How to Color Grade in Lightroom

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Color grading allows you to change the global attributes of a photo and give it a different look. Lightroom comes with this feature and you can use it to change the colors of your image. However, you need to first learn how to color grade in Lightroom.

How to Color Grade in Lightroom

To color grade in Lightroom, you first need to take care of the basic adjustments, which include white balance, exposure, and saturation. After that, understand the whole color grade panel and start working on each part. In the end, use an adjustment brush to finish it off.

Make Basic Adjustments

Before jumping into color grading, you should first start on the basics such as fixing the exposure and small adjustments. For this, you can first use the White Balance slider, which can be found in the Develop Module.

Color mixer

Another thing you can use is the exposure slider. This takes care of the over or under exposure in your image. Slide the slider to the left to decrease exposure and slide it to the right to increase it.

Moreover, you can use other settings such as the Dehaze tool to bring out the details in your image and presets to add more effects to your photo. After making these small adjustments, you should move on to the color grade tool in Lightroom.

Understanding the Color Grade Panel

You will find Lightroom’s color grade panel under the HSL panel if you look in the Develop Panel. This tool is a replacement for the earlier used Split Toning Panel. When you open the panel, you will have three tools at your disposal: Color Wheels, Small Icons, and blending and balance sliders.

Color Wheels

There are three color wheels when you open the color grade panel. These are the most important tools in this panel. These wheels allow you to enhance your image by providing different hues. They allow you to adjust midtones, shadows, and highlights. Moreover, you can adjust each of these in detail by clicking on the eye icon.

If you are selecting any color on the wheel, you will find the more saturated or purer colors on the edge of the wheel. As you move closer to the center, you will find less saturated colors. Also, you have the option of locking in a particular saturation setting by holding the Command or Control key.

Also, you can hold the shift key to hold the color constant and change the saturation by dragging your mouse. Beneath each wheel, you will find a slider that gives you the option to adjust color brightness.

Small Icons

There are five small icons at the top. These include default layout, shadow, midtones, highlight, and global, in that direction (from left to right). The midtones, highlights, and shadows allow you to show just that particular wheel while hiding the other two.

The global icon blends the three options together. You can use these icons to work on each option individually, instead of using them altogether.

Blending and Balance Sliders

At the bottom of the panel you will find two sliders which give you advanced control over the colors. The blending slider determines how much your shadow, midtone, and highlights overlap. If you move it to the leftmost, you will be able to keep them separate.

If you move it to the rightmost, you will mix the three into each other’s edges. This will allow you to merge colors and produce an aesthetic result. The balance slider on the contrary, determines the relative size of each band.

Moving the balance slider to the left shifts it in favor of the shadows, while moving it towards the right does the same for highlights. It is set to 0 by default and you can create different effects using this.

Photo of orange berry fruit

Adjust the Hue and Saturation Sliders

Besides the blending and balance sliders, there are two more important sliders that you should know of. When you are editing each highlight, midtone, or shadow individually, you will see an arrow. First, adjust these sliders, before moving onto the rest of the adjustments.

Adjust the Hue

The hue is adjusted in degrees of the color wheel. The hue slider allows you to change the shade of the color. For example, you shot a sunset. You can adjust the shade of the sky using this slider. It is a good idea to change the hue before moving on to the other settings.

When starting, adjust the hue slider to input the shade of color you want. However, one downside of adjusting the hue is that once you adjust the hue, you change the hue of everything that is in that color. So if you want to change the hue of one particular object, other objects with the same colors will be impacted too.

Adjust the Saturation

Saturation refers to the intensity of color in an image. Here, it is the intensity of the hue. This will adjust the intensity of that particular color in the entire image. Adjust the saturation according to your preference.

Using the Tools Together

You first need to choose a color scheme. You should decide this by looking at the overall photo. Once you have, start working on individual wheels by clicking the icons above. Starting off with the shadows, use the color wheel to find the perfect blend of colors you want.

Then adjust the hue or its shade to find the color you want. You might notice that the hue does not change unless the saturation slider is increased above zero. Use these sliders to fine tune the color you chose. Next, use the blender and balance sliders to infuse the colors throughout the image.

Use the Adjustment Brush

Lastly, use the adjustment brush to make changes to specific parts of the image. Find the adjustment brush tool in the editing panel. To color grade, choose the color, adjust the hue and start painting over the area you want to change. This way, you can use the adjustment tool to color grade your image.

Related Questions

What Is the Difference Between Color Correction and Color Grading?

The difference between color correction and color grading is that color correction is done first. It helps reduce saturation in the image and its end goal is to get the image near to what the human eye can see.

On the contrary, color grading comes after color correction and helps you improve the attributes of an image. It helps convey a mood or visual and in essence might help make the picture look better than what the human eye sees.

Is Split Toning the Same as Color Grading?

Split toning is almost the same as color grading. Split toning was an older tool on Lightroom that allowed you to adjust the colors, and shadows of a photograph, and alter the mood of a photo. Color grading can do all of that plus more.

You can use the color wheels to make more specific changes to your photo. Also, there are more sliders that allow you to blend the colors and add shadows to the image. It is much more than the sliders that were offered by split toning.


Color Grading allows you to give your image a new and aesthetic look. It can be done in Lightroom by understanding the color grade panels and individually working on highlights, shadows, and midtones. In the end, the adjustment brush can be used to work on specific parts of the image.