Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmonies feature image girl in hat

Applying color harmonies in Capture One Pro 12

Color is critical to my work as a creative. It has a unique ability depict emotion and mood in an image, and my use of color is a key factor in landing potential clients for commercial and editorial retouching projects.

That’s why Capture One Pro’s photo editing software plays a huge role in my work – it delivers everything you need to create beautiful color harmonies for any image. It also helps me work more efficiently – the ability to synchronize edits and compare different color schemes using variants improves workflow and consistency throughout projects.

Here’s a look at my process when working with color grading in Capture One Pro.

Color grading for different image types

Color grading will largely depend on the genre, style and intended use of the images – usually set by the photographer or the client. In this blog post, I use color grading which aligns with a more commercial or lookbook approach.

The challenges of color grading

All kinds of variables can make the color grading process difficult. For example, in product photography, I can’t adjust make-up tones or clothing because they need absolute color accuracy for sales purposes. These factors (genre, style, usage, color accuracy) shape what we are able to do as retouchers. It also helps us immensely when photographers shoot with color grading in mind.

How do I choose the right color scheme?

There is no general approach for color grading and you can often create and choose from several color schemes if the photographer or client does not have a particular one in mind.

Color Scheme Designer is a useful tool for choosing colors – it contains a color wheel based on the foundation of Goethe’s color theories. It depicts the different color hues and how they relate to each other, which can aid in defining specific color palettes for grading.

In order to find the correct color scheme, we must first analyze our image or images and choose the primary color depending on the intended focus. This helps us define our subordinate, accompanying colors for grading. For beauty images, the main color is often within the red/orange range depending on the subject’s skin tones.

Composition and focus – tips for better color grading

When you tone an image, the weight, saturation and relative size of colors should be similar to a harmonized palette. There are some general rules to balancing the weight of the colors.

  •     Luminosity and saturation should be adjusted by keeping the same color scheme (color hues).
  •     Less saturated colors need more space in your image (usually the background). A color limited to smaller areas needs more saturation.
  •     Brighter colors sometimes need the saturation adjusted depending on the rest of the image.
  •     Objects in the corners of an image need to be less saturated.
  •     Using equally high levels of saturation in an image means the viewers have no point at which to rest their eyes. For this reason, desaturated parts of an image are very important.

Keeping in mind the above rules, the next step is to make a plan for saturation and luminosity of different image parts. You can use the “Annotations” tool (available in Capture One Pro 11 and 12) to create markups for future reference. If applied in the wrong proportions, an image can look odd even if the hues of a certain color scheme are used.

What makes Capture One such a powerful tool for color grading?

Besides the Color Editor and the extensive range of Capture One Styles with preset adjustments for grading, here are some additional uses of current tools that can help with color grading:

  1. Color Editor > Skin Tone > Uniformity (available in Capture One 11 and up). Using the skin tone adjustments in separate layers to even out different variables for hue and saturation can be very powerful. Not only on skin (like the name suggests) but also on clothing or the background. If you choose this dialog on a separate layer and adjust another hue, you can get rid of unwanted hues (e.g. 5 shades of green) to obtain better color harmony.
  2. The Normalize tool (available in Capture One 11 and up) is a good option to help match your reference image(s). You can pick the highlight value from your reference image and apply it to a similar area of the RAW file, then use the new luminosity masking tool (available in Capture One 12) to limit adjustments to the specific highlighted areas. The same technique is used for midtones and shadows.

It also works in combination with different Capture One Styles, applied to different layers.

What are color schemes and how to use them?

A color scheme is a collection of colors that create color harmony when applied in the correct proportions. It guides the viewer to the focal point of attention in the image and prevents them from getting lost or fatigued.

Whilst there are 6 different variations found on Color Scheme Designer, there are also additional combinations such as tetradic, square or achromatic color schemes.

Here, I’ll focus on four of my favorite color schemes which can be used together in a series of images to create tension as well as consistency.

Mixing Color Schemes

It’s quite common to mix color schemes within a set of images. Nevertheless, it’s important to match the concept and the story / mood. There should be a common thread to unify the overall look.

Here you can see an overview of the example set. All six looks need a common thread and each image should be harmonized on its own.

The brief states that it should be a set with a mixture of colored and achromatic looks.

capture one raw photo editor

capture one raw photo editor screenshot Adobe kulerSome colors from the example set chosen with Adobe Kuler.

capture one raw photo editor screenshot accented analogeousAccented analogous color scheme contains most of the colors of the set and can therefore be used for this set.

Accented analogous color scheme contains most of the colors of the set and can therefore be used for this set.  Having a closer look at the color schemes, you can see that we can use an accented analogous color scheme if we shift the blue of the blazer to a greenish tone. Of course, not every image contains all of the colors, so in this case we’ll also choose a complementary/monochromatic color scheme derived from the previous color scheme.

In order to achieve a commercial, clean look and include some achromatic images, I picked a neutral background color. The colors of the skin tone should be healthy-looking and consistent within the set. One important tip that is often ignored or undervalued is that the other colors then need to be muted or neutralized. In this case it’s mainly the blue tones, deep purple and (greenish) yellow.

