Colour Manipulation in Lightroom

Hi Folks:

We haven’t put out a Lightroom post for a while; this one is an attempt to answer a question that we were asked recently on one of the social media sites. Before we get started, if you have Photoshop, PSE, Corel Photopaint, Gimp or some other pixel-editing software, you’ll more likely find doing colour manipulation easier there. However, if Lightroom is what you have, all is not lost!

For the purposes of this post we’re going to use the following image. It’s a very old and not very good image of a bridge in Kelowna’s Ben Lee Park. Nice bridge, though, and the image will work for our purposes:

Ben Lee Park BridgeI chose this image because there’s clearly a red bridge and not much else that’s red in this image. Now, if we wanted to play with the colour in this image we could adjust the colours for the entire image or only for certain colours and or certain features in the image. There are a few ways to make global adjustments to colours; the first one is the White Balance/Tint tool, but we’re going to gloss over that one.

The next is the Split Tone tool. Split tones were traditionally used in black and white printing (you can research sepia, selenium printing, duotones, quadtones, etc. at your leisure) but there was also a technique called cross-processing where the photographer used different chemicals to process colour films – often leading to unexpected results. The Split Tone tool in Lightroom can be used to overlay specific colours onto the highlights and/or the shadow areas of the image to either add colour to a grayscale image or to change the colours of an RGB image.

Ben Lee Bridge - split toneIn this example we’ve converted the image from colour to grayscale (tap the V key) then added a gold tone to the highlights and a blue tone to the shadows. By manipulating the hue and the saturation levels for each you can change the overall look, and shifting the Balance slider will move more of the image’s tones to the highlights or the shadows side of the equation. NB: you may wish to check out the following quick tip for using Lightroom’s Colour Picker tool.

Ben Lee Bridge - CurvesFor those used to using Curves, one can add more finesse to global colour corrections using the Curves tool. By selecting the Point Curve option one can choose to affect all three colour channels (Red, Green and Blue) equally or one can choose to work with one channel at a time. Increasing a point on the Red curve will add red to that range of tones, while decreasing a point on the Red curve will add Green and Blue, and so on. One can make very subtle adjustments all the way to the extreme (NB: This is only available in Lr 4.x or later, using Process version 2012).

Ben Lee Bridge - Hue 1The Split Tone and the Curves tools affect the entire image; if one wants to work only with a specific colour in an image, it’s time to move to the HSL panel. You can read more about colour on our Photography and Colour Management post, but basically Hue refers to the shifting of colour.  For example, if we had yellow–orange–red paints side by side and we added more yellow to the orange or more red to the orange we’d be changing the hue.  Saturation refers to the ‘amount’ of colour.  Something that’s black and white (grayscale) has a saturation value of ‘0’ – no colour.  Something with 100% saturation would look, well, gaudy.   Luminance refers to how ‘light’ or how ‘dark’ a colour is.  Imagine having a can of paint and adding white paint to it or adding black paint to it.  Doing so changes the luminance of that colour.

So, because the only red element in this image is the bridge, if we want to change the colour (hue) we’d use the Hue panel.

IMG-_2045-2Now, while the bridge looks red, it’s mostly a combination of red and orange. By placing the Targeted Adjustment Tool on the bridge and dragging up, we change the red more toward orange as seen above. However, looking at the tops of the railings one can see that they haven’t been affected by this shift in hue because they’re mostly magenta. To change the bridge as a whole we need to go elsewhere… the Brush Tool.

All of the selective tools (Gradient, Radial and Brush tools) have the same sliders to work with, but they affect the image differently. To affect only a specific part of an image, one needs to use the Brush tool.

Ben Lee Bridge - SelectionIn this image I used the Brush tool to select only the bridge, as shown by the white overlay. Now, any changes made to the sliders will only affect this selected area. As I mentioned at the top of this post, one can use the White Balance/Tint tools to affect the colour of the image, but since I’ve selected only the bridge, adjusting the WB sliders will only affect that selection. Here’s an extreme example:

Ben Lee Bridge - WBAs can be seen from the sliders, I moved the temperature slider all the way to the left and the tint slider all the way to the right. This has changed the hue of the bridge, but because there are variances in the hue of the bridge this has affected different areas differently. But what if you only want a single colour?

Ben Lee Bridge - SaturationThe answer here is to use the Saturation slider and the Colour Picker inside the Brush tool. Since all of the bridge and only the bridge is selected, moving the Brush Tool’s Saturation slider all of the way to the left renders that part of the image to grayscale and then overlays it with the colour from the colour picker. NB: By varying the amount of saturation in the colour picker box and by varying the amount of the Saturation slider in the Brush tool one can create different colour overlays.

So. Those are some quick ideas on how to do colour manipulation/replacement in Lightroom. How would one use them on actual images? Below are two examples, both of sunsets, both altered using the Split Tone panel:

Fiery SunsetThis is an image made during the Okanagan fires a few years ago. It’s essentially a duotone image of oranges and blues.

Fiery SunsetBy adding an orange hue to the highlights and a blue hue to the shadows I was able to pull out a little more detail in the hills (including the smoke) and to accent the fiery colour of the evening sky. Not bad for an old 6MP camera.

This is a more recent cell phone image of a young couple enjoying the sunset here in Victoria:

Ogden Point SunsetIt’s fine as it is, but for the purposes of this exercise I wanted to add a bit more colour without increasing the saturation of the entire image. Again, I used the Split Tone tool to add a bit more orange-red to the highlights and a bit more blue to the shadows:

Ogden Point Sunset Split Tone

Okay, that’s it. Now go out and make some photographs!


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