Get Creative With Color In Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
Get Creative With Color In Lightroom Classic

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Lightroom Classic’s color tools let you get as creative with color as you like. But if this idea is new to you, you may be wondering why we don’t accept the colors that come out of the camera.

The answer is that the Raw file is a starting point. It’s true you might be happy with the colors that your camera produces. But you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve once you start adjusting the colors in your photos.

Getting creative with color is part of developing your own style or look. This isn’t easy but it’s something that most good photographers aspire to do.

Lightroom Classic has several ways to adjust the color. Take a look at the photos below to get an idea of what you can do. The first is more or less straight out of the camera (with the Fuji Velvia profile applied and white balance set to Auto). The others show you the difference that getting creative with color adjustments can make.

Creative color in Lightroom Classic
Creative color in Lightroom Classic
Creative color in Lightroom Classic
Creative color in Lightroom Classic

Now you’ve seen what you can do it’s time to look at Lightroom Classic’s color tools.

Lightroom Classic color profiles

Lightroom Classic comes with several sets of color profiles. They include your camera’s built-in profiles as well as some created by Adobe.

The color profile sets the base tonal and color values of your Raw file. It’s the first thing you should set in Lightroom Classic, before making any other adjustments.

Below you can see the result of applying four different color profiles to the same photo. Some of the differences are subtle, you may have to look closely to see them.

  • The Velvia and Classic Chrome profiles are camera specific. You’ll only see these if you have a Fujifilm camera.
  • Adobe Landscape and Artistic 04 are Adobe profiles.
Lightroom Classic color profiles
Lightroom Classic color profiles

Learn more: Why Lightroom Classic Profiles Matter

Vibrance and Saturation

The Vibrance and Saturation sliders are near the bottom of the Basic panel. They’re both global adjustments, but each has a different effect on color saturation.

  • The Saturation slider adjusts the saturation of every color.
  • The Vibrance slider affects the saturation of muted colors. It’s also easier on skin tones.

Most of the time it’s a good idea to decrease Saturation and Vibrance rather than increase them. Muted colors are more subdued and moodier than saturated ones.

This photo shows the difference between Vibrance and Saturation. Again, the difference is subtle. Look at the yellow and red pattern bottom left to see it.

Lightroom Classic vibrance and saturation

HSL/Color panel

The HSL/Color panel has Lightroom Classic’s most powerful tools for adjusting color. The HSL and Color tabs have the same sliders, but arranged in a different order.

I prefer to use the HSL tab, so let’s look at that.

Lightroom Classic HSL tab

All colors are made up of the same three elements: hue, saturation and luminance. The HSL/Color panel lets you adjust each of these separately. It gives you the ultimate level of creative control over color.

Color and hue

Hue is often used as a synonym for color, but it has a more precise meaning. Color is a specific term, hue is a general one.

Hue describes a color’s place on the visible spectrum. Red, orange, blue, purple and yellow are all hues.

You can think of these as parent colors. Let’s take blue as an example. Blue is a hue. Adjusting the saturation and luminance values gives you specific colors like prussian blue, navy blue or sky blue. These shades of blue have a similar hue value and belong to the same hue family.

The Hue sliders in Lightroom Classic adjust the underlying colors in your photos. You can then fine tune the colors by adjusting saturation and luminance.

You can see how it works by looking at the sliders in the Hue panel.

For example:

  • If you move the Green slider left, anything that’s green in your photo becomes yellow (the color of the previous slider).
  • If you move the Green slider right, anything that’s green in your photo becomes aqua (the color of the following slider).

The photos below show how it works.

Lightroom Classic hue and color

Color saturation

The Saturation sliders let you adjust the saturation level of specific hues.

For example, in our photo of the yellow flower you can adjust saturation in the background by moving the Green slider. Or move the Yellow slider to adjust the saturation of the flower.

Lightroom Classic color saturation

Color luminance

The Luminance sliders adjust the brightness of specific hues.

In turn, this affects the saturation. If you make a color darker (by moving the corresponding slider left) the color looks more saturated. If you make it lighter (by moving the slider right) the color looks less saturated.

The photos below shows how it works.

Lightroom Classic color luminance

The Tone Curve and Color Grading panels

You can also adjust color creatively using the Tone Curve and Color Grading panels. You can learn more about both in the tutorials linked below.

Learn more: How to Use the Tone Curve Panel in Lightroom Classic

Learn more: How to Color Grade Photos in Lightroom Classic

Putting it all together

Now let’s see at how you can put these techniques into action. They work best when you start with a photo that has good color composition.

We’ll start with a portrait that I made in India. Below you can see the before and after version.

Lightroom Classic creative color

These are the settings I adjusted that affected the colors.

Color profile

I set Profile to Classic Chrome. This is a camera specific profile that emulates the look of vintage slide film. If you don’t have a Fujifilm camera select the Adobe Neutral profile and decrease Saturation in the Basic panel to get a similar result.

Lightroom Classic color profile


Then I reduced the global saturation with the Vibrance slider.

Lightroom Classic color saturation

Followed by adjusting the Blue slider in the Saturation tab of the HSL/Color panel.

Lightroom Classic color adjustment


Then, I made blue darker using the Luminance slider.

Lightroom Classic color adjustment

As you can see in the before / after photos above these simple adjustments make a huge difference to the photo’s color. It’s only one example but it shows you how you can get creative and make your photos more interesting by experimenting with color.

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