Color Theory and Color Grading

This is the first of a four part tutorial using color theory and color grading to enhance our images. In the next tutorial we will examine tools available in Photoshop as well as some excellent tools developed for use with Photoshop. In the last segment we will bring our knowledge together to show how these tools all work together to enhance our images.

Why Color Theory Matters

An artist starting out with a blank canvas would not just start applying paint straight out of the tube. Artists take time to mix colors and gradually build on underlying colors to get those masterpieces we so love. They took time to study color theory and how color affects the emotions of the viewer. As photographers we have the same opportunity to build on colors present in our photographs to enhance existing colors (without ever touching a saturation slider) and to evoke a mood. We have tools available to us in programs like Photoshop to help us bring a vision we have for an image to life.

Blend-If and Tools for Color Grading

This is part 2 of the four part series. In this segment we will look at how Blend If works. Before we can use Blend If and apply it to color grading, we should learn how it can be used for other applications. This will help us understand what is going on behind the scenes. Blend-If will be applied in the next segment as we learn a color grading process. We will also look at some useful tools for color grading as well as Adobe Color Themes.

The Lightroom Histogram

Let’s look at a histogram in Lightroom. Histograms have five areas, starting with blacks on the left and ending with whites on the right. Blend-If is configured in much the same way allowing control over blacks, shadows, midtones, highlights, and whites. 

Color Grading - Infinite Color Panel

This is part three of the four part series. In this segment we will tie everything we learned about Blend If and color theory together to color grade our images. We will look at some third-party tools and we will use a Photoshop action along with the Adobe Color Themes tool to see how we can color grade with existing Photoshop tools. This segment assumes you have your libraries palette setup and usable. If you don’t spend some time understanding Photoshop libraries. There are excellent tutorials on the Internet.

When I first started color grading it was hard to find resources. My first attempt was to set up a group with three layers, one for highlights, midtones, and shadows. In these beginning stages I set each group to Color. 

Color Grading - Palette Effects

This is the fourth and final installment of the color theory and grading series.

Palette Effects

I started looking for ways to expand my initial method of using three layers highlights, midtones, and shadows to include additional layers that would encompass the entire image. I was having some success with this but not quite what I was looking for. I knew there was still much to learn.

From time-to-time one of my photographs will cause me reflection and I like to take some time and effort to explain the background and how the image was made. Such is the case of the above image.

The church is The Episcopal Church of Our Savior, located in the town of Trenton, SC. This is a beautiful church with wood interior. The building was consecrated on June 30, 1882 by Bishop William B.W. Howe. The bell tower was a later addition. The Episcopal Church of Our Savior is one of three churches that make up The Episcopal Church of the Ridge. The Episcopal Church of the Ridge was formed in 1973 under the suggestion of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Smaller churches were encouraged to form a cluster under one priest and one governing board. The name "Church of the Ridge" came from a ridge that runs through the area. The other two churches that make up The Episcopal Church of the Ridge are Trinity Episcopal Church in the town of Edgefield, SC and Grace Episcopal Church in the town of Ridge Spring, SC. Worship takes place every Sunday in one of the three churches on a rotating basis.

Hawaii

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The Hawaiian archipelago is made up of 137 islands spread over 1,500 miles. Hawaii was the 50th state to join the United States on August 21, 1959. The state capital and Pearl Harbor are located on the island of O'ahu. We visited O'ahu and the big island of Hawai'i in 2006. In 2020 we made a return trip to the big island of Hawai'i. Dora and I know more about the big island of Hawai'i simply because we spent more time there and researched it more.

The Hawaiian tradition of welcoming visitors to Hawaii with a lei is not practiced as it once was due to cost. Friends and relatives still buy leis at the airport to welcome their friends and families. However, from time-to-time you may come across one someone hung in a tree or laid on a bench, just in case you need one, kind of like a hug.

Norway

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"Follow your own path and let it lead you where your heart wants you to go."

Recently our path took us above the Arctic Circle to the Lofoten Islands in Norway. February might seem a curious time to travel to the Arctic, however; this time of year provides excellent photographic opportunity. The sun stays low on the horizon throughout the day, making for extended sunrises and sunsets. The low angle of the sun also makes for excellent light all day. Views of the Northern Lights this time of year are spectacular. The climate in Lofoten is influenced by the Gulf Stream and it stays warmer than one might expect. Properly dressed in layers and temperatures ranging from 28 to 38 degrees F it was an enjoyable trip. Weather changed constantly. It is the Arctic so be prepared for cold temperature, high winds, rain, snow, and ice. We experienced 40 mph plus winds from time-to-time. One day it might rain and the next snow. It all depended on a degree or two of temperature change. 

A Little Bit of Heaven

Sure a little bit of Heaven fell from out the sky one day
and it nestled in the ocean in a place so far away
and when the angels found it sure it looked so sweet and fair
they said suppose we leave it for it looks so peaceful there

So they sprinkled it with stardust just to make the shamrocks grow
it's the only place you'll find them no matter where you go
then they darted it with silver just to make the lakes look grand
and when they had it finsihed sure they called it Ireland

by J. Keirn Brennan and Ernest R. Ball

Cuba

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Dora and I were stationed at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for four years, beginning in 1973. Our daughter, Karen, was born there. Cuba was under an economic embargo by the United States and so we were restricted to the base. Diplomatic relations with Cuba were severed in 1961 by President Eisenhower. The U.S. embassy in Havana was closed and Guantanamo Bay was isolated. We could take R&R trips to Haiti, Puerto Rico, San Juan, and other Caribbean locations but we never got to know any of Cuba, save what we experienced on the base. Over the years we would catch a glimpse through some story in a magazine or newspaper but we never thought the opportunity to return would present itself. Fast forward 54 years to August 14, 2015 when Secretary of State, John Kerry, travelled to Havana to reopen the embassy. Suddenly Americans could once again visit the beautiful island of Cuba. 

Friend and fellow photographer Steve Rich and I try to get together at least once a year for a great adventure of exploration, adventure, and photography. The past few years took us in to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park where we visited Pigeon Forge, Cades Cove, and Roaring Fork.