Follow along: retouch a street photo from scratch

In this third "Follow Along" episode, we will be using Lightroom and Photoshop to retouch a street photo from A to Z. So let's jump directly into the tutorial but before that, download the sample file and follow along. Please note that the sample file is a DNG file so you have to import it in Lightroom like any RAW file.

Starting image

Final image

1. Cropping

I love to crop in tight to my subject. However, when it comes to street photography, I usually don't crop much in order to show the environment of the subject. For this photo in particular, I cropped just enough, moved my subject (a taxi driver in Hamra area) and showed the yellow taxi sign over his car. By this I made my story about the character and his occupation as a taxi driver. It should be obvious to the viewer. The result is shown below.

Cropped in just enough to show the taxi sign to the right...

2. White Balance and color treatment

Although I know that this photo will end up in black and white, a good black and white tonality always start with a good white balance. For that, I let Lightroom adjust the WB by selecting Auto from the Basic Panel. It does usually a great job. then under Treatment, select Black & White. The result shown below is an underexposed face and overexposed background. Don't worry, we will adjust in step 3 below.

Applied Auto WB and changed Treatment to Black & White...

3. Basic (Global) Adjustments

I rarely touch the Contrast in my global adjustment workflow. I have learned another technique that worked great on landscape and some portrait photography from Serge Ramelli. The technique basically is to lower the Highlights all the way to the left and slide the Shadows all the way to the right and from there work on Whites and Blacks without blowing the details in them. For that use the Alt key to show blown highlight or blacks. The values for the resulting image below are as follows: Exposure +1.2 , Highlights -100 , Shadows +100, Whites +17, Blacks -68, Clarity +29, Vibrance 0, Saturation 0. Also go to Tone Curve and shape a slight S shape there to increase contrast. Black & White treatment needs a contrast boost all the time.

Global adjustments, black & white treatment and tone curve adjustments...

4. Local Adjustments

Because of the mid-day sun, shadows under the eyes and cheeks are obvious. I did not had my reflector with me but I knew I can treat those in post-processing.


Select the Adjustment Brush (K) tool from the top right of the Develop Module. Reset all sliders by double clicking on the 'Effect' caption. Increase Shadows to +40 and paint over the yes and cheeks. Then use the eraser to bring back shadows to those areas if need be. Use 'O' for overlay to see where you are painting 

To brighten the eyes, select a new Adjustment Brush (K) and set Exposure +0.4, Contrast +10, Clarity +10, and Flow 100. Paint the whole white area and the iris. Zoom in tight to se where you are painting and erase spill by holding the Option (Mac) / Alt (PC).

Next we want to enhance the iris even more. So select a new Adjustment Brush (K) with Exposure +0.2, Shadows +24, Sharpness +21. Paint over the center of the iris but not the edges (fig.4). Don't overdo the catch light...

Blemishes and imperfections

Select the Spot Removal (Q) tool and start removing any distracting element like stray hair, blemishes, and skin imperfections. Make sure you are on Heal and not Clone.

Local adjustments on the eyes, blemishes, etc...

5. Details: Sharpness and Noise balance

This photo was shot at ISO 200. No need to reduce noise here. It could benefit however from a small amount of sharpening. So go to Details panel and increase Sharpening to 80 and Masking to 80. If noise suffers, increase noise reduction just a notch.

6. Finishing touches

I like to dodge and burn as a finishing touch. For this photo and at this stage of the workflow, lighten the face a little bit and darken the background just enough to set the viewer's eye over the taxi driver. Finish by adding a Post-Crop Vignetting effect under Effects panel. Set the Amount to -22, Roundness to +55 or there about. 

Export to JPEG with Screen Sharpening set at Standards. The resulting final image shown below.

Final image with local adjustments, dodge and burn, vignetting, etc...

Now it is your turn. Don't forget to share your results in the comments below! Have fun!