How to Color Grade Photos in Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
How to Color Grade Photos in Lightroom Classic

A few weeks ago I showed you how to use the Color Grading panel in Lightroom Classic 10.0 to tone black and white photos. Today I’d like to follow up by showing you how to use it to color grade photos.

What is color grading?

Color grading is like toning, except that you’re working with color photos, not black and white ones.

I prefer to use the terms toning (for black and white photos) and color grading (for color photos) even though you do both in the Color Grading panel.

Each process has a different origin. Toning comes from the black and white darkroom, and color grading originated in the movie world.


Learn more: How to Tone Black & White Photos in Lightroom Classic with the Color Grading Panel


Why do photographers color grade photos?

Color grading is a technique that comes from the film industry, where it’s common to apply a color overlay to movies.

Color grading unifies the film with a consistent approach to color. It’s also a great way to add atmosphere and draw viewers into the movie’s make believe world.

The same applies to photography. The main reason for color grading is to create moody photos. You can also use it to give a set of photos a similar look.

What subjects are best for color grading?

You can try color grading with any photo, but it seems to work best with subjects like portraits and landscapes. It helps if the photo has strong shadows and bright highlights.

What colors get used in films?

The most common color grading combinations used in movies are variations of blue and orange. For example, you can apply blue, teal or dark green to the shadows, and orange or yellow to the highlights.

When you do this you’ll notice that you’re applying a warm color to the highlights, and a cooler color to the shadows. The technique makes use of a simple color composition principle – that warm colors appear to be closer to the viewer, and cool colors further away.

You can see this by looking at one of the color wheels in the Color Grading panel. I’ve placed black lines on the screenshot below to show you which colors to apply to the highlights (a), and which ones to the shadows (b).

Color Grading panel Lightroom Classic

The Color Grading panel differs from the older Split Toning panel as it lets you apply a separate color to the midtones. You’ll see some examples of how to use this in the photos below.

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Color grading examples

Here are some examples of how you can color grade photos. Feel free to copy the settings and use them in your own photos.

Photo: Village of Clovelly, north Devon

Landscape photo

Reason for color grading: To make the vegetation greener and warm up the highlights.

Shadows: Hue 109, Saturation 32, Luminance 0 (green)
Midtones: Saturation 0, Luminance 0
Highlights: Hue 51, Saturation 51, Luminance 0 (yellow)
Blending 50, Balance 0

Color graded landscape photo

Photo: Blacksmith at work

Portrait of blacksmith

Reason for color grading: To emphasize the warmth of the fire by adding blue to the shadows and orange to the highlights. I needed lots of saturation in the shadows to overcome the orange cast created by the blacksmith’s fire.

Shadows: Hue 216, Saturation 96, Luminance -50 (blue)
Midtones: Saturation 0, Luminance 0
Highlights: Hue 37, Saturation 58, Luminance 0 (orange)
Blending 61, Balance 0

Color graded portrait of blacksmith

I applied the same settings to other photos in the series to give them the same creative treatment. Here’s an example.

Color graded photo of blacksmith's anvil

Photo: Dawlish Warren Nature Reserve

Landscape photo

Reason for color grading: To add mood to the landscape using color and create a painterly feel. To do this I applied blue to the shadows, green to the midtones and yellow to the highlights. The blue/green/yellow combination gives a smooth transition from cool blue to warm yellow.

Shadows: Hue 238, Saturation 36, Luminance -16 (blue)
Midtones: Hue 121, Saturation 10, Luminance +61 (green)
Highlights: Hue 62, Saturation 39, Luminance +39 (yellow)
Blending 50, Balance 0

Color graded landscape photo

Again, applying the same Color Grading settings to other photos in the series helped create a unified set of images.

Color graded landscape photo
Color graded landscape photo

Photo: Portrait of Elizabeth

Portrait of woman

Reason for color grading: To add mood by applying a dark green and orange color grade.

Shadows: Hue 147, Saturation 17, Luminance -27 (dark green)
Midtones: Saturation 0, Luminance 0
Highlights: Hue 47, Saturation 55, Luminance +18 (orange)
Blending 50, Balance 0

Color graded portrait of woman

Photo: Dongtai Road antiques market, Shanghai

Photo of baoding balls

Reason for color grading: To add mood by turning the shadows blue without affecting the rest of the photo. I also added some red to the midtones to emphasize the color of the balls.

Shadows: Hue 233 Saturation 38, Luminance -26 (blue)
Midtones: Hue 4, Saturation 32, Luminance +25 (red)
Highlights: Saturation 0, Luminance 0
Blending 50, Balance 0

Color graded photo of baoding balls

Photo: Basket of apples

Photo of basket of apples

Reason for color grading: To add interest by turning the shadows blue and bring out the color of the apples by adding warmth to the midtones.

Shadows: Hue 229 Saturation 67, Luminance -11 (blue)
Midtones: Hue 2, Saturation 26, Luminance +0 (red)
Highlights: Saturation 0, Luminance 0
Blending 50, Balance 0

Color graded photo of basket of apples

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2 comments

Tom Gibson November 24, 2020 - 8:33 pm

I just wish they had a TAT, target adjustment tool like in PS and they used to have in LR….

Reply
Andrew S. Gibson November 25, 2020 - 10:24 am

Hi Tom, you don’t need a TAT in the Color Grading panel. It’s still there in the HSL/Color panel etc, where it’s always been.

Reply

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