There are many reasons to change colors in your photos while editing them. You can fix colored lighting, add a creative twist, or change distracting colors. Lightroom offers different methods to change colors, but it’s hard to know where to start.
That’s why in this tutorial you’ll learn all about Lightroom’s HSL panel including how it affects colors and what it can mean for your editing choices. But if you need to selectively change color, how can you use Lightroom for that precision? The masking tool will help with that and you’ll learn exactly how to use it here.
How To Change General Colors In Lightroom
Although are several ways to change colors in Lightroom, the HSL adjustment is the best for changing general colors in an image. This adjustment works by adjusting the hue, saturation, and luminance of each color range independently.
Since the HSL adjustment affects an image globally, it’s a great tool for changing general colors in Lightroom.
Where To Find The HSL Panel
Once you’ve imported your photos into Lightroom, click Develop to start editing an image.
In the Develop Module, you’ll find the HSL panel within the adjustment settings on the right.
Although found on one panel, the HSL / Color panel provides two separate options within itself: HSL or Color. One option will be highlighted to show which panel is showing, so click HSL to show the HSL options rather than the Color options. Both HSL and Color display the same settings. I prefer the HSL layout which is what I will use for this tutorial.
What Does HSL Mean?
HSL stands for Hue, Saturation, and Luminance. You can control each of these settings by using the sliders in the HSL panel.
Lightroom’s HSL panel has different channels for each color: red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple, and magenta. This allows you to make changes based on an individual color’s hue, saturation, or luminance, rather than affecting all the colors at once.
What Is Hue?
The hue of an image sets the overall color tone. You can slide from different shades — or hues — of color within each channel.
For example, if I change the blue hue slider, any shades of blue in my image will change with it, like the sky, snow, and man’s jacket in my photo.
The same as if you change the orange hue, all the orange areas will change based on the hue value.
The Hue sliders only let you make changes within one color channel. You couldn’t use the hue slider to change from blue to orange, but only from one hue to another within the same color range. For example, blue to purple or blue to cyan.
What Is Saturation?
The saturation of a color is how rich it appears. The Saturation sliders in the HSL panel are all desaturated on the left of each color channel and fully saturated on the right. If a color was set to -100 for example, it would have no color left (aka saturation).
Saturation levels control how muted or bright a color shows in an image. If you slide the saturation slider to +100 then most of the colors will become unnaturally saturated.
Using -100 saturation will make the color channels appear gray.
You should use saturation levels in limited amounts if you want your photo to look realistic. For example, you could use them to make a certain color pop like a blue sky.
What Is Luminance?
Luminance in HSL shows the amount of white or black within a color.
Higher luminance will increase the color’s lightness.
Meanwhile, a lower luminance will present a darker color.
Luminance is not the same as brightness. Brightness is the amount of light in an image, but luminance is the amount of white or black present.
Using HSL To Change Color In Lightroom
HSL settings globally affect each color channel. That means you couldn’t change one blue area of a photo (such as a shirt) without affecting the other blue colors in the photo. Changing the HSL settings will change the hue, saturation, or luminance in your entire photo, so it’s typically best used subtly or for general creative results.
The HSL menu has different color channels. This enables you to change HSL settings for specific color channels within your entire image. Although this is different from a selective color change, which we’ll get to shortly, it does give you some options for changing only one color type.
For example, in my photo, the man is wearing bright orange pants and muted orange gloves. If I change the Hue levels in the Orange channel, both his pants and his gloves will change in hue, since their color falls in the orange color channel.
The man’s skin tone also has a reddish-orange hue. This means that although his face isn’t obviously orange, changing the Orange channels in HSL will affect his skin coloring, which I don’t want.
This is part of the global effect of using HSL — there’s no way to avoid it when changing colors using HSL. It isn’t a bad thing, but there are other ways to selectively change color by using the Masking tool. If using HSL for color changing, use it subtly and be wary of how it affects the whole photo; especially with skin tones.
How To Selectively Change Color In Lightroom
Since the HSL panel doesn’t allow for selective color changes such as changing clothing color — except for rare occasions where you have a very isolated color in an image — we need to use another method.
