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How to Correct Skin Tones Using Lightroom’s Color Curves

by on Oct.20, 2016, under Post Production

Lightroom gives you a million and one ways to complete most photo edits. Having options is important. No two photos are alike, so no two edits are alike either. In this article, I’ll show you how to correct skin tones using Lightroom’s color curves.

There are times when the best way to edit color in general, and skin tones in particular, is to use Lightroom’s Color Curves. After reading this tutorial, you’ll be able to; measure RGB skin tone numbers to give you a general idea of which edits your photo needs, and correct the color issues using Lightroom’s Color Curves


Finding the color numbers

The image below is a photo that came out of the camera with a pretty good white balance and skin tone. Do you see the numbers under the histogram? Those are Red, Green and Blue (RGB) numbers.

Skin tones Lightroom curves 01

You can display the RGB numbers for your photos too. In Lightroom’s Develop module, hover your cursor over the area you want to measure. Look under the histogram for the corresponding RGB measurements.

These measurements tell us that the pixels next to the arrow in the screen shot had the following measurements:

  • Red: 73.1%
  • Green: 67.1%
  • Blue: 60.5%

RGB numbers are usually measured on a scale of 0-255, unless you are working in Lightroom. In Lightroom, you generally see them on a percent scale. 0% is the darkest value for any color, it’s so dark that there is no visible detail in that area. 100% is the brightest, and is so bright that no detail is visible.

Analyzing the color numbers

When analyzing RGB numbers for skin tone, look for the following indicators:

  • Red should be higher than Green. Green should be higher than Blue. This pattern is universal to all skin tones, regardless of age or ethnicity.
  • Each color should have at least a 2% difference, usually more, between it and the next number. Do you know how to identify a pure gray? That is a pixel that measures exactly the same in its Red, Green and Blue numbers. So skin whose RGB numbers are very close to each other is going to look gray. Not very appealing, right?
  • If any colors measure 94% or above, you probably have overexposure to deal with.
  • If any colors measure 6% or below, you probably have underexposure to deal with.

The RGB numbers in the photo above are consistent with expectations. This means that the skin is within “proper range” of a well-exposed photo with good white balance.

What do to with bad numbers?

What happens, however, if your photo doesn’t look so good straight out of camera?

Skin tones Lightroom curves 02

In this photo, the measurement point was just next to the arrow on her forehead. The numbers read: Red 93.8%, Green 92.5%, and Blue: 93.6%.

Anytime you see a photo with skin tones that measure like this, your eyes are going to tell you that something is off before the numbers do. The benefit of using the numbers is that they give you the direction to which your edits for the image need to go.

The numbers in this photo cause concern because:

  • Anything higher than 94% or so in Lightroom is bright enough that your image, if you print it, might not render good detail in those areas. That means that these areas are too bright.
  • Blue is higher than Green. Red should always be the highest and Blue the lowest otherwise the skin tone will appear cold.
  • The RGB numbers are too close together – they are approaching gray. This skin in this photo is lifeless as a result.

Correcting the skin tones

To fix this image, you would start by tweaking exposure. Proper exposure is a huge component of proper skin color. In fact, it’s often impossible to assess skin tone issues correctly without correcting exposure first.

A little-known bit of Lightroom awesomeness is that it’s easy to correct exposure while keeping an eye on the RGB numbers. In the Develop module, double click in the numeric entry field for Exposure so that the number is highlighted. Next, hover your cursor over the area of skin you are measuring without clicking. Use the up or down arrows on your keyboard to change exposure until a more appropriate measurement for the Red value appears under the histogram.

Skin tones Lightroom curves 03

Adjust Highlights (or Shadows, Whites, or Blacks) in the same way. Activate the numeric input field for editing then hover the cursor over the arrow you want to measure. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to increase or decrease the adjustment.

Exposure for this photo is better with the adjustments you see above, but color is still off. When the RGB numbers are as close together as you see here, it’s often better to use Color Curves than the White Balance sliders to fix the issue.

Using Color Curves instead of White Balance Sliders

Color Curves has two major advantages over the white balance (WB) sliders.

You might have noticed already that Lightroom measures three colors (red, green and blue) for each pixel. However, the White Balance sliders don’t allow for editing the most important component of skin color – red. But, you can edit Red tones using Lightroom’s Color Curves.

The other big benefit of using Color Curves is that you can adjust colors in limited parts of the tonal range. For instance, if you reduce yellow in an image using the Temperature slider in the White Balance section, you are reducing yellow globally (everywhere in the image equally). Using Color Curves, however, you could reduce yellow only in the shadows, without taking away the yellow that properly belongs in the mid tones and highlights of an image.

