Lightroom Ultimate Guide – Color Grading

Lightroom Color Grading

The Color Grading panel in Lightroom is one of the most recent upgrades to the software package. It allows you to perform global and/or targeted adjustments to colours in your images. The intuitive user interface means tonal adjustment is now a breeze to achieve. This makes the tool ideal for correcting tonal imbalances and making tonal enhancements in your images.

Lightroom Color Grading

As an example image, we will use this image from the top of Ben Ledi shot in the Scottish Highlands. The low-level clouds were moving extremely fast, and have picked up a lovely hue from the sunlight, which was quite low over another mountain range. This hue is something we can enhance using the Color Grading tool. Also though, the shadows in the mountain are a little too pink, so we can also use Color Grading to correct this at the same time.

Ben Ledi - Scottish Highlands

Before we get into editing this image, let’s quickly cover the layout and functionality controls in the Color Grading tool. You access the Color Grading tool through the Develop Panel.

By default, the panel shows three tonal adjustment circles, one each for Midtones, Shadows, and Highlights. You are presented with three adjustment zones; and include all the colours from the visible spectrum. Each zone has a Luminance slider to adjust the brightness of the tonal adjustment being applied.

Further, each circle contains two draggable adjustment pins. The outer pin allows you to select a hue and rotates around the edge of the circle. The inner pin adjusts the saturation level. The centre of the circle represents zero saturation and dragging the pin to the edge is maximum saturation.

Also, at the bottom of the panel, there is a Blending & Balance slider.

Lightroom Color Grading

Blending Slider

Blending controls the amount of mixing that occurs between the Shadows and Highlights into the Midtones.

Lightroom Color Grading

To demonstrate, here is a neutrally coloured starting image. The Highlights are set to a magenta hue, and the shadows are set to a green hue. In the first image, the Blending is set at 0% and in the second image 100%.

In the 1st image, you can see that the Midtones are dominated with green and in the 2nd image, they are dominated with magenta.

So, we can see from this that at 100%, the Highlights are prioritised and blended into the Midtones. At 0% the Shadows are prioritised and blended into the Midtones. At the datum position, 50%, there is equal prioritisation between how the Highlights and Shadows blend with the Midtones.

Blending at 0%
Blending at 0%
Blending at 100%
Blending at 100%

Balance Slider

The Balance Slider is a prioritisation of whether the Shadows or Highlights are dominant within an image. At 0% the shadow tones are dominant, and at 100% the highlight tones are dominant. From this, we derive that at the slider datum of 0%, there is an equal prioritisation between Highlights and Shadows.

In the next example, the Blending slider is reset back to its datum of 50%. The Shadows and Highlights are still set to green and magenta respectively

At a Balance setting of -100% the green tones dominate the image eliminating any magenta, and at 100% magenta tones dominate.

Lightroom Color Grading
Balance at -100%
-100% Balance
Balance at 100%
100% Balance

These examples are obviously using the controls at their extremes for the purpose of demonstration. But, from this, we can see that the use of these blending and balance sliders is an efficient way to perform targeted colour enhancements or even replacement, without resorting to destructive processing methods.

Worked Example

Now, let’s get back to our image from Ben Ledi! Now, the edits we are doing here are subtle compared to the extreme examples above. Generally, of course, this is going to be the case with the majority of your edits using the Color Grading tool.

Firstly, I corrected the magenta colour in the grass. To do this, I selected a green hue from the Midtones and then increased the saturation to the desired effect. Finally, I reduced the brightness using the Luminance slider.

Next, targeting the Highlights. I selected a hue right on the boundary between blue and magenta, and, to keep increased the saturation ever so slightly.

Lightroom Color Grading
Lightroom Color Grading Final

Lightroom Color Grading Conclusions

It’s worth experimenting yourself with the various sliders and controls in the Color Grading panel. The intuitative nature of the controls combined with the ease of getting results makes for an enjoyable learning experience.

If you found this article useful, why not check out some of our other Lightroom Articles & How-To Guides. Here are some related articles you may find useful:

Mastering HSL & Color

The HSL & Color Panels allow you to perform targeted adjustments to specific areas in your photograph for Hue, Saturation & Color optimisation.

White Balance
Master White Balance

White Balance is a scale of the primary colour intensities. When post-processing it is important to render neutral colours correctly.

Lightroom Watermarking
Lightroom Watermarking

The Watermarking function in Adobe Lightroom allows you to add a graphical or textual watermark to your images during export


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