Color in photography is so important that even in black and white photos, the colors you capture make a difference to the outcome of the photo! The colors in a photo affect:\r\n\r\nHow the photograph makes us feel - think of a cold snowy scene vs sunset scene on a summer beach\r\nWhere our eyes are first directed - what catches our eye first\r\n\r\nIf you\u2019ve ever wondered, or never noticed, how important color is in photography, you\u2019ll know by the end of this tutorial. The more you advance in your photography journey, the more your eyes will become attuned to subtle variations in color.\r\nWhat we'll cover on color in photography\r\nThere isn\u2019t any part of the photographic process that doesn\u2019t involve color. It impacts:\r\n\r\nHow camera choice impacts color in photos\r\nColors in color and black and white photography\r\nUsing color in photography composition\r\nUsing color to set the mood of a photo\r\nHow choice of light source affects a photo's color\r\nNatural light colors at different times of the day\r\nIn camera color settings\r\nScreen calibration for accurate colors\r\nColor space options in digital image processing\r\nProcessing color in post production\r\nWhat happens to your color photos - a warning\r\n\r\nNow let\u2019s have a look at color in photography in more detail\u2026\r\nHow your camera choice impacts color\r\nThe importance of color in photography is so big that it can even be the deciding factor in our choice of camera manufacturer, because all camera brands record color differently. For example, many portrait photographers will use Canon cameras, purely because Canon is known for its excellent handling of skin tones.\r\nEven different camera models made by the same manufacturer record color differently.\r\nHowever, you can change how your camera records color. More on this in a moment.\r\nColor in black and white photography\r\nYou'll find this zone system cheat sheet really handy for seeing how color photographs in black and white, including skin tones.\r\n\r\n \r\nYou know how sometimes you convert a photo to black and white and it just looks right? Better than it was in color?\r\nWell, apart from the impact of light in black and white photos, color actually has a big influence on the outcome of a photo, which is also true for black and white photography.\r\n\r\nA big expanse of clear blue sky looks great in color, but in a black and white photo it\u2019s just a big expanse of gray. Black and white skies need clouds.\r\nIn portrait photography, red clothing with dark skin won\u2019t stand out as red is dark in black and white. Yellow would look great, because it appears light gray in black and white photos, so will contrast well.\u00a0With pale skin though yellow looks bland in black and white. So the dark tones of red in black and white photos work well with pale skin .\r\nIf the colors in your photo are complementary colors, they probably won\u2019t photograph well together, because they are too similar in black and white.\r\nA black and white photo without contrast can be dull, but not always. If you want a muted, light and airy feeling, a lack of contrast is needed, so colors that photograph as light gray will work well.\r\n\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Black and white photography tips for beginners\r\n\r\n\r\n\u00a0\r\nUsing color in composition\r\nEven before we pick up the camera, we should think about how color will affect the photos.\r\n1. Complementary colors\r\nOn the other hand, using complementary colors in color photography is always a good idea, because they stand out from each other in color photos.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Using color in photography composition for standout photos\r\n\r\n2. Isolating a subject with color\r\nColor is also a great composition tool for isolating the subject. If your background is blue or green and your subject is red, orange or yellow, it will really stand out from the rest of the image.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a04 ways to use isolation in photography composition\r\n\r\n3. Color in the background of photos\r\nWhen you blur a busy background to make it less distracting, you need to consider if there are any colors that\u2019ll demand attention and draw eyes away from the subject. Dominant colors in the background will be distracting:\r\n\r\nRed and blue carry a heavier visual weight and so demand our attention\r\nYellow and green are lighter and therefore less distracting\r\nWhite is distracting, because, our eyes go to the lightest part of an image\r\n\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a05 background photography tips for better photos\r\n\r\n\r\nThat red bin way in the background of the photo on the left is very distracting...as you can see by the photo on the right with it removed. Much better.