Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom

May 4, 2016

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom

May 4, 2016

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

Join the Discussion

Share on:

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait Man and Woman Near Las Vegas

We have posted a few really awesome cinematic color grading tutorials lately – but they all use Photoshop.

Instead of jumping over to Photoshop, I thought that I would try to achieve my interpretation of the “cinematic color grading” look right in Lightroom – continue reading to see my Lightroom workflow.

The Cinematic Color Grading Look

The de facto cinematic style color grading look that comes to mind right now is where the shadows have a blueish, teal or green hue, while the highlights are either neutral or shift slightly to a warm orange.

Love it or hate it, this is currently a very popular color palette for Hollywood blockbusters and it can give still photos an interesting look too.

While the best way to achieve this look is still Photoshop – I am always surprised at how amazing the tools in Lightroom are when it comes to manipulating color.

If you would like to stick with Photoshop, here are a few great Photoshop color grading tutorials:

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait Woman Near Las Vegas

Color Grading Approach

When we’re talking about color grading, it is important to remember that we are really just talking about creative color correction – so there is no right or wrong.

However, I think it is also important to point out that your color grading should match the style and mood of your photography – here is an excellent article on using color grading to manipulate viewer’s emotions.

In this case, I decided interpret my photos by sticking with the popular teal blue shadow and orange highlight color scheme while applying a bit of a faded look as well.

I though that the bluish green shadows worked well with the natural blues and greens in the background while the orange and tan highlights unified the look of the images between the desert vegetation, the color of the earth and the model’s skin tones.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait Man Near Las VegasCinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait Man Near Las Vegas

In these example photos, the effects are applied quite a bit heavier than I normally would – for educational purposes – but I kind of like the final result none the less.

(In case you are wondering, this is what my wife and I do while on vacation in Vegas – take the rental car out into the middle of the desert on a cold windy overcast day – just 30 minutes from the strip and goof around taking selfies.)

Color Grading With Lightroom

To show you how you can use the tools available in Lightroom to color grade your photography, I will show you my workflow using the following sample photo:

Cinematic Color Grading With Original Lightroom Desert PortraitCinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

Remember there is no right and wrong way to color grade your photography, so to try to use the process below as a guideline and tailor the process to your own work instead of trying to plug in the exact edits that I am going to use for the example.

In Lightroom I started with my normal post processing workflow – correcting the white balance, exposure, highlights and shadows in the Basic Panel.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

Then I started color grading with Lightroom’s split toning tools – choosing a teal color shadow color and a tan color highlight color and adjusting the saturation and balance by eye to suit.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

I refined the color grading I was able to achieve through split toning by applying adjustments to the tone curves – adding a little additional blue to the the shadows region of the blue curve and removing a tiny bit of blue from the mid-tones and highlights.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

To complete the color grading, I used the hue, saturation and luminance color adjustment sliders to further manipulate each individual color.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

Finally, I applied the fade to the RGB tone curve by raising the tail of the shadow end of the curve and flattening out the remainder.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

To finish of my Lightroom color grading, I went back up to the Basic Panel and made a few final tweaks – increasing the clarity and vibrance to add a little extra punch.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

At this point I was happy with the color grading look, but there were a couple of other adjustments to make to finish my edits.

In Lightroom you can kinda mimic the look of high end Photoshop retouching frequency separation edits (where the colors are blurred but the texture and details are retained) by applying heavy noise reduction and sharpening the edges in the Detail Panel.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

And finally to isolate the subjects from the background, I applied a few -1 exposure gradients from the top and bottom with the gradient tool and a vignette in the Effects Panel.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

The last thing I did was to create a custom Lightroom Preset which allows me to apply the exact same color grading effect to other photos.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

Because every photo is unique I only included the color grading adjustments with the preset – all of the basic adjustments would be made before applying the preset.

Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Desert Portrait

Here is an example of my new Lightroom color grading preset applied to a completely different photo.

Original Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom BoyCinematic Color Grading With Lightroom Boy

If you are interested in a more detailed explanation, I ended up creating a video tutorial class on Skillshare that goes through the above process step by step. Click here to enroll in this class for free (limited to 50 free enrollments for DIYP readers – first come first served).

Skillshare also has an awesome promotion on right now where you can sign up with unlimited access to all classes for one month free, or for three months for $0.99 – just click here.

What Do You Think?

What do you think of this look?

Have you tried to color grade your photography with Lightroom?

How did it turn out?

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

Filed Under:

Tagged With:

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!

JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

8 responses to “Cinematic Color Grading With Lightroom”

  1. DLS Avatar
    DLS

    What do I think? Simply that this orange/teal grading + brainless green tinting that’s done on most movies is ruining cinematography. Gone are the days of light mastery, we have orange/teal now. I’d prefer we go back to black and white.

    1. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
      Kay O. Sweaver

      This fad will end soon enough.

  2. Nicolas Racine Avatar
    Nicolas Racine

    This is great! It goes to show the power of Lightroom. I love it!

  3. Renato Murakami Avatar
    Renato Murakami

    Ah, the Hollywood teal… I guess it worked pretty well JP, for the people who actually likes the Hollywood gritty looks… honestly, I’m tired of movies that looks that way. But the technique itself works!

    Final touches perhaps: pick some harsh textures and apply on top, ramp up contrast beyond what would be considered “sensitive”, same for sharpening tool, darken the f* out of it and then put some heavy vignetting on top, finish with some explosions in the back. xD

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Because….cool guys don’t look at explosions, they blow stuff up and they walk away….? https://youtu.be/Sqz5dbs5zmo

      1. Renato Murakami Avatar
        Renato Murakami

        Gotta love The Lonely Island

  4. Max Avatar
    Max

    I’m in conflict with this article. I’ll start saying that I’m no color grading expert by any means, I do almost only interior photography, therefore I reproduce the colours as I saw them as much as possible, with only a slight warmer touch, and I’m just now starting trying to develop my own colour style for other projects.

    On one hand I really don’t like how the grading you’ve shown works for the images above, with the man and the woman. The result is (personally) way too dark, oversaturated and lacks too much contrast. It hurts my eye to look at it, as it has happened in some of my failed experiments at grading.
    OTOH it totally works for the image of the kid. I really like it, but I’m not really sure that the same settings have been applied, as the “after” image has the same, possibly more contrast than the “before”.
    I’ll give it a shot and see if the settings you’ve shown are working for my images.

  5. Pro Pixel Avatar
    Pro Pixel

    Super resources about lightroom, thanks for this good share