Facebook Pixel Dramatic Coloring in Lightroom

Dramatic Coloring in Lightroom


Whenever I am lecturing, or speaking with other photographers, I am always trying to teach them just how powerful Lightroom 3 truly is. In fact, approximately 98% of the photos that we deliver to clients in our wedding photography studio, Lin and Jirsa, have only been edited in Lightroom.

In this Lightroom tutorial, I will teach you all how to add dramatic colors to your images without even touching Photoshop. Since Adobe Lightroom is essentially just an enhanced version of ACR, these techniques will also work in Photoshop ACR as well.

If you like this tutorial, be sure to check out SLR Lounge’s Lightroom Tutorial Library featuring over 120 Lightroom video tutorials teaching you from the most basics of basics, to advanced editing and artistic effects in Lightroom.

Exercise Files

Download the exercise files to this tutorial by clicking here

Shooting the Shot

This image was taken on a Canon 5D Mark II using the following settings:

Shutter: 1/100
Aperture: F/2.8
ISO: 100
Lens: EF 15mm Fisheye

Whenever you plan on tone mapping an image in post-production, there are a few important things you want to do when shooting your shot.

  1. Shoot in a RAW format – Tone mapping is the process of bringing out tonal detail in post-production, therefore you need as much tonal detail as possible in your image. In addition, since we are tweaking and adding color to the image, you want all of the temperature and tint information possible. Therefore, always shoot these types of shots in RAW.
  2. Shoot at the lowest ISO possible – Use a tripod if necessary, but get your ISO down to 100 or even 50 if possible. Because tone mapping involves adding a lot of light in the shadows, there will be too much added noise if the images are shot at ISO 400+.
  3. Shoot at a median exposure retaining detail – Try to shoot at a median exposure where you won’t blow out your highlights or completely clip your shadows. Typically, this will mean that your shot will be a little on the dark side, but if you are shooting RAW at a low ISO, we will still be able to retain the detail in the shadows during post.

Our Starting Point

Keep in mind that all of the settings used in this tutorial are a matter of artistic preference. So feel free to take the technique and modify to your own liking to get the style and look you like! Use our exercise file, or use your own image. The best part about photography is each individual’s artistic vision.

For those of you that download the RAW exercise file and are starting from scratch, we are beginning our process with a standard color corrected version of our image. The settings for which are detailed below.

  • Temp 3050
  • Tint -30
  • Recovery 60
  • Blacks 5
  • Brightness +80
  • Contrast +45
  • Vibrance +30
  • Sharpening Amount 85
  • Sharpening Radius 1.5
  • Sharpening Detail 45
  • Lens Vignetting Amount +90
  • Lens Vignetting Midpoint 5

If you would like to watch the video tutorial where we explain our way through the color correction process of this image, please go to the How to Color Correct Landscape Images Video Tutorial on SLR Lounge. Image 1 below shows what the basic color corrected version of this image looks like and Image 2 right below that will show you what your final image will look like after completing this tutorial.


Image 1 – Basic Color Corrected RAW File


Image 2 – Final Dramatically Colored and Enhanced Image

Step 1. Exposure and Detail Enhancing

3-lightroom-dramatic-coloring-panel.JPGI want this image to be very dramatic showing rich color hues in the sky as well as an enhanced level of overall detail. Once we complete the tone mapping and detail enhancing process, we will move on to adding and modifying the colors in the image.

  1. Exposure -1.19 – We’ll start out by first by darkening the image to pull down the highlights and retain more of the highlight detail. So, let’s bring the exposure down to -1.19.
  2. Recovery +100 – Again, we are trying to retain highlight detail, so we are going to bump recover to +100.
  3. Fill light +25 – After that we will go ahead and add details back into our shadows by adding in fill light to about +25 and adjust the exposure accordingly. Again, Fill Light adds noise, so this works best on images shot at low ISOs and in RAW.
  4. Blacks +10/Contrast +75/ – I want the image to be very moody and dramatic so I want to deepen the shadows in our image by adding +10 Blacks. In addition, we are going to increase the overall Contrast to +75 to make it pop just a little more.
  5. Clarity +25 – I want to further enhance detail by adding a little bit of clarity to enhance the mid-tone contrast. Adding +25 Clarity will be enough for now because we’re going to want to use a clarity brush to enhance it further in the next step.
  6. Vibrance +30/Saturation +15 – I want to bump my overall colors just a bit to get them to pop. We can revisit these settings later as we are putting in our finishing touches. Your Basic settings should be as shown in Image 3 (pictured right)
  7. Adding Additional Detail – Let’s bring out even more detail by using an Adjustment Brush by pressing the hotkey “K” I want you to dial in the following settings and save it as a new brush called “Detail Enhancer.”
  8. “Detail Enhancer” Brush Settings – Contrast +25, Saturation +15, Clarity +50, Sharpness +50 (shown below in Image 4)


Image 4 Detail Brush Panel Settings

Now with our new Detail Enhancer brush selected, let’s go ahead and paint it over the audience and stadium and at the same time make sure the overall Clarity enhancing effect is not too strong as it can cause a black edged halo effect over areas surrounded by highlights. You can see our final detail enhanced area in example Image 5 below and compare to your image by hitting “O” to see the Mask Overlay.


