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Color Correction vs Color Grading: Understanding The Key Differences

When it comes to adjusting color in photographs, people often use color correction and color grading interchangeably. Although both of these techniques are related to modifying the color elements of images, they have distinctive purposes and working techniques. 

So, color correction vs color grading—which one to choose?

We‘re here to solve all your confusion.

In this blog, we will discuss the concepts of color correction and color grading in photography. You will learn what both of these techniques are, their key differences, get an idea about the industries that use these techniques, and a lot more. 

Come on, let’s dive in.

What is color correction?

Color correction is a post-production technique used in photography or graphic design to fix color issues. It involves adjusting factors such as brightness, contrast, white balance, saturation, temperature, etc., to make the visuals appear natural to our eyes. 

Shooting angles, light temperatures, and other factors can make images look unnatural or way different than they do in real life. For example, skin color may look darker because of shadow, overexposure can wash away colors or the overall image may look more yellowish or bluish due to the time of the shoot and light sources.

This photo editing technique is used to resolve all technical issues and make photographs appear flawless and professional. The purpose of this retouching method is to keep only the color-related components of images accurate, exactly as the human eye sees the real world. 

It’s worth mentioning that the editors can’t use their personal preferences during editing. All they have to do is fix the color issues that exist in the images.

Key techniques & tools in color correction

Are you wondering how to color correct? The following are the key techniques and tools used in color correction.

Adjust White Balance

White balance correction is a technique for removing color cast issues from an image. The color tone usually changes due to variations in color temperature. To solve this issue, you can use the eyedropper tool to select a white or grey area in the image. The editing software will analyze that image data and adjust the white balance of the overall image.

In case only a selective part of the image has the color cast issue, you can use selection tools to mark that area. Create a mask to apply the white balance adjustment to the selective areas. There are also numerous presets available for different lighting conditions. You can use them too.

Balance Exposure

Exposure controls the overall brightness of the image. An underexposed image looks darker than the actual scene, whereas an overexposed image appears too bright and washed out. To balance the exposure level of the image, use the brightness or exposure tool. Drag the sliders right or left as per the needs of your image. 

You can also use the shadow and highlight tools. Adjusting the values in these tools will allow you to fix the shadows or highlights independently without affecting each other.

Tune Contrast Value

Contrast refers to the overall difference between light and dark elements of an image. So, adjusting the contrast value enhances the visibility and details of the composition. You can drag the slider of the contrast tool to make your desired adjustments.

Change Saturation Value

The saturation level controls the intensity or vibrancy of the colors in photographs. Colors appear too intense when the saturation value is too high. On the other hand, the color of a desaturated image looks muted or greyish. You can use the saturation tool to change the value and get your desired results.

Importance of color correction

Color plays an important role in influencing audience behavior. The right intensity of colors helps to draw attention and build an emotional connection with the photographs.

Here are a few reasons to help you understand the importance of color correction.

Enhanced Aesthetic Appeal

Color correction makes photographs appear natural and pleasing to our eyes. The proper adjustment of brightness, contrast, saturation, and other components enhances the visual appeal of the images. As a result, the images appear more engaging and captivating to the viewers.

Professional Quality Image

Color correction ensures accurate and consistent color in images. This enhancement of aesthetic appeal increases customer engagement. The adjustments of elements such as white balance, color cast, or exposure make the images look attractive and professional. Also, branding using professional quality images helps to earn customers’ trust and influence their purchasing decisions.

Foundation for Color Grading

Color correction is the first step in using the color grading technique. A perfectly color corrected image acts as a blank canvas. The saturated colors and absence of color cast allow color grading tools to enhance the color. This way, customers get their desired result without compromising the images’ professional appeal.

What is color grading?

Color grading is a color manipulation photo editing technique. It is an advanced color adjustment process used to change the colors and tones of the photos to add visual interest and style to the photographs. 

This editing technique involves the adjustments of components such as saturation, hue, and luminance values of color ranges or individual colors. Mastering this technique requires a strong knowledge of color theory. Since a specific portion of images can also be manipulated, you need to be highly skilled at paying attention to detail.