Using any of the masking tools allows you to apply a mask over an area of your photo. The mask then allows you to edit specific areas of your image without affecting non-masked areas. This is the best way to selectively change a color in a photo using Lightroom.
I’ll use the same photo of a man kneeling in the snow to show you how to change the color of his orange pants without affecting the color of his orange gloves or skin tone by using the Adjustment Brush and the Color Range selective adjustments.
Step 1: Mask The Color Using The Masking Tool
To select one specific color, you’ll need the help of the Masking tool (Shift + W). The Masking tool is found at the top of the toolbar when in Develop mode; it is the right-most icon.
When you click on the Masking tool, it will open a small panel underneath with new mask options of Select Subject; Select Sky; Brush; Linear Gradient; Radial Gradient; Color Range; Luminance Range; and Depth Range.
You can select any of these selective adjustment tools based on your needs. However, once the masking tool is selected, you will notice a masking panel appears to show your selective adjustments. This panel gives you options to create a new mask, edit existing masks, and a checkbox option to view or hide the colored mask overlay. It will also show a black and white version of the mask in a preview box, once created.
To create a new mask, click Create New Mask to bring up the masking options. For selective color changing, you’ll only need the Color Range and Brush options. The Select Subject option would work if your photo’s subject is entirely in the color you want to change.
Step 2: Use The Color Range Mask
Choose the Color Range mask (Shift + J). This tool will mask any areas within a selected color range in your photo.
Once selected, use the eyedropper to select a color range by clicking an area of the color you wish to change.
The click will leave a color wheel and add any similar colors from your sample to the selection. I changed the color of the mask overlay to cyan so I could see it better on the orange pants.
If your color is isolated enough from other colors in the photo, the Color Range tool will successfully select and mask the entirety of the selected color. However, it’s not always perfect and you may end up with some overlap or some missed parts which are easy to fix.
My mask has also selected the gloves, as they are orange too. It also selected some snow on the man’s leg, which although isn’t orange, has an orange hue reflected from the snow pants.
Step 3: Use The Adjustment Brush To Refine The Selection
To correct any missed parts, use the Brush. In the masking panel, click Add then choose Brush (K).
Use the brush to mask any missed parts of the color. You can adjust the brush size by using the [ or ] keys.
Use the Subtract option with the Brush tool to remove accidentally masked areas. You can go back and forth between Add and Subtract as many times as needed.
To help refine the mask edges, use the Refine slider. Click on the Color Range in the Masks panel and move the Refine slider to 100.
Continue using Add or Subtract until you’re happy.
Step 4: Use The Hue & Saturation Sliders To Change Color
Now it’s time to change the color. You can hide the mask overlay in the mask panel to give you better visibility of the results.
Use the individual Hue and Saturation sliders to change your colors. These sliders are only available when using the Masking tool. They are different from the global HSL options I introduced earlier, as these sliders include all color channels.
On the Hue slider, move the arrow left or right until you’re happy with the new color on the masked area.
For the color to appear stronger or weaker, you can use the Saturation slider. It’s good to balance each of these sliders with one another rather than relying solely on one.
Step 5: Use Exposure Slider To Make White Or Black
Now, you can also use the Exposure slider to change the brightness of the color. You can use this to turn the pants black or white, while realistically keeping shadows and highlights.
To make it black, bring the Exposure slider to the left, but not all the way. This still retains some upper and lower exposure levels which gives realistic shadows rather than an unauthentic shadow-less black void.
Sliding the Exposure to the right helps make a realistic white. But, just using the Exposure slider will mix with the hue value, which won’t be white at all.
So that means you need to use the Saturation slider to remove the color to make it appear white. Increase the Exposure and bring down the Saturation slider until it looks white.
It’s rare for white fabric to look perfectly white, so by changing the saturation levels along with the exposure levels, you can create a realistic white tone.
This process is a lot of fun to do and it is often easier if you’re unfamiliar with more advanced color-changing methods that are found in Photoshop.