HOW TO RETOUCH Pt. 8: Color Grading your Photos

Two-thirds of the way home! It’s part 8 of our 12-part retouching tutorial series in Photoshop and today we’re talking about color grading and getting the colors right in your photo. We’ll look at color grading with channels in Curves, with Color Balance, and with the Gradient Map feature in Photoshop.

See All 12 Parts!

Download: Click on this link to grab the entire pack of gradients that you can use in your own Gradient Maps in the future!

1. Color Grade with Curves

how-to-retouch-images-photoshop-01 The first method to color to use a Curves Adjustment layer. Add a Curves Adjustment layer and choose any one of the colors from the channel drop down menu (default state of this menu is the “RGB” channel) I selected the Red channel and dragged up a little on the middle area of the line to infuse some red into my image. Check out the full tutorial to see exactly what I did with the Curves to tweak the colors in my image.

2. Color Grade with Color Balance

how-to-retouch-images-photoshop-02 We could also use a Color Balance Adjustment layer and choose to add any level of color to out Shadows, Midtones, or Highlights. As a general rule, you get semi-cinematic images when you add a little touch of yellow/red to your highlights and a little drip of blue/magenta to your shadows. The midtone will generally follow the cool you wish the overall image to have (i.e. Sunset would be relatively warm, a sunrise might be a little cooler, a scene might need to be cold with more blue/purple, with green/natural with greens/yellows, maybe needs to be warmed with yellow/magenta/red, etc… etc…) Again, check out my video to see exactly how I used this Adjustment layer.

3. Color Grade with Gradient Map Layer

how-to-retouch-images-photoshop-03 One of my favorite techniques for color grading an image is to use the Gradient Map Adjustment layer. This is why I’ve included a bunch of free gradients at the top of this tutorial so you can download them and have real, legit gradients with which you can grade your images, not the foo-foo ones that Adobe gives us with Photoshop. Add a Gradient Map Adjustment layer and choose a nice gradient that begin with a maroon/wine color and fades to a beige/yellow color as I have done in my screenshot and set that Adjustment layer to the blend mode Soft Light.

4. Gradient Map and Contrast

how-to-retouch-images-photoshop-04 Once that Gradient Map Adjustment layer has been set to the blend mode Soft Light, you will notice that in has infused a bunch of contrast into our image. To combat this, I like to add a Levels Adjustment layer beneath the Gradient Map and pump my black output level to around “20” and my white output level to about “240”.

5. Playing with Other Gradients

how-to-retouch-images-photoshop-05 Of course, part of the fun of gradient maps is that it is very easy to commit wholesale changes to the color and mood of your image simply by setting a different gradient in place. Double click the gradient stripe and try a few different gradients. In the screenshot, I am playing around with a blue to beach green color gradient stripe. This gradient is part of the downloadable pack that I have available in the link above.

6. Colors Used in Movies

how-to-retouch-images-photoshop-06 Lastly, there is a great website out there all about the color used in movies and how they get the tones and grades that they do. It’s really cool to just check out, but you can also get ideas for use in gradients of your own by screenshotting and sampling colors right from the palettes that the website creator has assembled. Check out moviesInColor.com right here!