Lightroom Color Grading for Dummies

How do you move beyond using someone else's actions and presets to tone your images? It’s a lot simpler than you’d think. There are so many different ways to achieve similar results in post-production, and having so many options can be extremely intimidating when you’re just learning how to edit. This is the reason that many photographers will rely on actions and presets to “color grade” and tone their images when they are first starting off.

I will argue with anyone who says they hate presets. Why? I think presets are a great starting point for most beginner photographers. You have the opportunity to visually see the steps other photographers use to tone their images, and you’re able to deconstruct them and understand what makes that preset work for an individual image.

The downside to using presets is that every photographer (and their mama) is downloading the same “Top 50 Free Actions” on Google. That means you’re no different from the next guy. Is that okay? Not unless you want to have cookie-cutter photographs.


Color plays a huge role in the way your audience will interpret your images, and color grading is the process through which you’re altering the colors of your images to get a desired feel or mood.

Now, there are a variety of different ways to color grade your images. You have the ability to do so in programs like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, or using other third party software like Color Efex Pro and Perfect Photo Suite 9. To keep this blog post short and to the point, I’m purely going to focus on color grading in Adobe Lightroom because it’s one of the two most common editing platforms used by photographers, next to Adobe Photoshop.

I’ve done my best to compress the fairly broad subject of color grading into a 10-minute video. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions.

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Jay Jay's picture

What a fantastic tutorial- a nice, clearly explained and easy to understand video about some pretty advanced concepts (for me anyways). Thanks for this!

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thanks for the kind words and thank you for watching! :)

Daniel Lee's picture

Great article! I usually do my color grading (well, more like attempt to) in PS so it's good to see another way of doing it.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Yes sir! It's always fun to have different ways of accomplishing the same thing. :)

michael andrew's picture

Nice tutorial,

There is a split tone feature a few more boxes down (under the HSL) that allows pretty much exactly what you have done all in one location. The added benefit is that you can toggle the entire effect on and off and adjust both the saturation of each effect and the balance between the two. Many ways to skin a cat of-course.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Yep, you're correct. That is definitely a feature that's in there and something I'll be covering in a later video as I mentioned in this video. :) great info none the less. ;)

Miles Bergstrom's picture

Color Grading has honestly become one of my favorite things to do in light room. As someone who shoots videos as well, it's another way to keep myself focused. Great tutorial. I added an example in just for fun.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Love it. :) Thanks so much btw. :)

Todd Tucker's picture

Loved it, Gives me hope that I can learn how to edit my pictures for what I want them to look like.

Jeff Rojas's picture

I'm glad that I could be of help! :D

Sanna Kallioniemi's picture

That portrait is freaking solid.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thank you! :D

Daniel Rodriguez's picture

What a great video! When it comes to color grading it's definitely a weak point for me. This gave me good insight where to begin.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thanks for watching! :D

Faizal Othman's picture

Thank you so much Sir for the great tutorial.. One question, can we do the colour grading separately between the subject and the background in Lightroom; outdoor portrait?

Sean T's picture

wish you would do this on Capture One.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Working on that. :)

Sue Shaw's picture

Awesome start. Thanks. Now I'm off to see if you've posted more educational info on youtube. Ta.

Sam Linsell's picture

You seriously have to be one of the best if not the best online tutorial instructor I have ever encountered. I'm now going to search for all your LR tuts. Thank you!