If you are retouching portraits in Lightroom, whitening teeth is important, especially if you are shooting closer portraits or headshots.
I’m going to share with you my simple and easy settings I use to whiten teeth in Lightroom Classic.
To whiten teeth in Lightroom quickly and easily, use the brush tool with Saturation at -75 and exposure at +.50 and brush onto the teeth using the “auto mask” function in the brush tool menu. Then you can make adjustments to the Saturation, Exposure, and White Balance in the brush menu to fine-tune your adjustments to make it look natural.
I made a video tutorial to show you how this works and how I modify the settings for a specific photo to help you make it look natural.
Using The Brush Tool To Whiten Teeth
If you use the right settings, whitening teeth in Lightroom is actually pretty easy. Here’s an example of the results you can get…
Select The Brush Tool and Reset The Settings
To select the brush tool in Lightroom, you just need to click on the brush icon located above the Basic panel in the Develop module. It’s on the far right of all the local adjustment options.
You can also use the keyboard shortcut (“K”).
Once you select the brush, it is a good idea to get in the habit of always double clicking the word “Effect” on the Brush adjustment slider panel that pops up. Doing that resets any prior settings you may have had for the brush.
Set The Brush Settings For Teeth Whitening
For whitening teeth, I start with fairly strong adjustments for applying the brush strokes and then back off a little to make sure it looks natural.
Here are the settings I use:
Yep, it’s that simple. The desaturation takes care of any discoloration in the teeth and the exposure brightens them up.
Applying The Whitening
Before you start brushing on the effect, you want to set up the brush to apply it in the most effective way.
First, make sure the box next to Auto Mask is checked.
Auto mask helps you stay within the lines when you are brushing the effect onto the teeth. Teeth typically have defined edges which makes them perfect for using auto mask.
As for the brush itself, I set the Flow to 100 and the Feather to 75.
Back Off The Adjustments To Make It Look Better
More often than not, the settings you start with are going to be too strong. That’s ok because that makes it easier to see as you apply it and you can lower the strength.
Once you have applied the settings, try lowering the exposure a little and increasing the saturation up a little from the -100 setting.
This is where it takes a little trial and error to fine tune the settings until it looks realistic.
BONUS TIP: Use White Balance Settings For Fixing Color Cast
If you have a strong color cast showing up on the teeth, then you can try adjusting the white balance slider within the brush tool to correct it.
But be careful, you don’t want the teeth to be too white if the rest of the image has a certain color tone to it. Keep reading below to see why…
Tips On Whitening Teeth In Lightroom
Anytime you are retouching portraits, your goal probably isn’t to completely change the way a person looks, but rather to help them look their best while still looking like themselves.
So let’s go over a few tips to keep in mind when whitening teeth.
1. Be Subtle
This technique can go overboard very quickly. If someone has excessively bright white teeth, the teeth are going to become the subject of the photo instead of the person.
You don’t want teeth to be a focal point in the image or distract from the person’s face or eyes.
My approach here is to use stronger settings when applying the brush strokes so I can easily see where they are and then backing off the strength of the settings to a point where it looks realistic.
2. Match The Overall Lighting Of The Photo
This goes with number 1 above.
The person’s teeth shouldn’t be on a completely different brightness level than the rest of their face.
If your photo is dark and dramatic looking, then super bright teeth are going to be an obvious distraction. If your overall photo is a little brighter then you can brighten up the teeth a little more.
3. Match The Color Grade Of The Photo
The order in which you do things (your workflow) is very important when editing photos in Lightroom or any other program. I cover workflow order in detail in my Lightroom Masterclass.
While local adjustments should be done after most global adjustments, they come BEFORE applying a creative color grade or Lightroom Presets.
This is because you want the teeth to blend in with the rest of the image as far as color goes as well.
Even if you aren’t applying a color grade in Lightroom, be aware that if your image has a distinct color cast (that you want to keep) such as the orange glow of a sunset, then the teeth should have that orange glow as well. So don’t make them pure white when the rest of the image isn’t.