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How to Color Grade Your Picture in LightRoom

Benjamin Arango
Benjamin Arango
Originally published Mar 03, 22, updated Feb 29, 24
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Every budding photographer knows what Photoshop is Adobe Lightroom (officially Adobe Photoshop Lightroom) is the newer and more advanced version of Photoshop. Compared with other alternatives of Lightroom, Lightroom helps photographers import, modify, manipulate, find, organize, and manage their images as an image editing software. Lightroom combines photo management and photo editing in one.

One of the most amazing things about Lightroom is its autosave or nondestructive feature. Once you edit your photos, Lightroom instantly saves and stores them in your Lightroom catalog. With its inbuilt-presets, Lightroom makes working on your project so much easy and fun.

You can leverage Lightroom's unique features to perform different types of tasks. However, in this article, you'll learn color grading in Lightroom and how to make it work.

What Is Color Grading?

Color grading is one of the essential processes for creating the perfect video and image content. Like with color correction, color grading helps enhance the appearance of your image or video and makes it appealing to viewers. However, unlike color correction, it focuses on creating stylistic or cinematic effects rather than rectifying mistakes in the image.

Color grading enhances an already edited or otherwise perfect image or video. So, in color grading, you are not trying to balance out colors or make your pictures look natural to the human eyes. Color correction does all that. Instead, with color grading, you aim to "paint over" a color-corrected content to evoke specific emotions or moods in the viewers.

Colors carry different emotions or visual tones. So, they're essential in the post-production process to manipulate viewers into specific moods that tell your story best. In other words, color grading aligns your viewer's emotions to the central theme in your story.

color grading in lightroom

For example, if your image or video's theme is passion, power, violence, or danger, red portrays them perfectly. Meanwhile, blue does it when you wish to evoke calmness and melancholy in your viewers.

Other examples include:

  • pink for beauty, innocence, and femininity,
  • Green for nature, darkness, and corruption
  • Purple for fantasies, and the mystical
  • Yellow for obsession, sickness, and naivety
  • Orange for warmth, friendliness, youth, and happiness

Have you noticed that turning your pictures black and white makes them look timeless? That's color grading in action.

Color Grading in LightRoom

Are you amazed by the thrilling power of color grading to manipulate viewers' emotions? Are you wondering how you can achieve that effect seamlessly? Then, you don't need to worry about it. With Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, you too can make magic.

Since Lightroom is an advanced photo editor, it has a lot to offer in features. Unfortunately, this may also mean that it can be complex to understand, especially if you're new to photo editing. So, first things first, you must understand the color grading panel in Lightroom to appreciate it better.

Lightroom's color grading panel is right beneath the HSL panel in the Develop Panel. It serves as a replacement for the Split Toning Panel from earlier versions, so it's pretty easy to find.

The color grading panel comprises five small icons, three color wheels, and a blending/balance slider:

● The Five Small Icons

Lightroom's small icons are a 3-way default layout, shadows, mid-tones, highlights, and global. With 3-way, you can manipulate the highlights, shadows, and mid-tones. Mid-tones, highlights, and shadows hide all color wheels, excluding the necessary ones that adjust them.

Meanwhile, Global combines and blends the highlights, mid-tones, and shadow adjustments no matter the luminosity. Global ensures that the color wheels work harmoniously.

When adjusting icons, it's best to use each color wheel one after another one. You'll get better and more precise outcomes that way compared to using them together.

● Lightroom's Color Wheels

You can view Lightroom's three-color wheels through the 3-way default layout. The color wheels help to enhance distinct image parts by providing various color hues. It also allows you to introduce saturation through an adjustable knob.

Each lightroom's color wheels feature a luminance slide beneath them that adjusts color brightness. Between the luminance slide and the wheel is a visible eye icon that you can use to turn the effects on or off.

