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Color in Lightroom

Choosing Colors

Most of the time, you use sliders to change colors.

However, when using the Adjustment Brush and the Split Toning panel, you may need to choose a particular color.

Click the Color box . . .


Color Box

. . . and the Select a Color window appears.


Select a Color Window

If you haven't already, go to Select a Color Window.

X Axis (Horizontal)

The x axis, the horizontal axis, is the hue.

As you click from left-to-right, the hue changes.

The values go from 0 to 359.

Y Axis (Vertical)

Saturation is on the y axis, the vertical axis.

A hue is more saturated at the top, and less saturated further down.

The values go from 100% (most saturation) to 0% (least saturation).


HSL Color Model

The color you see is based on the HSL color model.

A color model is a mathematical and visual representation of color.

Think of a color model as being like a color "language."

You can do okay with baby talk, i.e., clicking until you find a color you like.

To do better, learn to "read" the color languages, the color models, that Lightroom uses.


As mentioned, Lightroom uses the HSL color model.

It also uses part of the RGB color model.

Let's start with RGB.


The RGB color model uses red, green, and blue.

Lightroom expresses the RGB color values as percentages.

In other programs, such as Photoshop Elements, the values go from 0 to 255.

Explore RGB Color in Lightroom

You can explore RGB color in Lightroom with the White Balance Selector.


White Balance Selector

Do the following.

1) In the Library module, select a colorful photograph.

2) Go to the Develop module.

3) Click the White Balance Selector in the Basic panel.

4) Move the tool around your photograph.

5) Note how the percentages for each color change as you move the tool around.

Let's say you're exploring the RGB colors of this clown photograph.


When you move the cursor on the red nose:

Of course, red increases.

Blue and green, decrease.


Blue & green

Red and cyan (blue/green) are opposite colors.

So, when one goes up, the other, goes down.

Next, let's look at the HSL color model.


HSL stands for:

• Hue

• Saturation

• Luminance


Hue is another word for color.

The HSL color model is depicted as a sphere with 360 degrees.

As you travel around the sphere, the hue changes.

Red is at 0 degrees.

The other major colors are spaced every 60 degrees.







Cyan (Blue/green)





Red Yellow Green Cyan Blue Magenta

Lightroom modified the HSL color model.

The program:

• Added Orange and Purple.

• Changed Cyan to Aqua.

So, there are now eight major colors.

They're spaced every 45 degrees.
















Red Orange Yellow Green Aqua Blue Purple Magenta


Saturation is the amount of gray in a color.

Think of it as being the vividness/richness of a color.

In the HSL sphere, saturation changes as you move from the center point to the surface.


Luminance is the brightness of the tones.

Think of it as being the black-and-white component of color.

Choose a Color Space When You Export

When you export a photograph from Lightroom, you can choose the color space for the JPEG file.

• sRGB

• Adobe RGB

• ProPhoto RGB/gamma 1.8

Because most monitors, printers, and online labs use sRGB, you'll probably want to select sRGB.

Lightroom Color Spaces

This section is for those curious about how Lightroom handles and displays color.

You can be an advanced and proficient Lightroom user without reading what follows.

How Is Color Recorded by Your Camera?

Color is recorded in black-and-white by your camera sensor.


There are millions of photosites on the sensor in your camera.

Photosites are minuscule cups that collect photons.

Each photosite is covered with a filter: red, green, or blue.

When you press the shutter release, no color is recorded by the photosites.

The photosites only record the brightness levels coming through the red, green, and blue filters.

How Is the Color Created?

JPEG File Format

If you're using the JPEG file format, the camera firmware uses the brightness levels to determine the color of each pixel.

This process is called interpolation or demosaicing.

Raw Files

If you're shooting raw files, the above process occurs when you're using the Develop module in Lightroom.

How Is Color Handled & Displayed?

Color spaces are used to handle and display colors.

Think of a color space as being like a recipe for the color.

The sRGB color space is the most common.

Your camera was set by default to the sRGB color space.

Adobe RGB is another color space.

It has more colors than sRGB.

That's good.

But, only a few monitors can display Adobe RGB.

Lightroom Uses ProPhoto RGB

Lightroom uses the ProPhoto RGB color space.

This color space has more colors than sRGB or Adobe RGB.

That's good.

ProPhoto RGB can handle every color that your camera can record.

Two Versions

Lightroom uses two versions of the ProPhoto RGB color space.

The gamma differs between them.

Gamma values greater than 1.0 spread out the tones in a file so it corresponds more to human vision.

Go to Gamma Explained.

Version #1 - Linear Gamma (1.0)

When you're editing a raw file in the Develop module, Lightroom is using the ProPhoto RGB color space with a linear gamma (1.0).

Raw files have a gamma of 1.0.

So, it's appropriate that the color space used by Lightroom has the same gamma as do raw files.

Version #2 - sRGB Gamma (2.2)

Lightroom displays your photographs using the the ProPhoto RGB color space, but with the same gamma as sRGB.

The sRGB gamma value is 2.2, but is linear (gamma 1.0) in the shadows.

The ProPhoto RGB/sRGB gamma 2.2 color space is often referred to as the Melissa RGB color space.

It's named after Melissa Gaul, a Lightroom developer.