How to swiftly enhance sunset colors in Lightroom

Jan 29, 2020

Ole Henrik Skjelstad

Ole Henrik Skjelstad is a Norwegian math teacher and landscape photographer. He fell in love with photography in 2013 when he got a camera as a birthday present. You can follow his work on 500px, IG, and Flickr, and get his tutorials here.

How to swiftly enhance sunset colors in Lightroom

Jan 29, 2020

Ole Henrik Skjelstad

Ole Henrik Skjelstad is a Norwegian math teacher and landscape photographer. He fell in love with photography in 2013 when he got a camera as a birthday present. You can follow his work on 500px, IG, and Flickr, and get his tutorials here.

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There are many factors that create an impactful and pleasing to the eye image. To me, color is one of the key ingredients in creating a photograph. When we shoot in raw we have to “develop” the images ourselves, and that includes deciding on the colorwork. In fact, one of the reasons why I find photography so compelling is that it gives me room to develop an image and give it my personal interpretation.

Lightroom, Photoshop and many other editing programs come with many color enhancing tools. In this brief article, we will have a look at the color enhancing techniques I apply frequently and which can be carried out very swiftly in Lightroom. The HSL section in Lightroom may cause transition lines between colors (a.k.a. banding). This technique, however, won’t leave any harsh transition lines.

My favorite time to shoot is during the golden hour. That is when the light is… well… golden. This is the time close to sunsets or sunrises, where we may get nice rich golden colors. The approach I am going to share is perfect for golden hour images.

Here is the photo I am going to use for the demo. I shot it on the first afternoon of the new year during a stunning sunset along the shores of Tyrifjorden, Norway.

Pentax K-1 MK II, Pentax 15–30, Nisi circular polarizer

If you look at the adjustment panel in Lightroom, you will see the Split Toning section right below the HSL sliders. The Split Toning section is divided into two separate parts, Highlights and Shadows. Each part which targets different tonal values in an image.

The first step is to adjust the tonal values of the photo (highlights, blacks, shadows, etc.). You’d want no clipping in either end of the histogram. Then, open up the Highlights’ color picker in the Split Toning section.

Click on the rectangular box and a new pop up window comes up. You can move a color picker around choosing whichever color you please. Here I will pick a warm color that accentuates and enhances the warm colors that are already present in the image.

 

For the nest step, open the picker and do the same. For this demo, I will pick a colder tone for the shadows. If you are working on an image like this one, you would usually want something bluish. Here I just add a very modest tint of the color to my liking. I try to find colors in both sections that work together, that is, which are as complementary as possible.

 

Here is the thing, though. When you enhance the reds in the highlights, you will wash away the blue colors in the highlights – usually the sky and the water. You want to restore the blues and not leave them too faded or warm looking.

You can easily achieve that in the Camera Calibration section. This section has four various sliders, but I am only interested in the one at the bottom  – Blue Primary. Push it to the right and see what happens.

 

The blue slider adds contrast, enhances colors and restores the blues in the highlights. If the highlights become clipped when you pushed the blue slider to the right, it means you have to readjust the tonal values in the image. Use the Highlights, Whites or Lights sliders in the tonal value sections in Lightroom.

These color enhancements may provide a good starting point before further editing.

Here is a quick before/after so you can see what happens when you apply the changes.

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Ole Henrik Skjelstad

Ole Henrik Skjelstad

Ole Henrik Skjelstad is a Norwegian math teacher and landscape photographer. He fell in love with photography in 2013 when he got a camera as a birthday present. You can follow his work on 500px, IG, and Flickr, and get his tutorials here.

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15 responses to “How to swiftly enhance sunset colors in Lightroom”

  1. Melania Strumpet Avatar
    Melania Strumpet

    The after looks fake. We can do better than this.

    1. johhnytsunami Avatar
      johhnytsunami

      I’ve seen plenty of sunsets that look like the after, IRL. Not too fake looking, if you ask me.

      1. Melania Strumpet Avatar
        Melania Strumpet

        It’s clearly oversaturated and you can see that in the foreground very clearly.

    2. Inspiration Avatar
      Inspiration

      Recommending you to write your own article then.

      This article is about how to enchant sunset color and it achieves what it meant to be. if people read, they will know where to make the change to get the enchanted effect.

      it is not how to make sunset color look “real” to one particular person.

      You think it fake, fine, make what you think looks real on the computer. if you know enough to teach people, good, write an article like this on your site. Good luck with try to make whatever color looks “real” to everybody!

      Another note, I see sunset colors like that many times in Southeast Asia countries. The first time I saw it, the color looks totally fake even it real right in front of my eye because it’s too saturated. I compared it to my limited experience of seeing sunset color in my own place where the weather is cooler, fewer dust particles and moisture in the air, etc.

      1. Ole Henrik Skjelstad Avatar
        Ole Henrik Skjelstad

        You are of course absolutely right. Sunset and sunrise colours this far
        north during winter can be very intense. What fascinated me the most this
        evening wasn’t how strong the reds were, but how clear and saturated the blues
        came across.

        Colours have this fluid quality, as it were. On a cell phone they usually come
        across more saturated than a monitor. They will look different on a 15” screen
        compared to a 27”. A cheap monitor with a blue cast will display the colours
        quite differently from a calibrated wide gamut screen.

        Colours will look more saturated on a white background compared to
        viewing the image on black. The brightness of the room will also affect how we
        perceive them.

        You are also right about that this article wasn’t about a finished
        product, but that it was educational. Glad you read it that way.

        Thanks so very much!

      2. Melania Strumpet Avatar
        Melania Strumpet

        They couldn’t meet my day rate to write for them. Point is this is not a good tutorial on achieving the desired effect because the end result looks like something a complete naif did.

        1. Cj SoundFaktory Avatar
          Cj SoundFaktory

          Melania dumbest….damn what an ignorant troll you are. If you dont like the tip then shut your mouth and fuck off ! Simple as that !

        2. John Pouw Avatar
          John Pouw

          I would hazard a guess and say the fake thing here is your profile LOL

    3. Garthgoyle Avatar
      Garthgoyle

      I’ve seen hundreds of sunsets like the one in the after. Just you need to get out more often.

      1. Melania Strumpet Avatar
        Melania Strumpet

        Post a photo of just one of these hundred and then we can chat.

  2. fede Avatar
    fede

    fake fuk fake

  3. Jeff Gaumer Avatar
    Jeff Gaumer

    The after is exactly the kind of shot that gets 400 likes in a day on Washington State Beauty. Some people adjust color for personal expression and artistic vision. Some over-saturate simply to pander to the easily impressed.

  4. barry schwartz Avatar
    barry schwartz

    Its a well explained article that shows how to make the changes. Of course the specific settings may only be optimal for some. Some like more saturation and pop than others. Those who criticize the author are simply showing their narrow viewpoints and understanding of personal taste and in effect saying that if it is not done to their liking, there is something wrong with it. We all have to deal with those type of people unfortunately.

    1. Ole Henrik Skjelstad Avatar
      Ole Henrik Skjelstad

      Thanks so very much!

  5. Jorg-Mimi Fleige Avatar
    Jorg-Mimi Fleige

    Been photographing for 50 years and have had photos in many publications and I think the ‘after’ looks fine. I might have toned it down a little, but I can only speak for myself, not make a generalized judgement for others like declaring it looks ‘fake’. Even if one doesn’t like the photo, there are more diplomatic ways to express your opinions.