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Creating coloured backdrops in Lightroom

One of the things about Lightroom that I love is that even though it is the little brother to the mighty Photoshop, it is still has a few tricks up its sleeve. I am always looking for ways to do ‘Photoshop’ things in Lightroom, there are 2 reasons for this..

1) if I can keep my editing within Lightroom I maintain a completely non destructive workflow and continue working with all the RAW image data for the best results

2) While Photoshop is the answer to more complex editing requirements, not everyone has the luxury of owning both pieces of software.

In today’s tutorial, I would like to show how simple it is to change the background colour of a studio shoot. Below shows the before and after images

Take an image with nice clean lines between subject and background

Open the Develop module and Choose the Adjustment brush icon in the top right of the screen (shown below). Make sure to select the Auto Mask option (also shown below) so that when we paint the background mask, the Lego man is not painted.

Pressing the letter O on the keyboard allows us to see the mask as we paint it. At this stage the effect settings for the adjustment brush do not matter as we are only creating a mask to be used later.

Using a large brush size around the edges of the image and reduce the size of the brush as needed when painting the details close to the subject. Using the ‘[‘ and ‘]’ keys allows you to change the brush size quickly and easily.

Once you have painted the mask, it is always worth going in for a closer look. Use the Z key to zoom in to the image and fine tune your mask.

Once you have made sure that your mask is as accurate and as clean as possible it should look like this.. (Pressing the Z key again returns you to the full size view)

Now the fun begins..

At this stage the mask is displayed and not any of the adjustment effects. To turn off the mask view, press the letter O again to toggle the mask off.

In the adjustment effects panel, there is a little rectangle labelled color. Click this to bring up the colour box

Now select a colour for the background, such as Blue shown above. As the background is currently quite bright, it is possible that the colour will be very faint. This can be adjusted using the adjustment sliders for exposure and brightness as shown below.

as you can now see, we have changed the background colour and luminosity to create a dark blue background. Now that the hard work of creating the mask is done we can change the background colour whenever we want.

From a subtle yellow

to a more vibrant and bold green.

There are quicker and more accurate ways of achieving this within Photoshop, but sometimes Photoshop is not the answer.

Two things to consider when using this technique. First is that the more accurate your mask the better your results, and second that the more you push the Exposure & Brightness sliders, the more noticeable your mask edges will be.

I hope you’ve found this useful and have fun trying it for yourself. One more little tip, Don’t think that this technique is just about colour.. you can now use any of the adjustment sliders to affect just the background

If you’d like to see how I created the DIY mini studio used to create this Lego photo, check out my latest Zooming Feet Blog

As always, Questions and comments are welcome below

About Scot Baston (31 Articles)
Scot Baston is a Commercial & Wedding Photographer that lives on the south coast of Devon, that inspires much of his work. Whether it the technical or emotive sides, Photography is a passion that continues to challenge and inspire.

2 Comments on Creating coloured backdrops in Lightroom

  1. I have been looking for a way to do this, thanks very much for sharing.

  2. Gordon // 28/11/2011 at 4:23 pm //

    I’ll try this on my next set of images, thanks.

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