Photographers must live with the unfortunate reality that nature will often outperform even the most expensive gear. The rich hues of a sunset or the deep blue of an ocean won’t always come out on camera the way it looks in real life. Luckily we have post processing to fix that. With the help of Lightroom, you can boost the colors of any image without making it look fake or over edited.
Start by opening your image in Lightroom. Click on the Develop tab at the top of the window or use the shortcut ‘D.’ We’re going to start with basic exposure edits. The photo I’m working with is very dark, so I increased the overall exposure, then decreased Highlights and increased Shadows. Removing the contrast, or flattening an image, is especially effective with landscapes and images taken at sunset or sunrise because it will help bring back details in the deepest shadows and brightest highlights.
With these basic edits, the photo should look pretty good in terms of exposure, but the colors probably aren’t jumping off of the screen yet. Now we’re going to select different sections of the image to pull out individual colors.
In order to increase the saturation of a specific part of the image, we’re going to use the brush tool. Click on the brush icon at the top of the editing bar, then paint over the area you want to select. Press ‘O’ to see what you’re painting show up in red.
Once you have your area selected, you can adjust that specific section with the editing bar on the right. For my image, I’m bringing up the exposure slightly, increasing the contrast and bumping up the Saturation a lot. This will help bring the focus to the buildings at the center of my image without blowing out the highlights in the sky or making the green surroundings too oversaturated.
Continue using this brush technique for other sections of your image to bring out specific tones and colors.
Then go down to the HSL tabs, and start adjusting the Hue sliders. These settings will vary greatly from image to image. In this picture, I want to bring out the bright reds, so I decreased the Red slider so that that the hue is more pink than orange. Tweak these settings until you like the hues that are showing up in your image.
Then click on Saturation and bump up the colors that you want to stand out. Be careful not to increase any of these settings too much or your image will end up looking fake and over edited. I want to accentuate the warm colors in my picture so I increased the Red, Orange and Yellow tabs.
Do the same with the Luminance tab, but again, be careful not to increase the luminance too much or the photo will look like it’s glowing.
Next you’re going to go down to Camera Calibration, which is going to give you a lot of control over the hue of the image. This setting will allow you to make all the warm tones either red or yellow, and all the cool tones either green or blue. This can have a very striking effect on your image, but again can come out looking unnatural.
Click Y to see a side by side before and after version of the picture. You should see a drastic difference, and the colors should be jumping off of the screen much more so than before.
To add even more depth to the tones of the image, go down to Tone Curve. Make sure the small box in the bottom right corner is checked. In this example, I boosted the reds in the highlights to bring more warmth into the sunset.
Then, I switched to the green channel and pulled down the greens in the highlights and bumped them up in the shadows. This will increase the saturation of the surrounding nature without blowing out the colors in the center of the picture.
At this point, your image should be just about finished. Use the general editing sliders to make any final changes. Use these simple techniques to boost the colors of any image.