light. This can be done with natural light by shooting nearer to sunrise and sunset, when the natural color of the sun has a warm, golden glow. When using artificial lighting, I sometimes accomplish this by adding a yellow or orange gel like the CTO (color temperature orange) gel pictured here. Clipped to the face of a light source, an orange gel makes the resulting light, well, orange. And with a thinner orange gel (such as a one-quarter or even one-eighth CTO) the hint of warmth is very subtle and appealing. The key with this approach is to white balance for the light before adding the gel or else you’ll neutralize any warming effect if you try to white balance after.
If I didn’t warm the lights during a shoot, one way I make a portrait warmer is by adjusting the white balance in post processing once I’ve imported my files into Lightroom. Because I shoot raw, I’m able to make white balance choices just as effectively after capture as if I’d made them before. That means I can photograph someone with a correct, neutral white balance (say, 5200˚ k) and then in Lightroom drag the Temperature or Tint sliders to make a warmer white balance—in this case, to something like 5600˚ k. This simple adjustment is enough to add warmth without requiring filters or even the use of Photoshop. And a little goes a long way.
Though these other methods are wonderful for warming faces, my absolute favorite technique requires the use of Photoshop. Not because it’s particularly complex, but because I especially love the look of the resulting images. In Photoshop, I click on the Photo Filter adjustment layer icon to add a warming filter (the default is officially called Warming Filter 85) to the scene. The adjustment loads automatically to a value of 25 percent, but I almost never use it at this setting. For most portraits, a hint of warmth at 5 to 10 percent is ideal, and if I really want the viewer to “notice” the warmth, I may dial it up in the range of 15 to 20 percent. It’s simple and effective, and it adds a very pleasing warm tone. And if I want to isolate it to a single area of the frame, I can easily add a layer mask to make this warmth selective.