Adobe Lightroom gets cinema-style color editing to make photos moody or warm

Also, AI can find similar photos and suggest which shot it thinks is the best, Adobe says at its Max conference.

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Stephen Shankland
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Cinema-style color grading like what you can see in Blade Runner 2049 is now built into Adobe Lightroom.

Cinema-style color grading like what you can see in Blade Runner 2049 is now built into Adobe Lightroom.

Warner Bros.

You might have noticed how moviemakers try to shape your mood with color: the sickly green tinge of the Matrix, the psychedelic purple and blue of Avatar, the miasmic orange of Blade Runner 2049 or the gritty dulled colors of Saving Private Ryan. It's done with a technology called color grading, and Adobe has just built it into its Lightroom photo editing software.

The technology, with roots in analog-era chemistry tweaks in film processing, is arriving in all versions of Lightroom, Adobe announced Tuesday at its free online Max conference for the creative set.

Even if you prefer undoctored photos, plenty of people like the moods possible with Instagram filters. Lightroom's color grading is a more sophisticated step in digital photography -- technology that once was out of the reach of mainstream photographers.

Lightroom color grading relies on three color wheels to control hues in a photo's bright, midrange and dark regions. You can warm up photos by making bright parts more vivid and yellowish, embrace the orange and teal look popular in lots of movies, or just explore lots of moody or wacky color schemes.

The feature helps Lightroom match rivals like Phase One's Capture One Pro that already have high-end color tools. Expect a new market in the cottage industry selling Lightroom presets designed to help wedding and portrait photographers quickly make photos look peppy, nostalgic, bold or solemn.

Unlike some Lightroom updates, color grading works in both of Adobe's Lightroom families -- Lightroom Classic for Windows and MacOS and the newer, cloud-synced Lightroom for Windows, MacOS, iOS, iPadOS, Android, Chrome OS and the web.

Other Lightroom updates

Adobe is bringing several other features to its Lightroom versions:

  • A best photo option using cloud-based AI suggests winning shots based on its assessment of parameters like exposure, focus and whether a subject's eyes are open. It works on Lightroom for iOS, iPadOS, Android and the web. Adobe is considering the best photo feature for Classic, which would use the laptop's own processing power instead of Adobe's cloud-based AI. "The priorities for Lightroom Classic are focused on speed, stability, and tethering," said Josh Haftel, director of product management for Lightroom.
  • The ability to follow particular photographers who contribute Lightroom editing tutorials. This works on iOS, iPadOS, Android and Chrome OS. Lightroom will suggest others to follow based on your Lightroom activity, too.
  • GPU acceleration for faster changes applied with brush and gradient tools on all Windows and Mac versions.
  • Updating the versions feature, Lightroom for Windows, Mac, Web, iOS, iPadOS, Android and Chrome OS now automatically detects significant changes and saves them so you can undo changes or compare different photos.
  • In Lightroom Classic, the ability to zoom to whatever level you want instead of just some preset, fixed options.

Two Lightroom families

It can be awkward for photographers that there are two separate families of Lightroom -- the newer Lightroom, with a photo catalog anchored in the cloud and synchronized across many devices, and the older Lightroom Classic, with a photo catalog stored on a PC's hard drive and more limited sync abilities. Lightroom Classic offers several advanced features Lightroom doesn't, and though the two versions can partially work in harmony, features like photo keywords don't synchronize.

Adobe doesn't plan to unify the two Lightroom versions into one.

"Lightroom Desktop and Lightroom Classic are two separate applications and there's no intention to merge these together," the company said in a statement.