Image 5 Detail Enhancing Brush Mask Overlay?

Step 2. Adding and Enhancing the Color

Now it’s time to add and enhance our existing color which is going to give the image its rich color tones. My concept for this photo is to create rich sunset with orange tones in the highlights that fade to purple tones in the shadows of the sky. We are going to achieve this affect by adding multiple adjustment brushes and graduated filters, each to enhance a specific area and color.

1. Creating an Orange Sunset Adjustment Brush – Select your Adjustment Brush again by pressing “K” You can reset the currently selected brush by holding “Alt” and then clicking on Reset. Now I want to darken the highlights in my sky just a bit more, so I am going to adjust the Exposure of this brush to -.64 while leaving everything else at default. Now, this is a feature that many of you may not have previously noticed. There is a Color option below the Sharpness slider with a box next to it. Click on the box next to it where it should show a color, or an “X” if you haven’t used this feature before. Now, you can select a color which will be added to the brush as you paint over the image. As I previously mentioned, I want the sunset to radiate an orange tone, so I am going to select an orange that is fairly on the saturated side. Note, the higher you go on the color palette the more saturated the tone is, and the lower you go, the less saturated the tone becomes. Your final settings should be similar to example image 6 below.


Image 6 Orange Sunset Brush Settings

2. Painting in the Sunset – Now with our new brush created; feel free to save it as whatever name you like, we are going to paint in just over the highlight area of the sky. If you hit “O” to reveal the Mask Overlay, it should look like the example below in Image 7.


Image 7 Orange Sunset Brush Overlay

3. Adding Orange to the Audience – Because the sunset now has an orange hue, we need the crowd and the stadium to radiate that same hue to keep the image looking realistic. After all, it would be strange if there was a sunset with orange colors in the sky, but blue lighting still lit the audience and stadium. So, click “New” at the top of your Adjustment Brush panel, or simply hit “K” twice to toggle off, then back on the Adjustment Brush box. Now, I don’t want to darken the audience as much as I darkened the highlights of the sky. So I am going to adjust the Exposure to -.38 rather than -.64. I will keep the same color and leave everything else default on our Adjustment Brush as shown in Image 8 below.


Image 8 – Settings for Audience Orange Brush

4. Painting the Audience and Stadium – Now, I am going to take the adjusted brush that we just created and paint the entire stadium and audience. However, just to make the field pop with the original colors, I am going to paint out the entire field area. To remove or “erase” your adjustments hold “Alt.” Again, press “O” to toggle your Mask Overlay and you should see something similar to the example below in Image 9.


Image 9 – Orange Audience Brush Overlay

5. Creating Our Purple Sky Graduated Filter – Now it’s time to add our purple into the sky above our sunset. Because I want this effect to be applied evenly over the entire top portion of the image, I will be using a Graduated Filter this time rather than an Adjustment Brush. Select the Graduated Filter tool by pressing “M” and create a graduated filter with the following settings. Exposure +.25, Saturation – 38, Color Red


Image 10 – Purple Sky Graduated Filter Settings

Now let me explain why we are subtracting saturation and adding Red instead of purple. The Color feature of the adjustment brush adds color to an existing layer. Therefore, if I have blue already and I want to get to purple, then knowing our primary colors means that I would need to add Red. Subtracting saturation will reduce the EXISTING color, not the red tone. This means that more of my red that I am painting over the blue will show through.

6. Adding Our Graduated Filter to the Sky – Now that we have created the graduated filter, I am going to start at the top of my image and hold “Shift” to constrain the Graduated Filter to the x-axis (so it stays perfectly horizontal) and then drag down until the feathered line of my brush just passes into the top of the stadium like the example below in Image 11


Image 11 – Purple Graduated Filter Placement

Step 3. Finishing Touches

By now, your image should look pretty much done. We are going to put in just a final few finishing touches to complete this image.

  1. Adding a Subtle Lens Vignette – We’ll pull down the sky again by adding in a little Lens Vignetting (not Post-Crop) by +35 for the Amount while keeping the midpoint at 5. We want our midpoint to be nearly in the center of the image to keep the effect very subtle.
  2. Pumping the Colors – Lastly you may want to tweak the final Vibrance and Saturation levels to suite your liking. I think I like it where it is at, but this is a matter of preference.


Final Image


Alright guys, we are done, hopefully you guys will have something that looks like the final image above. Hopefully you can see how detail enhancing and color can add a little dramatic flare into your images. Best of all, it can all be done in Lightroom or simply ACR without the need for Photoshopping. So, play around and show us what you come up with!

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