\r\n4. Color balance in photos\r\nSpeaking of dominant colors, balancing color in photos helps to direct the viewer\u2019s eye. Colors that hold more visual weight than others, like bold, bright colors, should be smaller to reduce their visual weight. Subtle, neutral colors should occupy more space as they hold less visual weight.\r\nColor balance also applies to balancing cold colors with warm colors. You\u2019ll see on the color wheel that warm and cold colors are on opposite sides so they\u2019re complementary colors. Not only do the colors work well together, they balance the image as well.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Essential tips for creating balance in composition\r\n\r\nUsing color to set the mood of a photo\r\nComparing the two extremes of high key and low key photography demonstrates how color impacts mood in photography.\r\nHigh key photography conveys a happy, positive atmosphere. The colors in a high key photo are light, but not necessarily white, and have minimal tonal range. If there are any dark colors in a high key image, they\u2019re kept to a minimum.\r\nOn the other hand, low key photos are moody and dramatic with dark colors, deep shadows and stark contrast between light and dark.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0What is high key photography, and how to master it\r\n\r\nHow choice of light source affects a photo's colors\r\nThe reason we have the white balance setting (which we'll get to in a moment) on our cameras and in our processing software is to cater for the color of different light sources. So, we know that the color of light changes.\r\nBut what about the times that we purposefully use light to cast color on a scene?\r\n1. Using color with flash photography\r\nWith flash photography you can add gels to the front of the flash to color the light.\r\nSometimes gels are used to balance\u00a0the color of the flash and ambient light. For example, if you photograph somebody indoors with house lights on, the tungsten lighting of the house lights is much warmer than the flash light. So you would use a CTO gel (Color Temperature Orange) on the flash to warm it up to match the color of the tungsten lights. If you then set your white balance for tungsten light, the image will capture the light as your eyes see it, instead of the very warm tones that the camera sees.\r\nOther times, gels are used to light a scene creatively with color, such as red or blue, or both at the same time (on different light sources) to create a mix of interesting lighting.\r\n2. The changing colors of natural light\r\nAside from how light changes in color throughout the day, which we'll get to next, the color of natural light is different in different situations.\r\nFor example, outdoors in shaded areas the light is bluer than in areas of direct light. The reason for this is that shaded areas are lit mainly by light reflected from the sky, while in direct sunlight, obviously it's the warmer coloured sunlight that lights the scene.\r\n\r\nNatural light colors at different times of the day\r\nEven the time of day that we photograph (if on location and not in a studio) is often decided based on the color of the light. We don\u2019t photograph much in the middle of the day, because the light is harsh and white, but either side of that the changing color of the light makes it much more interesting.\r\n1. Golden hour photography\r\nPhotographers love the golden hour, not just because the sun is at a good angle and not as harsh as earlier in the day. It\u2019s the beautiful golden colors of the golden hour that draw so many of us outside in the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Golden hour photography \u2013 when is it and why is it so amazing?\r\n\r\n2. Sunset photography\r\nSpeaking of golden light, sunset is the ultimate for beautiful natural light color.\r\nWhite balance settings can be adjusted to warm up an image and counteract the bluer light of shade and clouds. For sunset photos a warm white balance will make the image even warmer and really bring out the golden colors.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a016 Sunset photography tips for vibrant photos\r\n\r\n3. Blue hour photography\r\nLike the golden hour, the blue hour occurs twice each day \u2013 just before sunrise and just after sunset. However it\u2019s actually much shorter than an hour and the main colors range from deep blue purple to a dark blue and then light blue.\r\nThe blues combined with the yellows and oranges of street lights (complementary colors), makes it an exciting time to photograph in cities for beautifully saturated photos.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Blue hour photography tips and tricks for creative photos\r\n\r\n\r\n\u00a0\r\nIn camera color settings\r\nThe image you see on the LCD screen of your camera is actually a JPEG, even if you shoot in RAW, and does not accurately depict the RAW file that you import to your computer.