Jul 17, 2013

How To Apply Cinematic Color Grading To Your Photos

How To Apply Cinematic Color Grading To Your Photos

We came across this fantastic tutorial by Juan Melara that shows how to get the colors often seen in summer blockbuster movies. The results look amazing, but he’s working on moving footage in a program totally different than photoshop! Today we’re going to show you how to achieve a very similar affect on your images with techniques that can be used in Photoshop.

Making a Selection

We’ll start by making a color balance adjustment layer and pulling up our blues and greens quite a bit. You’ll want to do this in the midtones – messing with the highlights and shadows usually doesn’t work out as well. This gives our shadows a really nice blueish tone, but it’s also affecting Ashley’s face. There are two ways to make a selection to deselect her face on a layer mask.

The first way is to simply use color range and click on her skin. This gives us a selection that we can paint black on the layer mask, bringing her skin back to normal. The only problem with this is that it’s created some harsh lines and doesn’t have much variance; meaning it goes from black to white rather quickly.

The better way would be to use channels to make your selection. Simply duplicate your Red Channel and COMMAND + click on it to bring up a selection of the highlights. When this selection is placed on a layer mask, we can see that it is much less harsh and has a lot more detail.

We can create another color balance layer but increase the reds and yellows this time for the highlights. By applying the same layer mask but inverting it, this layer only shows up on the highlights and her skin.

Removing Color Casts

Now that we have our color grading, we’re going to try and tone it back in our highlights and shadows. It may not make sense to tone something back that we just did, but we want to keep our skin tone neutral and from becoming too orange.

To do this, we’re going to fill a blank layer set to Blending mode: Color with the color of her skin and invert it. This gives us a blue color that is the exact opposite of her current skin tone. By using blend if to make it only show up on her skin and moving the layer opacity to about 30%, we can make her skin appear more natural while keeping the color-graded look. Same goes for the shadows on a new layer – simply select the color of the background and hit Command + I to invert it before using blend-if and playing with your opacity.

Take a Break

One of the most important things to do when working with color is to take a break. Get up for five minutes, have a snack, and come back to your image with a fresh pair of eyes. You’ll be able to see things you didn’t notice five minutes before.


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    Chris Frosin

    With hindsight, I probably should have used an image that was a little less ‘headshot’.

    …still, really interesting to try. Definitely going to use that colour grading more.

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      Glad you enjoyed it, Ruben! Thanks for being such a loyal follower!

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    Ian Boys

    This was fantastic, esp the neutralising colours in the highlights!

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    Damn it! I knew I should have asked for a million bucks! Thanks for this, Aaron! You guys are the best!

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    Mariusz Garlacz

    I have a question to all of you guys. What Color settings do you use in your Photoshop – Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB? I set to ProPhoto but files from Phlearn looks like over saturate.
    Waiting for your opinion which to use.

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    Jerry Hughes

    Thank you, it was as if you were reading my mind. How to do this has been on my to do list for awhile.

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      Francesco Rossi

      Paul, that’s a great shot, it would be great to see the before and after. Cheers!

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    Martin Jönsson

    Probably a bit too much, and the Color Balance filter had trouble finding the right cool blue (the blue slider turned it purpleish instead), but I like the style. Below is a split after/before image.

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    Amazing tutorial. Phlearn is such a fantastic resource. Aaron, you share so much information about photoshop. I really appreciate it! Keep up the great work…..

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    Peter Faltpihl

    I don’t understand why you wouldn’t just layermask away the coloring layers where you don’t want them (in this case perhaps using an blend if on the two coloring layers)?

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    Had to watch the video a couple of times, but I think I got there in the end.
    Thanks Aaron.

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    Antony Shvain

    Hi Aaron! Hi everyone!
    Thank you for your work and willingness to share!

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    This cleared up something for me. When I have tried to color shadows/highlights, it always looks more like a color cast…this explains the difference, and how to get those professional looking results.

    Every time i feel frustrated with my progress in Photoshop or photography, I find Phlearn has what I need to help me through it.

    Thank you Aaron!

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    Very well explained. I’d love to see more tutorials on color grading like this. It just seems to make certain photos really come alive.

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    Erica Dal Bello Stringhini

    Great tutorial, I liked the tip about preserving the skin tones with chanels, this is very useful! In my image, I actually worked the blues in the shadows a little bit more, I think I prefere it. Hope you enjoy it! 😀

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    Rajiv Khanna

    very good as always , i have tried to follow the tutorial have added a texture overlay

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    Francesco Rossi

    Always very very cool and over and over again… 😉 Great job Aaron!

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    Daniel van Flymen

    Some things I thought I’d share:

    In your Color Balance Adjustment layer you should avoid changing the midtones. One of the basic principles of painting is to cool the shadows and warm the highlights. You should be working in the shadows and the highlights, not the midtones. Changing the midtones will introduce a cast. Which, if you’re grading neutrally, should always be avoided.

    Another thing, when targeting skin for neutrality, your method of inverting a color layer is the same as just using a desaturation layer. Beauty retouchers tend to not use this approach, they work in CMYK and adjust contrast in the Cyan Channel for Caucasian skin. Then they adjust exposure in K for the overall skin contrast. They do this all with a paintbrush set to Overlay.

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    Tom Sinner

    Hi everyone at Phlearn! Thanks so much for those great tutorials and inspirations!

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    forget fixing the sleepy eye, tutorial…tell me how on earth would you manipulate the lines out of a drivers license to turn it into a photograph?

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    This is surprisingly easy to learn! Here’s my take on a portrait 🙂