COLOR correction in Lightroom - Digital Photography School

COLOR correction in Lightroom

Lightroom has tools for correcting color not just across the entire image but also for correcting individual colors.

Lightroom_color_fix_opener.jpg

This image was captured in New York’s Time Square where the light is unpredictable at best especially at night because of the bright advertisements and neon signs. Because the colors of the lights change constantly it’s impossible to correct the color in camera using its white balance adjustment. Instead this has to be handled in post production.

Step 1

Lightroom_color_fix_step1.jpg

To start off color correcting an image in Lightroom’s Develop module, open the Basic panel and click the White Balance Selector which is the eyedropper in the top left corner of the panel.

Deselect the Auto Dismiss checkbox on the toolbar so the tool remains visible. Click on the image in a place that should be neutral gray to adjust it. If you don’t get the right correction the first time, click again on a different area of the image until you get an adjustment that looks correct to you. What you’re looking to do at this point is to remove the overall colorcast in the image.

Notice as you hold the White Balance Selector over the image that the Loupe shows a gird of pixels around the area you have the mouse held over and it also shows the relative percentages of red, green and blue in the pixels over which the mouse is hovering. Where the color in an image should be neutral grey, these values should be the same and if they are not, there is a color cast.

When you have a result you like, either return the White Balance Selector to its position in the Basic panel or press Escape.

Step 2

Lightroom_color_fix_step2.jpg

If some individual colors are still incorrect you can adjust these using the HSL panel. To do this, select HSL and then Saturation and use the Targeted Adjustment Tool to drag on an area of the image downwards to decrease or upwards to increase the color saturation at that point in the image. In this case, the skin needed to be desaturated because of the color of the light reflected on it.

Step 3

lightroom_color_fix_step3.jpg

When you have adjusted Saturation, click Luminance and, if necessary use the same Targeted Adjustment tool to increase or decrease the Luminance in areas that are too dark or too light.

For this image I decreased the Saturation and increased the Luminance of the skin tones until I had a result I liked.

Once you’ve fixed the color problems, you can return to the Basic panel and continue to adjust the image using the tools there.

While sites like Times Square will never be an ideal place to capture images you can compensate at some level for poor color using the tools you have at hand in Lightroom.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • Kevin Z

    Helen,

    I just want to thank you for this post. I have been using LR since it first came out and consider myself an advanced user. I am glad that I have an open-mind and always look to improve my skills because I read you post and was amazed at the result!! I would normally go into photoshop to achieve this type of color correction…THANK YOU!!
    Kevin

  • cathode

    Hello sailor!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidcoronasandoval/ David Corona

    Yes! It Works terrific. I was spending a lot of time trying to correct the white balance by just adjusting the levers. Thanks for helping the beginers like myself.

  • Mainer82

    You can do this easily in any other program as well, including Canon Digital Photo Professional (my favorite app).

  • Mainer82

    Helpful post none-the-less.

  • macdane

    Just wanted to add a couple of thoughts. First, you can invoke the white balance eyedropper using the “w” key. Also, if you keep the left palette panel open, the preview image at the top will give you a live preview of potential changes as you mouse over the main image with the eyedropper tool.

  • Ghassan

    Same person in this photo … I shot this one a few months back … :)

    http://flic.kr/p/8Ufg88

  • http://adamkalbarczyk.eu Adam

    Good article. I use X-Rite ColorPassport, but not everywhere you can use it. In such case I rely on manual WB setting. I knew about eye dropper but didn’t know about doing it to part of image. Thank you. By the way, be sure your PC is calibrated.

  • http://fmatiasphotography.blogspot.com Fernando

    Great tutorial, however couldent you just use the white blance slider (°K) to adjust this? I honestly dont know if its possible since I do not use Lightroom, but as I recall most everything that is available in Adobe RAW is also in Lightroom, so it should be there somewhere. Of course that would only acomplish what you did in step 1, and still require you to follow through with steps 2 and 3 should the need arrise.
    Thanks!

  • http://www.louisedandeneau.com Louise

    I was going to ask the same question as Fernando. I have Lightroom 2.7 and I wonder also if you could just use the white balance slider to adjust the color correction. Or do the tools you mention in the tutorial do a more precise job?

  • http://barbaracameronpix.com barbara

    Really great tip! I have been wondering how to do this in LR and am now glad not to have to export into Photoshop! Another great way to speed up workflow, thanks.

