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New Colour Grading Tab in Lightroom Explained

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

The latest update Lightroom have just released has many new features. The most notable (for me) is the colour grading tab. This has replaced what used to be called split toning. Split toning has always been one of the most powerful tools in Lightroom, especially for creating a consistent theme in all of your photos. I really like the new colour grading tab, its almost like split toning but in more depth. It is very similar to the colour grading features on Premiere Pro, if you have used that software before. So let me break this down and explain everything for you.

The main differences between the colour grading and split toning, is the ability to change midtones, and the way you select your colours. If you have never used split toning before, don't worry I'll explain everything. You should definitely try it out, makes a massive difference to your photos.

First things first, in order to use this you are going to have to understand; what highlights, shadows and midtones are, and what hue, saturation and luminance is. If you already know, feel free to skip the next paragraph.

Highlights are the brightest parts of your image, this could be something like a sky. Shadows are the darkest parts of your images (literally the shadows), and midtones are anything inbetween. Hue is the shade of a colour so you could have a blueish green or a yellowish green for example. Saturation is the intensity of this colour and luminance is how bright the colour is. Have a play around with the sliders, come back and read this again. Should start making sense.

If you look at the top of the colour grading tab it says adjust with different coloured circles next to it. I think its easier to click on the large circles in the middle as shown below. You just get a lot more control with a larger circle.

So lets start off with shadows as shown above. You can add a specific colour into the shadows using the circle. Just click and drag in the circle and watch in real time as the photo gets changed based on your selection. The circle controls the hue and saturation - hue going round and saturation going up and down. The luminance is controlled by the slider at the bottom. Lets take a look at a real example.

Here we have it set to zero (above)

Then I have added a touch of teal then taken the luminance down. This has taken that orange glow out of the photo that I had originally. I'm not going to touch midtones for this shot as I don't think its going to add anything. It is always worth playing around with though (I certainly did). So I've gone over to highlights to sort my orange glow situation out.

Now we have both the cool blues in the shadows and the orange glow, adding something special to this shot. Using a subtle shade of orange and then adding luminance to it as you can see above. Its always good to use colour harmonies when you are contrasting highlights and shadows. More on that here.

One of the key things here is to be quite subtle, I mean unless you want something abstract. If you go crazy with this you will definitely get some interesting results.

There are two more sliders that appear on the bottom. Blending and balance.

Blending is basically the opacity of the effect. If you like the shade of the colour you have added for example and feel its too strong. Just drag the blending bar down (its set to 100 by default). The balance slider is controlling how much weight each effect has between the shadows and the highlights. I personally rarely use this as I try to balance the effect when I am selecting in the circles, this can be very powerful sometimes though so definitely don't ignore it.

This makes a huge difference to your pictures and it may take a while to understand, but its totally worth it! You can see the progression as you scroll through the edits above. It can help you to create a consistent theme with your images too, if you start using the same colours in the shadows/midtones/highlights in all of them. A consistent theme is one of the keys to success. Colour grading will help your photos to stand out from the rest! So thank you for reading and I would love to see some of your attempts in my facebook group here!


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