● The Blending and Balance Slider

The blending and balance sliders offer you advanced control over how your colors look after introducing them. With the blending slider, you can control the color distinctiveness between highlights and shadows. In other words, this feature helps to merge colors to produce a much more balanced and beautiful result.

The balance slider adjusts altered mid-tones, highlights, and shadows to balance the effects. By default, the slider is set at 0 in the middle and allows you to move it in opposite directions for distinct effects. For example, you can use this tool to balance shadows with over-concentrated colors.

While the above features are visible to everyone in the 3-way view, there are two more hidden sliders. You may only view them when editing highlights, shadows, mid-tones, or the global color wheels. They're the hue and saturation sliders that you can only uncover by clicking on the arrow below the eye icon.

There's no idea why the hue and saturation sliders aren't visible in the 3-way view. That's especially when you discover that they do the all-important job of making minor but precise changes to final adjustments. This produces an excellent fine-tuned outcome and gives your image a professional finish.

colour grading lightroom

How To Color Grade Your Picture in LightRoom

If you wish to use the color grading Lightroom tool to enhance photos, here's a comprehensive guide for you. You'll learn the best practices to apply when using the specific Lightroom features to produce your desired effects:

● Pick Your Color Scheme

What's color grading without the right colors? Choosing an appropriate color scheme is one of the essential steps in Lightroom color grading. That's because it sets the tone for the next steps. If you choose the wrong colors, you won't get the excellent result you desire no matter how hard you try.

First, take a good look at your picture and its visible colors. Then think of the colors that compliment or contrast with them. For example, you should base images with red highlights around red. You can also try colors close to red in the color wheel, like orange.

Once you've found the colors that suit your image, you're ready for the next steps in your color grading process. However, more than just adding colors, you must also pay attention to contrasting colors during processing. If you find such unwanted colors, use the HSL panel to pale them out.

● Prioritize Precision

In earlier paragraphs, you learned that working with the highlights, shadows, and mid-tones individually is best. That's because individual adjustments are a painstaking process that guarantees the most accurate results. This makes a lot of difference in the final product compared to when you work with the wheel.

Working on the shadows, highlights, and mid-tones individually also connects to the hue and saturation sliders. So you remember how vital these hidden sliders are? You wouldn't be able to access them by working on the tools one after another. Take that as your reward for being detail-oriented.

● Increase Saturation Values

Sometimes, the effect of one tool tells on another. For example, leaving your saturation values below may render your hue slider ineffective. To avoid that confusion, it's best to increase your saturation levels to some values higher than your preferred one.

Yes, it wouldn't look nice initially as you adjust the hue. However, it will ensure that you get the perfect color for your image. You can always go back to adjust the saturation to your choice values later on.

● Use Color Wheels To Find Color, Use Shadows to Refine

When discussing how to choose your color scheme, you must have understood how vital the color wheel is in finding harmonious hues. However, picking your preferred color isn't the complete process. You must learn to fine-tune your chosen color by using the hue slider. Do this after adjusting the saturation to your preferred level as in the previous step. The result is always mind-blowing.

how to use color grading in lightroom

● Learn the Short Cuts

There are some shortcuts to learn when color grading in Lightroom to enhance accuracy and convenience. For example, option (Mac)/Alt (Windows) gives you better control over your image's outcomes. Option/Alt + Up will increase saturation by one while the shift key adjusts it. You can use Command (Mac)/Ctrl (Windows) to adjust the hue. Also, the reset button on the right side of your panel takes you back to your initial image.

● Extra Tips

These best practices will help you to achieve excellent results:

  1. Don't color grade without understanding the psychology of colors. Know what colors convey different moods or emotions.
  2. Be sure to work with high-quality pictures. Color grading isn't magic; it wouldn't correct an already lousy image.
  3. Shooting your pictures in RAW gives you more color control.


● Now that you've learned how to color grade using Lightroom, there's no limit to what you can achieve. You can now explore your creative side with so much fun. However, know that you will likely not get it right the first time. Perfection comes with consistent practice or trial and error.

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