To find Color Curves in Lightroom, scroll down to the Tone Curve section. By default, it shows you the parametric curve, which looks like this:

Skin tones Lightroom curves 04

Click on the small button in the lower right corner of the Curves panel to access the Point Curve. (It’s circled in the screen shot above.)

Now you are looking at the Point Curve interface:

Skin tones Lightroom curves 05

Using the Channel drop down menu, select the color you’d like to adjust.

Skin tones Lightroom curves 06

Which color channel to edit?

At this point, you may be wondering about adjusting colors other than red, green, and blue. For instance, what if your photo has too much yellow or orange? Think about it like this.

Each of the three colors measured in Lightroom has an opposite:

  • Red is the opposite of cyan
  • Green is the opposite of magenta
  • Blue is the opposite of yellow

Reducing any one of those colors using Color Curves, increases that color’s opposite. In other words, reducing blue is the same as increasing yellow.

Looking at the Curves panel, do you see the histogram behind the straight line? When you click and drag the straight line to create a curve, this tells Lightroom to adjust the pixels corresponding to that part of the histogram.

Say, for instance, that you wanted to add blue to the mid tones of an image. You would select the Blue channel and click the line in the middle of the histogram, where the midtones live. Dragging the line up would add blue to the bright parts of your photo’s tonal range.

Dragging up increases the color the channel is named after – blue, in this case. If it increases blue, that means that it’s also decreasing blue’s opposite, yellow.

Skin tones Lightroom curves 07

Dragging down decreases the color the channel is named after.


Using the Targeted Adjustment Tool for Curves

That’s the way it works in general. But you can get much more precise color control by using Lightroom’s Targeted Adjustment Tool. Click on the button at the top left corner of your Curves panel to activate it (circled below).

Skin tones Lightroom curves 08

Hover this tool over the spot you’re using to measure the skin tone in your photo, but don’t click! Use the up and down arrows on your keyboard while keeping an eye on the RGB numbers beneath your histogram until the both the appearance of the photo and the RGB numbers improve.

Moving the blue curve down, as in the screenshot below, provides better separation between the Green and Blue measurements. It also gives the photo the warmth it’s lacking.

Skin tones Lightroom curves 09

If the image still lacks vibrance, as this one does, move to the Red curve and increase the Red channel. Adding a touch of red is the best way to counteract gray skin.

Skin tones Lightroom curves 10

Next, decreasing green (to add magenta) makes the skin color, as well as the corresponding RGB numbers, look just about right.

Skin tones Lightroom curves 11

Tweaking things

However, the warmth of the plants behind them is overpowering the subjects. To downplay it, return to the Blue channel.

Using the Targeted Adjustment Tool, add Blue to the the shadows by hovering over a dark area of the photo and hitting the up arrow on your keyboard.

Skin tones Lightroom curves 12

Compare the original and edited photos here:





Editing your own images with Color Curves and RGB numbers

Keep the following tips in mind when editing your own images.

#1 – First, a big caveat to anyone who has heard that using RGB numbers to edit will solve all skin tone problems! There are as many proper RGB measurements as there are people in the world. As you study RGB numbers, let trends in the numbers and generalities guide your edits, but don’t try for an exact numeric match.

#2 – Measure skin tones in the middle range of brightness. Look for mid-tones rather than bright highlights or deep shadows. Also avoid measuring on cheeks, the end of the nose, or other areas that are usually redder than others.

#3 – In general, when I’m editing photos, I look for tones in these ranges:

  • Red is highest > Green is middle > Blue is lowest – always.
  • The Red channel is usually between 70% and 90%. Very light skin can be as high as 94%. Very dark skin can go as low as 40-50%.
  • The Blue channel is usually between 30% and 80%.
  • It’s not possible to generalize how many percentage points difference should be between Red and Green, or Green and Blue. However, skin that has warmer tones will have less Blue in proportion to Red and Green.

#4 – Small movements of your tone curve impact your image dramatically. Don’t go overboard!


Studying the patterns in the RGB numbers of your photos is a great way to develop your editing eye. Everyone has photos that aren’t quite right. Analyzing the relationship between the numbers and the appearance of the photo will help you get to the point where you can eyeball a photo’s needs without referring to the RGB numbers at all.

Any questions? We could talk about this topic all day. Comment below and tell me what you think.

