The heme biosynthetic pathway culminates with the ferrochelatase-catalyzed ferrous iron chelation into protoporphyrin IX to form protoheme. The catalytic mechanism of ferrochelatase has been proposed to involve the stabilization of a nonplanar porphyrin to present the pyrrole nitrogens to the metal ion substrate. Previously, we hypothesized that the ferrochelatase-induced nonplanar distortions of the porphyrin substrate impose selectivity for the divalent metal ion incorporated into the porphyrin ring and facilitate the release of the metalated porphyrin through its reduced affinity for the enzyme. Using resonance Raman spectroscopy, the structural properties of porphyrins bound to the active site of directly evolved Ni(2+)-chelatase variants are now examined with regard to the mode and extent of porphyrin deformation and related to the catalytic properties of the enzymes. The Ni(2+)-chelatase variants (S143T, F323L, and S143T/F323L), which were directly evolved to exhibit an enhanced Ni(2+)-chelatase activity over that of the parent wild-type ferrochelatase, induced a weaker saddling deformation of the porphyrin substrate. Steady-state kinetic parameters of the evolved variants for Ni(2+)- and Fe(2+)-chelatase activities increased compared to those of wild-type ferrochelatase. In particular, the reduced porphyrin saddling deformation correlated with increased catalytic efficiency toward the metal ion substrate (Ni(2+) or Fe(2+)). The results lead us to propose that the decrease in the induced protoporphyrin IX saddling mode is associated with a less stringent metal ion preference by ferrochelatase and a slower porphyrin chelation step.