  • http://www.projectwoman.com/phototips Helen Bradley

    @Fernando and @Louise – you can use the Temp and Tint sliders to get the same effect as clicking on the image with the White Balance selector – the result is the same, it’s just most people will find the Selector a far quicker way of adjusting the image.

    The individual color corrections using the HSL/Color/B&W panel cannot be achieved the same way.

    Helen

  • http://www.louisedandeneau.com Louise

    Oh, I was thinking of simply the white balance slider (color temperature, K), at the top of the development panel. So then the white balance slider is not as effective or precise as the selector (eye dropper)?

    Thank you.

  • http://www.projectwoman.com/phototips Helen Bradley

    @Louise – if you try the two methods and compare the results, you will see that the White Balance Selector adjusts both the Temp and the Tint slider – not just the Temp slider.

    The Tint slider is used to tweak the magenta/green in the image in situations were you’ve shot, for example in fluorescent light and where simply adjusting Temp won’t fix the color cast properly.

    So, you can achieve exactly the same result using the White Balance Selector as you can dragging on the Temp and Tint sliders – after all that is all the White Balance Selector is doing is finding a setting for the Temp and Tint sliders for you. However it’s worthwhile noting that the White Balance Selector is adjusting both sliders not just one of them so if you want to get a similar result with the sliders as you would get with the White Balance Selector you will need to adjust both sliders.

    Upshot is that the question is less whether the “white balance slider is not as effective or precise as the selector (eye dropper)?” – because they are just different ways to achieve the same result and more that one is probably easier/more convenient than the other.

    Does this help?

    Helen

  • http://www.louisedandeneau.com Louise

    Yes, that helps a lot. Thank you so much for answering my questions so quickly! And now, I shall go play with my White Balance Selector and other such goodies in Lightroom. :)

  • Winston

    Thanks Helen. I use Lightroom a lot and this is a wonderful article to have!

    Winston

  • Cyndi

    The white balance selector works great but when using the targeted adjustment tool for Hue for one specific area, it changes the hue for the entire picture. How do you get it the targeted adjustment tool to work on just one portion of picture!

  • http://www.rumataphoto.com RumataMx

    Great post and useful info, I have yet to try those individual color adjustment sliders. Thanks!

  • http://www.dfischerphotography.com Debbie

    Very helpful article – thank you so much for sharing this about the targeted adjustments with saturation on red areas of the face and with luminance. I have not yet discovered all that the new version of LR can do, although I have been using it since V1.1.
    I find that I agonize over white balance because I prefer slightly warmer skintones than what normal correct is. I believe the eye-dropper tool is a necessary step because one cannot depend on the “eye” to determine what correct balance is. Our eyes can be fooled into what looks correct until we start with the eye dropper tool for a starting point and then tweak it with the sliders if desired to please the eye. There have been many times that I used the sliders first, then decided to use the eye-dropper tool just to check, only to find that I was way off.
    I use a LaCie 324 monitor, calibrated with the Eye-one Match 2. I do a custom white balance with the studio strobes, and use an Ed Pierce calibration target outdoors that I click on with the eye-dropper tool in Lightroom post production. After that I typically go warmer with the slider just a tad.

  • Tony Sale

    Wow excellent I never knew how to pick a neutral colour until you just explained it

Some older comments

  • Debbie

    January 7, 2011 02:56 pm

    Very helpful article - thank you so much for sharing this about the targeted adjustments with saturation on red areas of the face and with luminance. I have not yet discovered all that the new version of LR can do, although I have been using it since V1.1.
    I find that I agonize over white balance because I prefer slightly warmer skintones than what normal correct is. I believe the eye-dropper tool is a necessary step because one cannot depend on the "eye" to determine what correct balance is. Our eyes can be fooled into what looks correct until we start with the eye dropper tool for a starting point and then tweak it with the sliders if desired to please the eye. There have been many times that I used the sliders first, then decided to use the eye-dropper tool just to check, only to find that I was way off.
    I use a LaCie 324 monitor, calibrated with the Eye-one Match 2. I do a custom white balance with the studio strobes, and use an Ed Pierce calibration target outdoors that I click on with the eye-dropper tool in Lightroom post production. After that I typically go warmer with the slider just a tad.

  • RumataMx

    December 31, 2010 12:56 am

    Great post and useful info, I have yet to try those individual color adjustment sliders. Thanks!

  • Cyndi

    December 11, 2010 06:46 am

    The white balance selector works great but when using the targeted adjustment tool for Hue for one specific area, it changes the hue for the entire picture. How do you get it the targeted adjustment tool to work on just one portion of picture!

