Getting it right in camera is one of the most important steps to achieving a great photograph, but color grading is what can really take your work to entirely new level. It has taken me nearly 2 years to find the right process and perfect combination to obtain the right look. And, over the course of my time writing for Fstoppers, I've been asked dozens of times about the coloring and process behind my imagery. Well, I've finally broken it all down in one quick tutorial.
This grading technique uses a combination of adjustment layers; Hue/Saturation, Curves, Levels and Solid Color Fill. Depending on the look you want to achieve, this process can be altered and switched to fit to your vision.
For a cold, dramatic image...
- Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. Drag the Saturation slide far left to around -40, nearly halfway to black and white. The de-saturation will add drama to the image.
- Create a Curves Adjustment Layer. With this adjustment, it's all about the subtle color. Pull down the midtones in the Red, Green and Blue channels to achieve a moody blue/green tinted image.
- Create a Levels Adjustment Layer. Drop down to the blue channel and drag the bottom black slider to the right to bring blue into the shadows. Then, drag the white slider just slightly left to bring back warmth in the highlights.
For a natural earthy, warm image...
- Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. Drag the Saturation slider left to around -15, for some slight drama.
- Create a Curves Adjustment Layer. Pull up the highlights on the Red channel. Then, drop down to the Green channel, pull up the highlights and pull down the shadows to create contrast. Drop down to the Blue channel, again create a small "S-Curve," pull up the highlights and pull down the shadows.
- Create a Levels Adjustment Layer. Drop down to the blue channel and drag the bottom black slider to the right to bring blue into the shadows. Then, drag the white slider left quite a bit to bring back a lot of warmth in the highlights.
- Create a Solid Color Fill. From the color picker select a strong gold/brown, but not too dark. Change the blending mode to Hard Light, then bring down the Opacity to around 8%. This will give an additional milky warmth to the image.
This isn't the only way to color an image and there is certainty no right or wrong way to do it. I can't guarantee it will work for your photography, but I can guarantee this technique will supplement workflow and enhance any imagery. So, give it a shot and let me know how it works for you.