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Editing warm tones in Lightroom

Infuse warmth and master the art of warm tones in Lightroom...

How to edit warm tones in Lightroom

1. Basic exposure adjustments

The first thing I always adjust is tweaking the basic exposure adjustments.

During this part, you will want to pay close attention to the histogram as that will tell you what parts of your photograph are either under- or overexposed:

For this example, I shot the image very underexposed, so I need to increase the shadows and blacks and drop the highlights:

Paying attention to the histogram is especially important if you haven’t taken the time to calibrate your monitor for its true colors, as I have been guilty of. In the past, I did not pay attention to the histogram, and my photos looked darker and more underexposed on different monitors or on my phone.

I found that this was because the screen I would edit on was so bright that it was not representative of an average user’s screen. This would cause all my photos to be very dark and underexposed, and it wasn’t until I paid closer attention to the histogram that my photos turned out how I wanted them to look on other screens.

With all this being said, pay attention to the histogram and make your adjustments to your exposure, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks until your photo is exposed to your liking:

I tend to lean towards more “moodier” edits, so most of my photos exist on the left half of the histogram while still being properly exposed. Once you've exposed your photo to your liking, we can move on to the temperature adjustments, where most of the magic happens!

2. Temperature adjustments

The temperature adjustments panel is where most of the magic happens:

Adjust the temperature panel and move it to the right in order to add that warmth and golden tone to your image:

Be careful not to go overboard. I often adjust this panel in the beginning and then come back and tweak it after I make the color, tone curve, and split toning adjustments, so don’t worry about getting it perfect to your liking on your first go-around. Many people adjust the temperature to be on the warmer side, and that is the only adjustment they make. Then, they call it a day.

It’s true that you could just do this to create warm tones for your photo in Lightroom. However, it’s important to remember that this will “warm up” everything in your photo, including your subject's skin tone. This could cause an unnatural skin tone that looks fake and could cause your subject to look like they have a fake tan (unless that is the look you’re going for).

That’s why it’s also important to make adjustments and have a general knowledge of how to edit the color adjustment panel, which I will cover after the next step. Now that you have adjusted the temperature to your liking, it’s time to dive into the tone curve.

3. Tone curve adjustments

I love playing with the tone curve. It’s what really adds that pop and depth to your images.

Turning an average photograph into a professional-looking photograph. But just like every other adjustment, be careful not to go overboard (I used to do this all the time when first starting). The most common tone curve adjustment is the S-shaped tone curve:

This S-shape will create a great contrast in your image, creating that depth I was talking about:

For this example, I will be using the S-shape tone curve as well. When messing with the tone curve, just like our basic exposure adjustment, pay attention to that histogram! Because you are again tweaking with the highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks, it will affect your histogram.

You may need to return to your basic exposure adjustments and add additional tweaks; this is perfectly normal. After you are happy with your tone curve and some depth and contrast have been added to your image, let’s talk about my favorite panel — the color adjustment panel!

4. Color adjustment panel

After adjusting the temperature adjustment panel, this is a great panel to make smaller tweaks to our color to fix skin tones or objects in the background to revive its natural color while maintaining that warm, golden tone in the image.

This panel is also great for color grading. I am a big fan of color theory and the power color can have on the emotion and mood of a photograph:

For the sake of this post, I will only cover the basics. I will explore color theory more in another blog, as it can get pretty in-depth. Because the color adjustment panel is my favorite panel, I spend most of my time here.

With so many options and adjustments you could make within the color adjustments panel, it can be easy to go overboard or just get frustrated because you do not know where to start. That is why it is crucial to go into the color adjustments panel with a game plan.

This way, you won’t run into the classic scenario of adjusting the color, moving it back, and then adjusting it again because you weren’t sure if you liked the original or newer adjustment (we’ve all been there).

In my mind, I categorize the color adjustments into two parts, the warmer colors, and the cooler colors. This allows me to approach the colors with the game plan I mentioned earlier — looking at them as two families instead of eight individual colors.

The warmer colors consist of reds, oranges, yellows, and greens:

The cooler colors consist of the aquas, blues, purples, and magentas:

Since we want to add warm, golden tones to our image in Lightroom, our main focus will be the warmer colors listed above. We will still adjust the cooler colors, but it will complement the bigger adjustments to our warmer colors. As you will see, each color can be broken down into hue, saturation, and luminance.

Color adjustment panel – Hue

Adjustments to the hue deal with the actual color tones in an image — allowing you to shift color tones to a different color range if you wish. This is the best panel to make your adjustments in terms of color grading.

Diving into the basics of color theory for my image example, I want to edit my image to have a complementary color grade of blues and oranges:

Because of this, I will adjust all the hues in my warmer colors to have a more orange effect. And I will adjust all the hues in my cooler colors to have a more blue effect.

For my example, there are not many blues in the image to begin with. The bigger color grading will happen when we discuss split toning:

Color adjustment panel – Saturation

Adjustments to the saturation of color determine how “colorful” you want the color to be. Since I prefer to edit my photos on the more “moody” side, I always tend to bump my saturation down a tad bit:

You can play around with this slider to your liking. Be careful not to go too overboard with the saturation, as this is a mistake many beginners make when starting with editing in Lightroom. You don’t want your image to look fake or cartoonish (unless you actually do).

Color adjustment panel – Luminance

Adjustments to the luminance deal with the brightness of a certain color within the image. This is a great slider for adjusting the skin tones of your subject. It is up to your personal taste and how your image looks so far after all the other edits you have made.

Since red, orange, or yellow are most commonly associated with the color of the skin tone, bumping up the luminance on these colors will brighten your subject’s skin tone. For my example here, I bump up the luminance on the red:

Remember, like all other edits, do not go overboard with any adjustments; less is more.

5. Split toning

The split toning adjustments panel is great for adding the final touches to your image's warm, golden tones. The split toning adjustments allow you to add color to your highlights and shadows.

In this panel, I leverage the rectangle box they provide that allows me to select which color I specifically want to add:

Since we are adding warm tones to our image, we will want to add a yellow/orange color to our highlights to create that warm, golden effect. I always add a bluish color to the shadows as well just to add that complementary color (going back to the idea of color theory I mentioned earlier):

I will add this subtly to the image so as not to blow out the yellow-golden tone in my highlights and ruin all the other adjustments I made before. Split toning is a great tool for adding more character to our photographs and, in this case, a warmer tone to our images. However, like all the other adjustments, be careful not to go overboard.

I hope you learned how to add warm tones to your image and edit warm tones in Lightroom. This is the 5 step process that I always run through when editing.

Of course, you can add other effects, such as sharpness, grain, and noise reduction, but those will not affect the warm tones within the image, so I left those out for the sake of this post.

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