Being able to change and manipulate the colours in your images is a real asset for all photographers. If you’re trying to portray a certain mood, fake a sunset or even to keep your Instagram to a consistent theme, mastering colour grading in Lightroom will allow you to do that.
But how do we do it? That’s what we’re focusing on in this article, where I’m going to share with you the best colour correction and adjustment techniques in Lightroom, along with some examples.
If you don’t edit your images and aren’t sure whether Lightroom is the right choice for you, check out our other recommendations of photo editing apps and software for all budgets.
It’s also worth pointing out that I prefer to use Lightroom Classic for colour grading, rather than Lightroom CC. However, the capabilities of Classic and CC are almost identical so this article will still be beneficial for CC users.
You can check out the differences between Lightroom Classic and CC if you’re unsure about which one to use.
Colour Grading Features in Lightroom
Below, I’ll touch on the Lightroom features which I use to colour correct our images. We’ll discuss the HSL panel, adjustment brush, the linear mask, and the radial gradient.
This is the simplest way to change the colours in your image. When referring to HSL, I mean Hue, Saturation and Luminance.
One of the greatest features of Lightroom is the ability to change these 3 factors for each individual colour, instead of the image as a whole. This allows you to make changes to, for example, everything red in the image, without affecting the rest of the photo at all.
Since this article is about colour grading and how to change the colours in your photo, we are going to focus on ‘Hue’.
Changing the hue of a colour will allow you to change everything in the image that is that colour. Is the sky too yellow in your sunset shot? Crank the hue to the orange side to turn that yellow sky orange.
It’s really as simple as that, and you can do it with any colour of your choice.
There are a couple of limitations to purely using hue to colour correct your your photos though.
Limitations of Hue
- When you change the hue of a colour, you change the hue of everything in the photo that is that specific colour. So, for example if you have an image with a nice blue sky but you want your blue jacket to be purple, then if you change the hue of blue, both your jacket AND the sky will go purple.
- The hue of every colour can only be changed to the nearest 2 colours to it. For example, you can easily change orange colours to be more red or yellow. But you have no option to turn something orange into something blue.
To conclude, hue is the easiest and quickest way to change the colours in your images. If limitations listed above don’t apply to your image, then hue is the best way to colour grade for you.
If the limitations of just using hue are interfering with your creative process, then an adjustment brush is what you may need to use. There are no such limitations here. You can change the colour of anything in the image to be any colour you want.
An adjustment brush can be found at the top of the editing menu on the right (shown below).
Essentially it allows you to physically draw on the image to highlight the area(s) that you want to adjust.
You can control the size and the feathering of the brush. You can zoom in and out of the image. If you get clumsy with it you can erase parts of the adjustment layer as well.
This essentially means that you can apply your adjustment to just about anything in your image. Even tiny things like birds or eyes can be zoomed into and adjusted.
Using an Adjustment Brush to Colour Grade
With regards to colour, you can change it to literally any colour you like. For example, in the image below I changed the color of my jacket and boots to yellow. (I don’t own a yellow jacket, but with the adjustment brush, I don’t need one)!
To change the colour of the area, what you need to do is click on the selected colour within the colour box (shown below).
You can then select the colour that you want to apply to your adjustment layer. Of course, the stronger % of color you pick, the stronger it will show up.
If you are changing the colour of something that is already a strong colour, then you may need to take out the saturation in your adjustment. This will essentially take away all of the original colour, so that all that’s left is your new colour.
That’s another bonus of using an adjustment brush, changing the colour is just one of the many things that you can do. We’re only focusing on colour in this tutorial so we’ll save that for another time, but to sum it up quickly, you can change everything like temperature, exposure, contrast etc.
Limitations of the Adjustment Brush
The only negative of using an adjustment brush for colour grading in Lightroom, is that it can take a bit of time to get it right. This is especially true for more complex shapes that you want to change.
You have to be careful and make sure that you don’t miss any areas that you want to adjust, or it will be clear in the image that you’ve faked the colour.
TIP – Ramp up (or down) the exposure of the adjustment layer quickly to make the highlighted areas stand out (below). I’ve found that can really help me spot little parts of the image I may have missed. There is also a ‘show selected mask overlay’ button that will do the same sort of thing, but I prefer moving exposure.
A linear mask works the same way as an adjustment brush. The only difference is that instead of ‘colouring in’ the areas that you want to adjust, you just pull the mask over the image with a straight edge.
This is ideal when you are dealing with straight lines that go all the way across the image. The main example being the horizon, where the area you want to affect is the sky.
You can feather the end of the brush as well as change the general brush properties, to help blend the changes if you want. You can also spin and move it anywhere on the image.
The way that you change the colour is exactly the same as with the adjustment brush. Just select the colour you want to correct and pick a new one.
As with the last 2 colour grading techniques, a radial gradient essentially creates an area for you to apply changes to, that doesn’t affect the rest of the image. The difference here is that, as you might of guessed, it does it in a circle.
As with before, you can choose the size and feathering of the radial gradient.
This technique is only going to be the best option for you if you’re trying to affect a spherical shape in your photo, such as a lens ball. On the topic on lens balls, check out our 5 tips on using a lens ball.
If you’re adjusting the colour of something that isn’t a circle, then this probably isn’t the best choice for you.
These are my personal preferences for colour grading techniques when editing with Lightoom.
As I mentioned before, being able to completely change the colour of anything within a photo makes it so much easier to portray a certain mood, or keep your images within a certain colour theme. It also allows you to do things like make an average sunset look outstanding, or turn muddy brown water into a beautiful, icy blue.
FINAL TIP – While it’s great fun playing around with the colours in photos, it’s also very easy to take it too far and end up with a photo that just looks completely fake. Be sure to keep comparing your edit to the orginal image by pressing ‘Y’ on your keyboard. That will bring up the original and your edit next to each other. Then you can determine if you’ve taken things too far.
If you found this tutorial useful, you might like to check out our free resources page. We have several photography resources that can help you quickly improve your game.
We also recently collaborated with photographer Benjamin Behre for a different lightroom tutorial. You can check that out here: Lightroom Edit for Instagram: Benjamin Behre.
One of the founders of People of the Planet. Sharing years of experience in web design, photography and earning on the road! We created People of the Planet to provide a place for all travellers to connect, learn, publish and of course, travel!