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How To Apply Cinematic Color Grading To Your Photos

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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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