  • Winston

    December 10, 2010 09:53 am

    Thanks Helen. I use Lightroom a lot and this is a wonderful article to have!

    Winston

  • Louise

    December 10, 2010 08:48 am

    Yes, that helps a lot. Thank you so much for answering my questions so quickly! And now, I shall go play with my White Balance Selector and other such goodies in Lightroom. :)

  • Helen Bradley

    December 10, 2010 05:00 am

    @Louise - if you try the two methods and compare the results, you will see that the White Balance Selector adjusts both the Temp and the Tint slider - not just the Temp slider.

    The Tint slider is used to tweak the magenta/green in the image in situations were you've shot, for example in fluorescent light and where simply adjusting Temp won't fix the color cast properly.

    So, you can achieve exactly the same result using the White Balance Selector as you can dragging on the Temp and Tint sliders - after all that is all the White Balance Selector is doing is finding a setting for the Temp and Tint sliders for you. However it's worthwhile noting that the White Balance Selector is adjusting both sliders not just one of them so if you want to get a similar result with the sliders as you would get with the White Balance Selector you will need to adjust both sliders.

    Upshot is that the question is less whether the "white balance slider is not as effective or precise as the selector (eye dropper)?" - because they are just different ways to achieve the same result and more that one is probably easier/more convenient than the other.

    Does this help?

    Helen

  • Louise

    December 10, 2010 03:37 am

    Oh, I was thinking of simply the white balance slider (color temperature, K), at the top of the development panel. So then the white balance slider is not as effective or precise as the selector (eye dropper)?

    Thank you.

  • Helen Bradley

    December 10, 2010 03:34 am

    @Fernando and @Louise - you can use the Temp and Tint sliders to get the same effect as clicking on the image with the White Balance selector - the result is the same, it's just most people will find the Selector a far quicker way of adjusting the image.

    The individual color corrections using the HSL/Color/B&W panel cannot be achieved the same way.

    Helen

  • barbara

    December 10, 2010 01:48 am

    Really great tip! I have been wondering how to do this in LR and am now glad not to have to export into Photoshop! Another great way to speed up workflow, thanks.

  • Louise

    December 10, 2010 01:43 am

    I was going to ask the same question as Fernando. I have Lightroom 2.7 and I wonder also if you could just use the white balance slider to adjust the color correction. Or do the tools you mention in the tutorial do a more precise job?

  • Fernando

    December 9, 2010 04:15 am

    Great tutorial, however couldent you just use the white blance slider (°K) to adjust this? I honestly dont know if its possible since I do not use Lightroom, but as I recall most everything that is available in Adobe RAW is also in Lightroom, so it should be there somewhere. Of course that would only acomplish what you did in step 1, and still require you to follow through with steps 2 and 3 should the need arrise.
    Thanks!

  • Adam

    December 7, 2010 09:55 am

    Good article. I use X-Rite ColorPassport, but not everywhere you can use it. In such case I rely on manual WB setting. I knew about eye dropper but didn't know about doing it to part of image. Thank you. By the way, be sure your PC is calibrated.

  • Ghassan

    December 7, 2010 02:21 am

    Same person in this photo ... I shot this one a few months back ... :)

    http://flic.kr/p/8Ufg88

  • macdane

    December 7, 2010 12:37 am

    Just wanted to add a couple of thoughts. First, you can invoke the white balance eyedropper using the "w" key. Also, if you keep the left palette panel open, the preview image at the top will give you a live preview of potential changes as you mouse over the main image with the eyedropper tool.

  • Mainer82

    December 6, 2010 11:04 pm

    Helpful post none-the-less.

  • Mainer82

    December 6, 2010 11:03 pm

    You can do this easily in any other program as well, including Canon Digital Photo Professional (my favorite app).

  • David Corona

    December 6, 2010 12:59 pm

    Yes! It Works terrific. I was spending a lot of time trying to correct the white balance by just adjusting the levers. Thanks for helping the beginers like myself.

  • cathode

    December 6, 2010 09:57 am

    Hello sailor!

  • Kevin Z

    December 6, 2010 05:48 am

    Helen,

    I just want to thank you for this post. I have been using LR since it first came out and consider myself an advanced user. I am glad that I have an open-mind and always look to improve my skills because I read you post and was amazed at the result!! I would normally go into photoshop to achieve this type of color correction...THANK YOU!!
    Kevin

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