\r\nSo, if you shoot in RAW, you should either:\r\n\r\nSet up your camera so that photos will look like they will you import them, or\r\nBe aware that it\u2019s not an accurate color depiction and you\u2019ll have to adjust the colors (amongst other settings) in post processing\r\n\r\nHow you record an image will have a big impact on how much time you spend in post production. My preference is always to spend as little time as possible on the computer, so here are three camera setting tips for great colors in photos and less time on the computer.\r\n1. Calibrate your camera for color\r\nAll digital cameras have a set of color profiles to choose from - in the same way that you used to be able to choose different types of film. In fact, Fuji camera color profiles are named after the types of Fuji film, such as Provia and Velvia, and produce the same color in digital photos as their film counterparts in print.\r\nTo color calibrate your camera, go into the menu system and choose a color profile (also called a picture profile) you like. \u00a0You can choose:\r\n\r\nFrom very flat images with minimal contrast and color\r\nTo vibrant colors\r\nAnd even black and white\r\n\r\n\r\nThese two photos were taken seconds apart, same camera settings, except for camera color profile. The photo on the left is a flat profile and the one on the right is a vivid profile.\u00a0\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0In camera color settings and Lightroom color profiles\r\n\r\n2. Choosing a file format for better colors\r\nWhile we\u2019re on the subject of the JPEG preview on the LCD screen, did you know that your histogram is also based on the JPEG preview of your photo?\r\nSo if you use your histogram to make exposure decisions, it\u2019s a good idea to set a very flat color profile without much contrast and color. Your histogram will be more accurate and the JPEG preview will look more like the RAW photo that you import to your computer.\r\nIf you prefer to shoot JPEGs, rather than the RAW file format, just be aware that you won\u2019t be able to adjust the image as much in post processing, because JPEGs record far less color detail than RAW files.\r\nThere are many advantages to photographing in RAW, but the three that are relevant to this tutorial on color in photography are:\r\n\r\nWider range of colors recorded, so you can get creative when editing\r\n2 stop exposure allowance for recovering detail in highlights and shadows\r\nGreater dynamic range is recorded\r\n\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Shooting RAW vs JPEG image quality pros and cons\r\n\r\n3. Using white balance camera settings to enhance colors\r\nUsing the correct white balance setting for the conditions you\u2019re shooting in helps to achieve accurate colors in photography. Your whites will be white and your colors will be natural and as expected.\r\nBut your white balance doesn\u2019t have to be set to accurately record white!\r\nYou can get creative or give the natural colors a little bump with white balance settings. For example, the beauty of sunset is the golden light, so if you set your white balance to cloudy or shady, you can maximise those warm colors.\r\nI mentioned earlier how color affects the feel of an image, well if you experiment with white balance, you\u2019ll see how you can really bring out the mood. For example, you can make a scene bluer for a cooler, gritty feel. Or, in the blue hour to really bring out the blue tones in the sky.\r\nYour camera\u2019s inbuilt white balance settings, in order from a blue color temperature to an orange color temperature are:\r\n\r\nShade\r\nCloudy\r\nFlash\r\nSunshine\r\nFluorescent lighting\r\nIncandescent lighting\r\n\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Essential tips for creating balance in composition\r\n\r\n\r\nScreen calibration for accurate colors\r\nAfter all the careful planning that went into capturing colors in your photos, it makes sense to ensure that your screen for processing your photos shows color accurately. Otherwise the results might be very different from what you\u2019re expecting. Aside from the screen brightness being potentially too high or too low, the colors might also not be right.\r\nTo ensure that your screen colors are are accurate, it\u2019s essential to calibrate your monitor for photography. Also, you need to do it regularly, because your monitor\u2019s colors change over time. Newer monitors can cast a blueish tint which, as they age, then becomes warmer.\r\nAnother really important factor to consider are where you process photos. If your monitor is calibrated correctly, but you process photos in a room with green walls, instead of a neutral color (ideally gray) you won\u2019t see accurate colors.\r\nAlso, the color of the light source in the room will affect the colors you see in your photos, and lastly, where your monitor is in relation to the light.