How to Color Grade a Cinematic Portrait in Lightroom


In this Lightroom tutorial, we’ll talk about how I like to use the Curves, Details, Split Toning, White Balance, and Camera Calibration features in Lightroom to quickly transform an evening portrait into a dark, moody, cinematic image. We’ll talk about balancing the colors in the photo, cooling off shadows, toning down highlights, working with the Curves adjustment, working with color channels inside of Curves, and much more! If you’re a photographer, you’re going to love this tutorial!

  • Before-Cinematic Color Grading
    After-Cinematic Color Grading
    BeforeCinematic Color GradingAfter


Curves + Color Channels


I like to begin with Curves. I drag the white point down and the black point upward to reduce contrast and then I added two additional points to do a tiny bump of contrast in the mid tones. I also went to the Red channel and pulled downward in the highlights region of my photo as you can see in the screenshot above. In the green channel, I pulled downward on the green levels in the shadowy parts of the image to bump some magenta color into the shadows. In the yellow channel, I pulled downward on the blues in the highlights portion of the image to pump some yellow into the highlights. Check out the screenshots above to see my exact positioning for this photo.

Tweaking White Balance & Exposure


After playing with the Curves, I like to hit the Basic panel and, for this image, I’ll pump some additional blue into the image by shifting the temperature toward the blues and I also toned down the overall exposure by setting it to -0.40, I also killed off some light on her face by dropping the highlights and whites a little bit (this was a side effect of having a little bit too much light hitting her face) and I also pumped the vibrance and saturation as well.

Camera Calibration


Next, I head down to the Camera Calibration panel and I set the profile to “Camera Neutral” which tends to give me a little dynamic range and I also shifted additional magenta into the shadows and tweaked the Hue and Saturation of the Red, Green, and Blue Primaries.

HSL – Hue/Saturation/Luminance Adjustment


The HSL sliders will allow me to hyper-target colors in my photo and I’m going to focus on shifting the hue of the Reds, Oranges, Blues, and Purples. I also tweaked the Saturation in any colors that I wanted to either boost a little or tone down a little bit. While I am doing this, I am focused on the light and color that may need to be boosted, shifted, or enhanced in any part of my photo (i.e. reds/oranges in the skin or the blues and magenta tones in the background of this photo.)

Split Toning to Colorize Shadows More


Open the Split Toning panel and shift the hue slider toward the blues and gently increase the saturation slider until you get a healthy amount of blue tone added to your shadows and then divide that number in half. About half the toning you think looks good while split toning is usually what actually looks good. Tread carefully with this panel! TIP: Play with the balance slider to further control how the blue color is disseminated.

Tags: photography, retouching, tones, adjustments, color grading, coloring, color effect, curves, sharpening, sharpness, canon 135, 135mm, canon, photo, photograph, colorize, cinematic, movie light, cinematic lighting, environmental portrait, lightroom tutorial, lightroom effect, lightroom tutorials, creative cloud

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