Accented analogic scheme

capture one raw photo editor screenshot accented analogeous

Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmonies analogues result contact sheet edited with capture one

Color scheme proportions: 40% – 20% – 20% – 20%

The accented analogic color scheme is a combination of the analogous and complementary color schemes which are described further down this blog post.

Using the Basic Tab of the Color Editor, I adjusted the blue, green and yellow tones because they are the more ‘unfavorable’ tones in this instance. I then moved onto some smaller and more precise corrections, as you can see below.

Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmonies analogues showing capture one creating color harmonies
Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmonies capture one tool creating analogues color harmonies
As you can see, the majority of my adjustments so far are achieved by using the Advanced Color Editor. By saturating the magenta tones, I was able to put more focus on the skirt. I also adjusted the blue to a greener tone. Next, I neutralized the light purple to grey followed by desaturating unwanted yellow tones. To finish off, I darkened the orange tones of the skirt for some balance before using the Skin Tone adjustments to even out color shifts in the skin.

Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmonies analogues result contact sheet edited with capture one Final Result after some minor corrections in Photoshop CC 2018.

Complementary color scheme

capture one raw photo editor screenshot complimentary

Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmonies complimentrary colors before editing contact sheet from shoot

Color scheme proportions: 75% – 25%

The complementary color scheme involves the use of opposite colors on the color wheel. It’s quite popular because it’s naturally pleasing to the eye, but be careful not to use both colors equally. One of these colors should be more dominant.

For a more efficient workflow, I can synchronize the accented analogous color scheme from earlier and adjust the green tones. It’s often useful to start with the most complex color scheme first.

Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmonies complimentrary colors after editing contact sheet from shootFinal Result after some minor corrections in Photoshop CC 2018

Monochromatic color scheme

capture one raw photo editor screenshot monocromatic

Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmoniesmonochromatic contact sheet before

Color scheme proportions: 100%

This color scheme involves only one hue and is based on varying luminosity and saturation values of a certain hue. It’s best for single subjects. In warm-neutral compositions, warm colors and neutral ones are mixed.

After synchronizing and erasing unnecessary changes, I slightly adjusted the red hues and the saturation of the oranges. I always prefer to have some small variations in color even in monochromatic images, so it doesn’t turn out flat and fake. (especially with skin tone variations). 
I also brightened the model in image 1784 (right image) on a separate layer using the new luminosity masking feature (I ignored the background highlights to have equal brightness in all the images).

Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmonies monochromatic luminosity mask tool in capture one

Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmonies monochromatic contact sheet afterFinal Result after some minor corrections in Photoshop CC 2018

Achromatic color scheme

In achromatic compositions, images are composed with black, gray and white tones or contain colors with very low saturation values. This color scheme can be applied in the Black & White or Split Tones Tab. It’s also possible to use black and white Styles in Capture One.
The luminosity values can be influenced in the final black and white image by adjusting the colors in the Color Editor.

General Settings

I usually turn off the automatic sharpening in Capture One. Even though the tool is highly advanced, it can cause more work for me in Photoshop, for example with peach fuzz. Photoshop’s tools tend to have issues with repairing more contrasted textures. Therefore, my final step in Capture One is to add partial sharpening on a separate layer in model images (if necessary). This allows a non-destructive workflow since applied sharpening in the RAW conversion can’t be changed, applied sharpening to a PSD/TIF file at the end can be altered easily. In the masking mode, it’s very handy to have an overview of all the sharpened areas in all images.

The white balance in this series was set correctly and consistent and therefore no adjustments were necessary. The only adjustments necessary were some changes to brightness and exposure. To finish the process, I added some (individual) contrast using curves in Capture One.

Final result

Capture one raw photo editor blogpost mareike keicher color harmonies contact sheet final results from all color types

Extra tips

With different collections of preset adjustments, applying Capture One Styles to your images can help speed up your workflow and let you try different looks. Always check and compare or use the pre-created Styles to push your creativity and help you find the right color schemes.

Of course, this is not a typical set for a highly creative color grading where midtones, highlights and shadows are used for supporting color schemes (split toning). Therefore, you can use the Color Balance Tool in combination with luminosity masking. Adjustments in color temperature is an alternative option that allows you to work in a more creative way with color.
An ordinary set would be an editorial photographed on a countryside or a colorful or playful interior scene.

If you want to learn more about color harmonies and how to use them to their full potential, I recommend analyzing editorials in magazines and studying historical painters. Goethe, Itten and Kandinsky’s color theories also give further insights into color harmony. For the technical side of things, check out Capture One’s free webinars.

If you dont already have Capture One, you can download a free 30 day trial and try it out.

July 3 2019

By Mareike Keicher

Category: Guides Guest Photographers Tags:
  • Download
    Capture One

    Get a free 30-day trial with all features included


  • Mareike Keicher
    Mareike Keicher

    Mareike Keicher is a commercial and editorial retoucher from Germany. She’s combining theoretical and technical knowledge, vision and precision to make each image perfect for the client. She loves working with photographers from all over the world to get to know different perspectives and create different looks and styles in her daily business.

    Follow Mareike Keicher

    Share this article

    Follow by Email

    Add a Comment