\r\nSo, if photos on your laptop look different when you take the laptop to a different room, now you know why.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Monitor calibration for photography and 3 other fixes for off color\r\n\r\nColor space options in digital image processing\r\nAll devices used in photography (i.e. your camera, monitor and printer) use a particular range (or gamut) of colors called color spaces. Editing color spaces are for processing digital photos on the computer and include Adobe RGB and sRGB, which you may have heard of.\r\nLightroom Classic displays color using the large Adobe RGB color space, except for in the Develop module where the default color space is ProPhoto RGB. However, you can see what your photos will look like online by using the soft proofing tool, as this will show the colors using the smaller sRGB color space used online.\r\nSo, for accurate colors in your photography, you need to set the correct color space for the end use - printer friendly and web friendly. As a general rule, when exporting from Lightroom, set your color space to sRGB and you\u2019ll be good to go for almost any situation.\r\nProcessing color in post production\r\nWhen processing color in post production it\u2019s not always to color correct photos. Often it\u2019s to change or add to the colors in photos. Sometimes it\u2019s subtle, but these changes can be quite extreme too, as any scroll through many photography accounts on Instagram will prove.\r\nUnderstandably, color correction and color grading is a very hot topic - just look at the number of people selling Lightroom presets. But if you know how to adjust color in Lightroom, or other photo processing software, you won\u2019t need to buy presets, you can create your own. Win!\r\nSo, it\u2019s well worth it to invest some time learning about processing color in photos.\r\n\r\nBelow is an introduction to the Lightroom Classic color tools you need to master to fully explore the color possibilities of processing photos.\r\nJust remember, that you don\u2019t need to throw everything at a photo in post, even though it can be fun. Small adjustments and selective use of the tools can make big differences.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0What is color grading \u2013 Lightroom color grading\r\n\r\n\r\nThe photo on the left is straight out of camera. I processed the photo two different ways for different looks.\r\n1. Local adjustments to color in photos\r\nSpeaking of not throwing everything at a photo, not all color processing in Lightroom Classic needs to be applied to the entire image. You can apply color adjustments locally (in certain areas only) using the:\r\n\r\nGraduated filter\r\nRadial filter\r\nAdjustment brush\r\n\r\nFor example, you can:\r\n\r\nUse the brush tool to paint over and desaturate the whites of eyes that might have gone red from being blasted by cold wind\r\nOr use the graduated filter with a touch of colour, or warmed up white balance, to enhance sunset colors\r\nThe radial filter is great, with a dash of orange added and increased exposure, for creating or adding to sun flares in photos\r\n\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Lightroom filters \u2013 graduated filter and radial filter tips for refined editing\r\n\r\n\r\nThe photo on the left is before and on the right after I used a graduated filter with added orange color.\r\nExciting Adobe update to how you can adjust hue in Lightroom Classic\r\nAs of the Adobe June 2020 update to Lightroom Classic you now have even more control over color processing! In this exciting update they added a hue slider into the local adjustment tools. So, instead of adjusting the hue of the entire image, you can change just one area.\r\nFor example, you can change the color of someones clothes and even correct skin tones very easily.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0June 2020 Lightroom Classic update \u2013 what\u2019s new?\r\n\r\n2. Lightroom Classic color profiles\r\nJust like you can set color profiles in camera, you can also set Lightroom color profiles. Some of these profiles are matched to your camera so that your photos look the same when you import them as they do on your camera, but there are many other creative color profiles to choose from too.\r\nYour default Lightroom color profile is applied on import into Lightroom, but you can change the color profile at any time.\r\n\r\nI processed this photo in Lightroom Classic. The only change I then made to get the other two versions was to select a different Lightroom color profile for each.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0In camera color settings and Lightroom color profiles\r\n\r\n3. Lightroom Classic white balance settings\r\nSometimes you might not set your white balance color temperature correctly in camera, but fortunately, that\u2019s easily fixed in Lightroom if your photos were shot in RAW for the times that you didn\u2019t get it right. It happens to all of us.