The post How to Correct Skin Tones Using Lightroom’s Color Curves by Erin Peloquin appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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2 Simple Methods for Adding Color to Your Images Using Photoshop

by on Oct.04, 2016, under Post Production

Most of us have experienced photographing an incredible sunrise or sunset only to get home and realize that the colors in your images are not nearly as good as the colors you witnessed with your own eyes. There can be many reasons to this, such as camera limitations or mistakes you made in the field. However, that’s not what you will learn about in this article. Correcting the colors, or adding color, isn’t something you need to spend hours working on. In fact, it can be done in just a few minutes using Adobe Photoshop and you don’t need to be a Photoshop expert to do it.

Enhance or adding color in Photoshop

Trolltunga, Norway – We will be adding color to this sky

As we all know there are many ways to get to Rome, there  isn’t only one method of adding colors in Photoshop either. It can, as I mentioned above, be done fairly easy but the more detailed adjustments you wish to make, the harder it will become. In this article, we will be looking at two easy methods to add color in Photoshop.

#1 Adding Color with a Photo Filter

The first method we will look at involves the Photoshop tool called Photo Filter. This is an Adjustment Tool which you can find by clicking the Adjustment Tool icon (the half-filled circle located below the layers palette, see screenshot below). This creates a new layer named Photo Filter 1, which we will be working on.

photo-filter-ps adding color in Photoshop

Photofilter adding color in PhotoshopA warming filter is the default setting so, as you might see, the image now has an orange color cast. Personally, I prefer using Warming Filter (LBA) as I find this to have the most natural color that suits my images best (see screenshot on the right). Select this filter by clicking on the Filter dropdown menu. Alternatively, you can select a color manually that might suit your specific image better. If you find the adjustment to be a little too weak you can strengthen its appearance by increasing the Density. I rarely go above 40% Density as the colors then quickly become washed out and results in a look I don’t want.

Photo filter applied to the whole image - adding color in Photoshop

Photo Filter applied to the whole image at 40% 

Photo filter - adding color in Photoshop

Photo Filter applied to the whole image at the default 25%

By using this filter we have brought back some of the color in the sky. There’s not a huge difference but we’ve managed to keep a natural look in the image while the sky still looks good. However, there’s one problem. We don’t necessarily want to add the extra color to the landscape itself, we only wanted the sky to be affected.

layer-mask-ps - adding color in PhotoshopLeft of the Photo Filter text there’s a white box. This is the layer mask, basically telling Photoshop what area of the image should be affected by that particular layer. White means that it’s visible and black means that it’s concealed. By default the entire mask is white. To remove the adjustment from the landscape itself follow these steps:

  1. Select the Layer Mask by clicking on it (it will show square brackets around the mask when it is selected, see screenshot on the right))
  2. Select a black brush and set Hardness to 0%
  3. Reduce the opacity of the brush to 80%
  4. With the Layer Mask still selected, carefully paint on the areas you do not want affected by the filter. You’ll see the adjustment disappear from those places as you paint.
adding some subtle color to the sky

The Photo Filter layer masked to only affect the sky.

This is the easiest way to manually choose where the adjustment will be visible. Unfortunately, it’s also the least accurate. You might see some haloing along the edges or perhaps the color bleeds onto the horizon at certain places. By zooming in on the image and using a smaller brush you’ll be able to reduce the amount of haloing or bleed. Other methods, such as Luminosity Masking, are more accurate but also demand a better understanding of Adobe Photoshop.

#2 Add contrast with Curves Adjustment Layer

Curves adjustment layerAnother easy method to add colors is by using the Curves Adjustment Layer. Unlike Photo Filter, we will be using Curves to add contrast in the sky. Follow these steps to do a Curves adjustment:

Open a Curves Adjustment Layer by clicking on the Adjustment Layer icon again, and selecting Curves this time.

You want to add some contrast and increase the colors slightly by darkening the sky. Do this by clicking in the middle of the line in your Curves layer and pulling it down gently. Make sure that you don’t go too far as that will lead to unwanted grain or color distortions.

That’s it. To remove the adjustment from the landscape create another Layer Mask and follow the same steps as with the previous method above.

adding color in Photoshop

As you might have noticed these are two subtle adjustments. You won’t get a surreal sky by following these methods. Instead, you’ll maintain a natural look and still bring out some of the color you wanted to capture.

The post 2 Simple Methods for Adding Color to Your Images Using Photoshop by Christian Hoiberg appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Add a Soft Focus Look to Your Images for a Unique Style

by on Aug.20, 2016, under Post Production

Soft focus photographs present themselves with a tranquil and almost dream-like effect. They have become quite popular, and can be found to some extent in many genres of photography, from portraits to landscapes.

