Use Lightroom to Quickly Change Colors in Just Two Minutes

Learn how to change colors selectively in photos in only two minutes using a tool in Lightroom Classic.

There isn't always time to get the perfect shot with everything laid out wonderfully: light fades, models get tired, and sometimes props just... aren't the right color. Fortunately, Adobe lends a helping hand in the form of Lightroom Classic, which contains tools ready to transform your photos should things not go as planned.

That's exactly what happened here. In a bid to capture the fading light through a tunnel of warmly lit beech trees, my subject and I jumped out of the car and sprinted into position. I took a few photos that looked great, but it was actually the initial test shots that turned out the best. As the model was walking towards the camera, she kept a blue blanket wrapped around her shoulders to stay warm, and there was something about the way she was looking out of the frame combined with the soft wrapping of the towel that really appealed to me. Only, I didn't like the bright blue of the blanket.

So, that's where Lightroom came in. Using just one tool and a little brushing over the image, I was able to turn the distracting blue blanket into something much more in keeping with the color palette of the rest of the image. You can use this technique to alter all kinds of colors in photos and do it precisely with minimal fuss. Let's take a look at what you need to do.

Use the Adjustment Brush

The adjustment brush can be used to make selective adjustments to specific areas in a photo.
In the Develop module, the Adjustment brush (keyboard shortcut K) sits in the top-right of the window above the editing panels. It's used to selectively edit portions of a scene nondestructively, that is, you can re-edit the adjustment at any point, and it doesn't make changes to the original image. When the Adjustment brush is selected, a new panel will open just below it. These are the controls for the brush. 

Scroll down to the bottom of the list, and you'll see a darker gray section responsible for controlling the brush characteristics. From here, resize your brush so that it's big enough to paint over your selected area but not so big that it spills out over surrounding sections. Next, alter your feather slider if you require a harder or softer brush. I kept mine at +50 here, but slide it to the left for a softer brush for when you want to gradually feed adjustments into the area or to the right for something harder when you need to be more precise. The flow slider determines how quickly the brush applies the effect to the painted area, whereas the density slider increases or decreases the intensity of that effect.

View Mask Overlay

The mask overlay can be employed by pressing O on the keyboard, whereupon a red overlay shows exactly where the brush has been painted on the image.
You'll notice in the brush panel that there's a button called Auto Mask. Click this and the adjustment brush will automatically snap on to the color and brightness of the area you first start painting and will then affect only this type of area. For example, with auto mask on, I'm able to click on a blue portion of the blanket and hold the brush down as I paint it over the blanket. Lightroom Classic will do a good job at sticking to that blue blanket even if I make the odd mistake and go over the lines a little. Therefore, it affects only what I want it to.

Sometimes, it's tricky to visualize where you've been with the brush, especially if the effect you're applying is quite subtle. To make things a little easier for you, tick the Show Selected Mask Overlay button in the toolbar just underneath the main image view, alternatively press O on your keyboard to toggle it on and off. An overlay (red by default) will now appear where you've painted the adjustment brush. Do bear in mind that if you've created multiple adjustment brushes, then the overlay will display for the adjustment brush pin you have selected. 

If you notice the overlay sits on an area you don't want (such as is the case below our subject's chin here), then either choose the Erase option in the brush panel or hold down Alt while brushing over the area. The same brush characteristics can be changed for the erase option as the regular adjustment brush option. Refine the mask until you're happy that all of the desired area is selected and nothing else. This process can be difficult at first, but once you get used to it, you can do this in a matter of a minute of two (depending on how complex the area is to mask).

Switch the Hue

Using the hue slider, you can alter the color of specific selections; here, I'm changing the blue blanket to something a little more green, matching the foliage behind.
Now, I want to transform this blue blanket into something different. I scrolled up to the Hue slider and dragged the slider to the left to -141.1 until the blue turned to a mossy green. I much prefer the green because it's in keeping with the rest of the background, where the foliage is luscious and leafy. However, the green looks a little too vibrant and is drawing my eye away from my subject's face.

Subdue the Saturation

I felt the blanket was too colorful and was distracting my eye from my beautiful subject, so I turned the saturation slider down until it was more muted in color.

I decided to subdue the green somewhat by turning the Saturation slider down to -44. The blanket still looks green, but now it's a lot more subtle and blends in well with the surrounding trees. Alternatively, if you want colors to pop more, you might want to turn the saturation slider up higher to make them stand out; just be careful of clipping colors by boosting saturation too much.

The Before and After

Once you've mastered the art of the adjustment brush and utilized the auto mask function properly, you should be able to do a color swap like this one in a matter of minutes. This edit only took me a couple of minutes, and I'm extremely happy with it. It's much easier automatically masking using the adjustment brush in Lightroom Classic than it would be for me to open it up in Photoshop CC. For this kind of simple color change, Lightroom Classic is my go-to choice every time.

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2 Comments

Nick Rains's picture

A good result - but wouldn't the Range Mask (Color) have done a better job than Auto-mask?

Tom Reichner's picture

A most excellent article, Jason! Thank you for putting time and effort into writing this so well.