The Triangle of Color Adjustments in Lightroom

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In digital photography, just like exposure, colors too have a triangle of their own.

3 Color correction triangle

Color adjustment triangle

The triangle of color adjustments in Lightroom. The three attributes that form the triangle are shown above, now let’s see how they affect the colors of an image.

Exposure

This attribute controls the brightness level of all the pixels that constitute an image. Whenever the brightness level of the pixel is altered, the color value too gets changed. You can easily identify this effect in a photograph of a landscape. Apply a Graduated Filter on the sky area with a value of -2.00 on the exposure slider and then take a look at the sky area. You will immediately notice that the blue color has become richer. You would do well to remember that you didn’t change any other value in that sky area except the exposure.

Let’s look at some examples of exposure adjustments and how it affects the color:

1 with nothing applied

No adjustments applied on graduated filter

2 EV minus 1

-1.0 stop exposure adjustment applied

2 EV minus 1 5 applied

-1.5 stop exposure adjustment applied

2c EV minus 2 applied

-2.0 stop exposure adjustment applied

Saturation

This attribute controls the intensity of all colors in all of the pixels that constitute an image. Since the effect of this tool is global, it needs to be used with caution; otherwise it is guaranteed that the picture will end up looking artificial. To check the effect of this tool, keep the same graduated filter applied and active, reset the exposure values by double clicking the exposure slider (or the word Effect), then move the saturation slider towards the right; you will notice the changes that are wrought in the sky area.

4a Sat minus 50

Saturation set to -50

4b Sat minus 100

Saturation set to -100

4c Sat plus 50

Saturation set to +50

4d Sat plus 100

Saturation set to +100

There is another tool called Vibrance, just above the saturation slider. I have considered this as part of saturation tool. It plays only with the less intense colors, one of the smartest tools in Lightroom (Note: this tool can be found only in the Basic Deveolop panel not in the Graduated Filter or any other local correction tools).

White balance

This is one of the most discussed topics in the internet. What white balance exactly does is to change all of the color values of all the pixels in the photograph; yes I mean all three RGB values of a pixel. When you move the White Balance slider towards the right the photograph gets warmer, specifically towards yellow side. When you move it towards the left, the photograph gets cooler, specifically towards blue side. (Note: this tool is at its full power when the image is captured in RAW format) To check this effect, reset the previous graduated filter and move the White Balance slider either way to see for yourself.

3a WB 50

White Balance adjustment made to -50

3b WB minus 100

White Balance adjustment made to -100

3c plus 50 WB

White Balance adjustment made to +50

3d plus 100 WB

White Balance adjustment made to +100

There is another tool below White Balance called tint, it is part of adjust the white balance. This tool needs to be used cautiously, as the name suggests the tool can be used to add or remove the tint primarily green or magenta in color, and mostly helps to bring out the real colors. If this tool is used carefully, it will help you to remove the color cast from your photograph if any.

Putting it all together

Now that you know how all three major tools control the colors in a photograph, the question is how to apply this knowledge. There is no universal prescription, and each photograph demands its own treatment. Understanding how all these tools work, and developing your skill by practicing on a few photographs, will make you so much better in visualizing and bringing out the colors in any given photograph.

5a all 3 components applied

Graduated Filter all sliders applied

Now, you know the major tools controlling the colors in an image and how they are being applied on this sample image (see screen shot above) but I still felt something was missing in the sky region. So I applied a slight color tint from the color picker tool (see image below).

5b small colour tint used  balance

Graduated filter slider adjustments plus a color tint added, see red circle

Some photographs might be underexposed, whereas others might be under saturated to some extent. Remember RAW images tend to be less saturated, lower in contrast, and less sharpened. In some photographs a little adjustment to the White Balance slider may fix almost all the problems.

Final image

Here is a look at the sliders in all the panels used to produce the final image.

6a Global adjustments

Basic panel slider adjustments

6c Detail panel adjustments

Detail panel slider adjustments

6b adjustments Tone curve panel

Tone curve panel adjustments

6d Lens correction panel adjustments

Lens correction panel adjustments

6e mild vignetting

Post-crop vignette added

After using almost all the panels in Develop module here are the before and after photographs.

1 As shot

As shot right out of camera

2 Final image

Final image after all corrections have been applied

All said, you are the creator of your photograph. You have to decide which tool needs to be used and in what proportion with other tools, to give you the results you hoped for when you pressed the shutter button. Hope this article helps you make more beautiful photographs.

If you have any other Lightroom color adjustment tips of tricks please share with us in the comments below.

Read more from our Post Production category

Navan Viswa is from India residing in Chennai now. He does weddings, products, industrial projects and travel photography. He studied as a Civil Engineer and worked as one for 12 years, found that the job not of interest and his passion was aligned towards photography. So he quit his job and is now roaming with his camera for commissioned and non-commissioned works. You can see more of his writings on his blog and more photographs on his web page as well as 500px.

  • love the result!

  • Navaneethan

    Thanks Leanne – I use to say that Digital photography is about 2 things while you are on field.
    1.Composition 2.Recording as much as data as possible in the given
    situation (exposure). The other one, 3. Enhancing the data using your
    favourite editing software and converting it in to an image format,
    which takes place at your comfort place.

  • Ravikanth Kurma

    Excellent article Navanee. Very easy to understand and nice tips.

  • Navaneethan

    Thanks Ravi. 🙂 Glad you liked it.

  • Johny ynhoj

    Thanks Navanee..

  • Anamaira-Rolando Niubó

    Hmm.. you guys have to read this… definitively.. Do you guys wanna be really nastic doing this.. have to pay a few dollars first, good stuffs are not for free.. the book is in this link:

    http://tinyurl.com/photographersebookover

  • Marilyn Dahl

    This is the most helpful tutorial I have come across for a Lightroom beginner like myself.

  • Navaneethan

    Thanks Marilyn. Glad you liked it.

  • Karthik R Yadav

    Wonderfull !!!!

  • Saurav Dhyani

    Thanks Navan for writing this article, it is more helpful with the images used along with showing what impact a particular setting brought to the pic… I liked that part…
    however, in your final image i felt the blue tint is looking good only till the point water is visible, however the rocks should have kept out of this tint.. This is my personal opinion.
    Picture as a whole looks amazing..

  • Sriram Prabhakar

    Good to see the article of a fellow Chennai’ite featuring in DPS! Well articulated. Lightroom has changed the game for the better 😉

  • Navaneethan

    Thanks for your kind words Sriram. Cheers.

  • Navaneethan

    Thanks Saurav for your feedback, will look in to that.

  • Chris Malinao

    Where does Tint come in, in relation to the E-S-WB triangle?

  • Navaneethan Viswanathan

    Tint is part of WB Chris – Tint does not have to be treated as a separate one apart from WB.!

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