In reality, what many of us think of as soft focus photos, aren’t actually soft focus at all. The more accurate term is soft contrast. Soft focus is essentially the blurring of an image, which is not exactly the same as soft contrast. The softening effect can be achieved a number of ways using softening filters mounted in front of your lens, or in post-processing. With the powerful digital editing tools we have today, a soft contrast effect is both easily achieved, and infinitely adjustable.

Before and After

In this example, you will see at a step-by-step workflow for applying a soft focus, or soft contrast, look to a photograph in Photoshop using our old friend the High Pass Filter. You might be familiar with using the High Pass for sharpening, but in this case it will be used on the opposite end of the spectrum. We will begin with a RAW image file and work our way to a finished product ready for publishing.

Don’t worry. All these edits are incredibly easy, fast, and will give your images a little creative boost if used correctly. Let’s get started!

Here have the RAW file or as I affectionately call it the “Genesis Image”.


Make basic edits first

We will begin with some basic edits in Adobe Lightroom, then transfer the image to Photoshop to apply the soft contrast magic. It’s best to perform your core processing first, before beginning the soft contrast process. I like using Lightroom because it makes for a super simple transfer, for working in tandem with Photoshop.

For this photo I performed some global exposure adjustments, as well as made some selective adjustments. I also made use of the HSL panel to bring the color saturation and luminance closer to my visualization.

LR Adjustments

Open in Photoshop and duplicate the background layer

Once you’ve finished the foundational processing it’s time to bring your image into Photoshop. Right click it in Lightroom and choose “Edit in Photoshop”.

Now that you have your file open in Photoshop, you can begin the easy process of applying the soft contrast effect. To begin, you need to duplicate the base layer. Do this by right clicking the base layer and selecting Duplicate Layer, or by pressing control+J (command+J for Mac).

Duplicate Layer

Apply the High Pass Filter

Next, select the High Pass Filter. To do this, select from the top menu: Filter > Other > High Pass. The image before you will transform into a garbled mass of gray muck.

High Pass Filter Select

You will be given the option of adjusting the radius of the High Pass. I have found that for most images, a radius of 10-20 pixels is appropriate, but in the end it will be up to you and your creativity to decide. After you’ve selected the radius, click OK.

Next, go to: Image > Adjustments > Invert. You can save some some time by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+I (Command+I for Mac).

High Pass Invert

Change the layer blend mode

And vola! Wait…the photo still looks like a moldy piece of bread. Everything is okay, though! The next step is one of the most important, and it will make all the difference. In your layers panel, change the blending mode to Softlight.

High Pass Softlight


High Pass Softlight Effect

The image looks like a photo again. The soft contrast effect has now been applied to every part of the image. If you like how everything looks, great, you’re completely finished and can go on your way. Most often though, additional fine tuning will be needed to bring out the best of your photograph. This is the real power of Photoshop, because you can now selectively choose what areas will benefit most from the softening. To do this you need to add another layer mask, but don’t let this intimidate you.

Add a layer mask to refine the effect

At the very bottom of the layers panel you will see a small row of icons. The layer mask icon is the white rectangular box with the gray dot inside, click that. A layer mask will be added to your adjustment layer. This way, you can choose exactly where you want your effect to be applied using the brush tool.

Add Mask

Now I can really get creative. I want to leave the softening effect on some areas, but remove it from some of the key points of the composition; namely the rock face and the ground surrounding the waterfall. Use the brush tool (paint brush icon) and a layer mask to show or hide your edit. Be sure the two black and white squares at the far left bottom of the tool panel show the black square above the white one (hit D on your keyboard to set them to default and X to swap the colors). This means you are hiding the effect from the image by masking it.

If you click the two sided arrows above the squares (switch to put white on top – or click X on your keyboard to do this) you will be able to paint back in the effect, in the case you remove too much (using a mask is non-destructive editing, you are not removing pixels just hiding or showing parts of one layer). Also, remember the the brush tool is completely customizable as far as size, flow, and opacity are concerned.

Layer Mask Adjustments

Final edits back in Lightroom

In the case of this photo, I save and close it in Photoshop, and it will automatically import back into Lightroom where I will finish up some minute details. The final edits include mainly selective sharpening and a slight vignette.

Final Adjustments

And it’s done! In what amounts to a few short minutes, I have gone from a RAW file, to an image that artistically captures what I saw when I clicked the shutter.

Before and After

As with any type of post-processing, it’s important to remember that less is often more. Be judicious with your edits and only go as far as you need, in order to reach the image you want to make.

Have a soft contrast or soft focus image you’ve edited in Photoshop? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

The post How to Add a Soft Focus Look to Your Images for a Unique Style by Adam Welch appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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