\r\nThe white balance slider is the first place to start when correcting skin tones in Lightroom but it\u2019s also a great way to warm up or cool down the color temperature an image if you want to get creative with color in photos.\r\nTo adjust white balance in Lightroom you have two options:\r\n\r\nTemperature\r\nTint\r\n\r\na) Temperature\r\nUse the temperature slider to adjust the color temperature in a photo. It\u00a0covers blue and yellow colors and is what we use primarily to fine tune white balance so that colors are accurately depicted in photos, with white whites.\r\nIt's also a great tool for either cooling down or warming up photos creatively.\r\n\r\nAbove the white balance slider is all the way to the right, as warm as it can go. Below it is as far left as it can go to the cool blues. Obviously these two examples are extremes. As a side note, you can see the change in the histograms of the two screenshots.\r\n\r\nb) Tint\r\nThe tint slider is for correcting green or magenta color casts in photos. It's not used as much as the temperature slider, because of the type of light that we use most of the time. If you've shot in an environment with fluorescent lighting though you will probably need to adjust the tint more towards magenta to reduce the green.\r\nLike the temperature slider, the tint slider can also be used creatively instead of for color correction, for example to enhance purple in a purple tinged scene.\r\n4. Lightroom Classic vibrance slider\r\nBecause I\u2019m a portrait photographer, I use the vibrance slider more than the saturation slider (which I\u2019ll get to next) if I want to boost or mute colors. This is because the vibrance slider is not as global an adjustment as the saturation slider.\r\nWith the vibrance slider the less saturated colors are boosted, while the colors that are already vibrant are left unchanged.\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Vibrance vs saturation in photo editing \u2013 how to adjust color\r\n\r\n5. Lightroom Classic saturation slider\r\nTo boost, or mute, colors globally in Lightroom, the saturation slider is useful. You just need to watch out that you don\u2019t go too far as this is very easily done with the saturation slider and when you\u2019ve been processing for a while it\u2019s easy to \u201cget lost in the colors\u201d and overdo it (surprisingly easy!).\r\nSo, it helps to step away from the computer from time to time as you\u2019ll come back with fresh eyes. Sometimes you\u2019ll wonder what on earth you were thinking with all those crazy colors, but you\u2019re not losing it. It\u2019s just that, like processing in a room with colourful walls, over time our eyes adjust to the colors and we don\u2019t see the craziness.\r\nA great shortcut to check on your basic edits in Lightroom, preferably before moving on to the other color tools, is the backslash key. When you press it you\u2019ll see what your photo looked like before your edits. Just press it again to go back to your processed version.\r\n\r\n6. Lightroom Classic HSL color adjustment\r\nHSL stands for hue, saturation and luminance and each of these elements handles a different aspect of adjusting color:\r\n\r\nHue - changes the color tones\r\nSaturation - changes how strong the colors are\r\nLuminance - changes the brightness of the colors\r\n\r\nAny adjustment to the colors in the HSL panel has an impact on the color throughout the photo. If you move the orange slider, for example, you\u2019ll affect every part of the photo that has an orange color.\r\nThis is another tool that\u2019s easy to get carried away with, so switch it on and off regularly to keep a check on your progress.\r\n\r\n7. Split toning in Lightroom Classic\r\nWith split toning you can alter the color in the highlights and adjust the saturation. Likewise for shadows.\r\nSplit toning is very popular for photos on Instagram, and if you\u2019re a fan of orange and teal, this is one of the areas that you can make it happen. Of course, it\u2019s not just an Instagram thing, split toning is a fantastic way of subtly warming or cooling an image, or bringing an interesting balance of color to a photo. It\u2019s just that on Instagram it\u2019s everywhere and very often not subtle.\r\nBefore we carry on though, a quick comment on orange and teal - they\u2019re complementary colors (see earlier point on color in composition), which is why they work so well for split toning.\r\n\r\nI used orange and teal split toning in both of these photos with the same settings - i.e. the color and amount of saturation. The difference is that on the left I used orange in the highlights and teal in the shadows. For the photo on the right I used the same settings in reverse - teal in the highlights and orange in the shadows. Just goes to show how much and how quickly you can alter an image!