Photographers need to stop color grading the wrong way

adobe lightroom tips and techniques
Photographers need to stop color grading the wrong way

Color grading is a powerful visual stylization tool for photographers, allowing us to adjust the colors within specific tonal ranges in a photograph to create a specific mood, style, or emotion. Photographers can create unique styles and atmospheres that make their images stand out by making targeted adjustments to the hues, saturation, and luminance of colors within the highlights, shadows, and mid-tone regions of a photo. This article will explore color grading in more detail, including the importance of color theory, techniques for using color grading in your photography, and how to apply it in popular photo editing software like Adobe Lightroom Classic.

A bit about color theory

Color theory is the foundation of color grading, and it's important to understand how different colors interact to create a cohesive look in your photographs. The color wheel is a visual representation of the relationships between colors, and it can be a valuable tool for understanding how colors interact. Complementary colors, opposite each other on the color wheel, can create contrast and add visual interest to a photo. Analogous colors, next to each other on the color wheel, can be used to create a harmonious and cohesive look.

Color grading in cinema

Cinematographers have long incorporated color grading within their films to add a cohesive style and evoke particular emotions. Because individual colors are tied to particular emotions, cinematographers can subtly or strongly leverage color grading to accentuate a desired mood or feeling. One of the most popular color grading techniques is the "teal and orange" look, a popular technique in the film industry. This technique adds a cool, teal tone to the shadows and a warm, orange tone to the highlights, creating a distinct, cinematic look. When you examine the color grading applied to films like Joker (above) and Mad Max: Fury Road (below), you can see how each treatment lends itself to evoke a particular emotion.

Color grading tools in Adobe Lightroom Classic

The overall mood and atmosphere you want to create with your photo are critical in color grading. Warm colors like reds, oranges, and yellows can create a sense of warmth and energy, while cool colors like blues and greens can create a sense of calm and serenity. You can also use color grading to create a vintage or retro look by adding a warm, sepia tone to a photograph. Alternatively, you can create a modern and moody atmosphere by adding a cool, blue tone to a photo.

The Color Grading panel in Adobe Lightroom Classic provides advanced controls for adjusting the tones in your photo, making it a powerful tool for creating this and other complex color grading effects.

Another powerful tool for adjusting color in Lightroom Classic is the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) panel, although its purpose should not be confused with or considered color grading. This panel allows you to adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance of specific colors in your photograph. For example, you could increase the saturation of the reds in a photo to make them more vibrant or decrease the luminance of the blues to create a darker, moody effect.

Custom "Color Grade" presets for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop

In addition to these advanced color-grading tools, you can use custom-built presets to streamline your post-processing workflow. Presets, like my Color Grade pack, will apply professionally crafted color-graded styles to your photos with a single click, making it easy to achieve a specific look or style. I highly recommend adding these beautiful Color Grade presets to your editing workflow.

Color grading is not just about adjusting colors but also about creating a cohesive look in your photographs. Effective color grading techniques can create a unique style and consistency in your photography. That is especially important for photographers who want to stand out in a crowded field, as it allows them to create a style that is uniquely theirs.

When applying color grading to your photos, it's important to remember that less is often more. Overdoing it with color grading can result in an unnatural or overprocessed look, so it's important to use it judiciously. Additionally, it's important to remember the context in which your photo will be viewed. A moody, blue-toned photo might look great on Instagram but not as effective for a bright, colorful travel brochure.

Wrapping it up

Remembering that color grading is not a one-size-fits-all solution is also important. Each photograph is unique and requires a thoughtful color grading approach to achieve the desired effect. Experimenting with different techniques and styles is important to find what works best for your photography.

Furthermore, while color grading can enhance the look of a photograph, it cannot fix fundamental issues with composition or lighting. It's important to focus on capturing a strong image in-camera and then use color grading to enhance that image and create a unique style.

Finally, when using color grading techniques, it's important to remember your photographs' intended audience and context. As with all aspects of photography, it's important to consider your photo's overall message and tone. A moody, desaturated look might be appropriate for a dramatic landscape shot but might not work as well for a bright and cheerful family portrait.

Using color grading techniques in your photography, you can create a unique and distinctive style that sets your work apart. With the right understanding of color theory and the advanced color grading tools available in software like Adobe Lightroom Classic, you can adjust the colors in your photographs to create a specific mood, style, or emotion. However, it's important to remember that color grading is just one tool in the photographer's toolbox. You should use it thoughtfully to enhance strong images and create a cohesive body of work.


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