Colour Grading Photography with Levels in Affinity Photo

by May 19, 2022Photo Editing Tutorials

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Colour Grading Photography with Affinity Photo Levels

Colour Grading (or should I say Color Grading?) is a technique you can apply to photography and videos to change their colour and add effects. A good example is changing day into night. Whilst Color Grading is used a lot in the film industry to create cinematic effects, it’s equally useful in photography. By applying a Color Grade (I’ll be using the American spelling because that’s the accepted term) to a photo you can transform the feel and inject a new atmosphere.

Whilst there you can use complex techniques to Color Grade photography, there’s also a simple method using a Levels Adjustment Layer. In this tutorial I’ll be explaining how the technique works using Affinity photo, but you can also use Photoshop. This tutorial explains how Levels work Photoshop if you’re unsure, although it doesn’t explain Color Grading.

Color Grading Example

Before we look at how to use the Levels Adjustment for Color Grading, here’s a before and after example.

The photo on the left is the original which has a bright summery feel. Whilst the photo on the right was Color Graded and has more of an autumnal or winter feel. You don’t have to look far to see examples of Color Grading on the internet and in printed media. It’s a great tool to create a consistent feel amongst groups of photos.

Now let’s look at how this Color Grading was added to this photo using a Levels Adjustment in Affinity Photo.

Adding a Levels Adjustment in Affinity Photo

The first step is to add a Levels Adjustment layer to the photo that you want to Color Grade. Start by opening the photograph in Affinity Photo. Then in the Layers Studio Panel, click the Adjustments icon at the bottom of the panel. You can see this indicated in the screenshot below.

When you click the New Adjustment Layer icon, you see a list of possible Adjustment Layers you can use. Click on the Levels option to add it to the photo. You will then see the Levels dialog appear on the screen.

Creating a Faded Color Grading

The Levels Adjustment allows you to apply Color Grading effects to both the luminance of an image (how light or dark it is) and the colours. We’ll start with a simple example to create a faded effect by adjusting the luminance of the pixels. We can create this using the Output Black and White sliders in the Levels dialog.

The first thing to check is that the channels dropdown is set to “Master”. This means it will affect the luminosity of the image pixels without changing their colour. We can then use the Output Level Sliders to create the fading effect.

The Black Output Level is a slider controls how dark the black pixels in the output image are. By default, it’s set to the far left with a value of 0%. In other words, there is 0% white in a black pixel. But if we move the slider to the right, say to a value of 10%, the black pixels turn dark grey because we now have 90% black and 10% white.

The White Output Slider is similar except that it’s set to the far right and controls how light the white pixels are. By default, it’s set to 100% meaning that white pixels are 100% white. But when we move the slider to the left, it reduces the amount of white in the lightest pixels, turning them grey.

By moving the two Output Sliders in towards the centre we give the photo a faded effect. You can then also move the central Gamma slider left and right to lighten or darken the overall image.

Color Grading to Change Colours

The next step in our Color Grading example is to change the colours in the photograph. We can do this by switching from adjusting the “Master” channel to using one of the colour channels, Red, Green, or Blue. Let’s start with the Red channel.

By using the Levels sliders for the Red colour channel, we can increase or reduce the amount of red in the photo. Here’s how the controls affect the colour:

  • Increase the Black Level (moving it right) to remove red from the dark image pixels.
  • Reduce the White Level (moving it left) to add red to the light image pixels.
  • Increase the Black Output Level (moving it right) to add red to the dark image pixels.
  • Reduce the White Output Level (moving it left) to remove red from the light image pixels.
  • Move the Gamma slider left and right to add or remove red from all the image pixels.

If you want to control the level of blue in the image, switch to the Blue colour channel and use the controls in the same way.

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Watch the Color Grading Video

Now watch this short video where I explain and demonstrate Color Grading using the Levels Adjustment in Affinity Photo.

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Summary of Color Grading with Levels

Color Grading is a great way to produce an interesting atmosphere in your photography as well as create a common look across groups of images. In most cases, using a Levels Adjustment layer as explained in this tutorial is sufficient. By adjusting the different colour channels with the Input and Output sliders, you can add or remove that colour from an image. It’s also possible to control how light or dark pixels are by adjusting the Master channel using the same controls.

In addition to Color Grading images with a Levels Adjustment layer, you can also achieve the same thing with a Curves Adjustment. If you’re not sure how to use a Curves Adjustment, this next tutorial will help. Whilst it explains Curves in Photoshop, the Affinity Photo Curves Adjustment is the same.

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