\r\n8. Using the tone curve tool for color adjustment\r\nAnother effective way to change colors in digital photos is to adjust the RGB channels in the tone curve. Here, small changes make big differences.\r\n\r\nBefore I adjusted the tone curve.\r\nBut before we get into adjusting colors, it helps to know that RGB refers to the colors of light used in screens, scanners and digital colors. RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. The various combinations of just these three colors creates the huge variety of colors you see in digital photography and on any screen.\r\nTo understand how to change colors using the tone curve, you first need to know that the opposite of:\r\n\r\nRed is cyan\r\nGreen is magenta\r\nBlue is yellow\r\n\r\nAnd if you were paying attention, you\u2019d notice that Cyan, Magenta and Yellow are the first three letters of CMYK, the color model for printing. That\u2019s no accident. And if you\u2019re wondering, the K in CMYK stands for key, which is black.\r\nBut getting back to colors in photography\u2026 As an example, to adjust colors using the red channel of the tone curve:\r\n\r\nWhen you reduce it, the colors will shift towards cyan\r\nIncrease it, and the colors become more red\r\n\r\n\r\nFurther reading:\u00a0Master the Lightroom tone curve for much better photos\r\n\r\n\r\nFor the left photo I adjusted the tone curve up in the red RGB channel to increase the reds. On the right I adjusted the tone curve down to reduce red and increase cyan.\r\n9. Calibration panel in Lightroom Classic\r\nThis takes us back to my very first point on how different cameras record color differently. With the calibration panel you can make micro adjustments to correct\/alter\/tune how your camera records color.\r\nIf getting your colors exactly right is important to you, as it would be with product photography, then this is a great tool for fine tuning your camera\u2019s recording of color. It\u2019s also handy for correcting skin tone, so is useful for\r\n\r\nPortrait photographers with cameras that don\u2019t record skin tones as well as Canon,\r\nOr if the hues in the surrounding environment have affected your subject\u2019s skin tones\r\n\r\nThere are two parts to the calibration panel that come in handy for colors in photos:\r\n\r\nShadows slider\r\nPrimary sliders\r\n\r\na) Shadows slider\r\nSometimes shadows can have a green or magenta tint, which you can correct in the calibration panel in Lightroom. It\u2019s for color correction, rather than creativity.\r\nb) Red, green and blue primary sliders\r\nBecause every pixel contains red, blue and green, when you adjust the primary calibration sliders, you affect every pixel in the image.\r\nIf you adjust the red slider, you\u2019re adjusting the red of the RGB mix in every pixel in your photo, not just the parts of the image that appear red, as would happen if you adjust red hue in the HSL panel.\r\nSo, that\u2019s the real reason for the calibration panel, but you can also use it creatively instead of to correct color if you choose, because now you know what you\u2019re actually changing when you adjust sliders.\r\nI like to use the calibration panel for removing the unhealthy looking green cast on skin caused by sunlight reflecting off grass on a sunny day.\r\n\r\nThe image on the left is unprocessed and on the right the only change I made was to use the\u00a0calibration panel to reduce the green color cast on her skin from the grass.\r\nWhat happens to colors in photos - a warning\r\nAfter all your care with color decisions, there\u2019s the one thing you can\u2019t control - the end user.\r\nIf you:\r\n\r\nPost images online, the screen on which your audience views your photos could be way off. Just remember that it\u2019s social media, not an art gallery.\r\nGive digital files to non-commercial clients to do their own printing, they won\u2019t be using a pro lab for printing, so who knows how the color will turn out. Rather offer physical products printed at a pro lab.\r\n\r\nSo, my advice is, do your best and accept that when your photos go out into the world, they're on their own.\r\nPhotographers are far more aware of color than people who are not into photography. Also, as I said at the beginning, as you become more advanced in your photography, your eyes will become much more sensitive to colors in photos.\r\nColor in photography conclusion\r\nAbove all else, enjoy taking your photos to the next level with a deeper awareness of color, from even before you pick up your camera, to the last moment when you export your finished photographs for print or sharing digitally.\r\nLeave a comment\r\nIf you have any questions about color in photography, let us know in the comments.\r\nAlso, we love good news, so if our color photography tips have helped you to understand how to make the most of color in photography, share that too.\r\nWill this photography tutorial help you to use color in photography?\r\nShare the learning... pin it, post it.