This editing technique produces the best results when combined with the color correction technique. Before applying the color grading process, the images must first be color corrected to avoid any interruption of the color cast.  

The final output of this technique depends on the creativity of the editor. If the editor wants, they can keep the images realistic, hyperrealistic, or surreal.

Key techniques & tools in color grading

Do you want to know how to color grade?  The following are the key techniques and tools used in color grading.

LUTs (Look-Up Table)

The LUTs, also known as Look-Up Table, is a color grading tool that can change the color and tone of photographs. For example, you can transform a modern image into a vintage image or vice versa. LUTs is like color presets. It contains predetermined instructions that editing tools can read and make adjustments accordingly. Editors can create customized LUTs or download LUT profiles.

Selective Color Grading

The selective color grading technique allows the marking or selecting of specific portions of images for targeted color adjustment. A masking tool can be used to separate the marked area from the surrounding area and create a mask over it. Then, making changes to the selected area will keep the changes within it without changing the color of the surroundings.

Color Wheels and Curves

Color wheels and curves are two other amazing tools for making precise color adjustments. The color wheel tool allows the manipulation of elements like luminance value, saturation, or hue of a color range or a specific color. You can also use the curve tool for more precise adjustments. You can use the red, green, and blue channels to create the RGB curves and adjust the shadow, highlight, and midtones of the photos.

Importance of color grading

The following are a few reasons to help you understand the importance of color grading.

Establishing Mood and Atmosphere

The manipulation of colors in the color grading process creates different moods and atmospheres. Color tones like warm, cool, muted, etc. are connected to different human emotions. Altering the color tones changes the overall mood of the image. 

For example, a girl standing by the side of a river. If the tone of that image is warm, it will convey a sense of positivity and bring out our positive emotions. But if you change the tone to a muted color, it will convey a feeling of sadness or depression.

Highlighting Key Elements

Color grading can be used to draw attention to specific elements of an image. Adjusting the vibrance of colors can be used to direct the viewer’s attention to different composition elements or bring the key elements under the spotlight.

Adding Style

Color grading allows creators to incorporate their artistic flair and signature style into their work. Whether it is creating a vintage look, a futuristic aesthetic, or a dramatic atmosphere, creators have the flexibility to experiment and express their creativity.

Key Differences Between Color Correction vs Color Grading

Color correction and color grading are both essential to enhance the visual appeal of photographs. However, you must know how they are different from each other to identify which technique you need to use for your project.

Let’s check out the key difference between Color Correction vs Color Grading.

Aspects Color Correction Color Grading
Goals and Objectives
Its goal is to solve color inconsistency issues such as exposure imbalance, color cast, etc., and make images look natural.
Its goal is to give images an artistic perspective. Editors use their creativity to set the mood and narrate stories.
Workflow and Process
Technical components such as brightness, contrast, saturation, white balance, and others causing the color issues are adjusted.
Color grading is created on the images that have already been color corrected. Because color grading applied to photos with underlying color imbalances is likely to yield unsatisfactory results.
Tools and Software
Color correction is conducted in editing softwares such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Premier Pro, etc. These software have basic tools for every color influencing component. Moving the sliders of these tools allows to make adjustments. There are other tools too, including curves, histogram, color wheel, etc.
The same editing software used for color correction is also used for color grading. However, the tools used are not the same. For color grading, advanced tools like Look Up Tables (LUTs), selective color grading, etc., are used for their ability to create precise adjustments.
Impact on Final Output
The color of the final color corrected images look exactly how we see them in real life. Hence, it gives pleasure to the eyes.
Color grade images look dramatic. The creative visuals communicate stories and touch the viewers’ emotions.

Practical Applications and Industries of Color Correction and color grading

Color correction and color grading have popular demand across a variety of industries.  

Let’s check out the list of industries that use color correction and color grading photo editing techniques.

Advertising Agency

Commercial advertisements, such as ads in newspapers, magazines, billboards, or social media platforms, all require high-quality visuals. Also, their ad campaigns often require the manipulation of colors to evoke the specific emotions of the audience.  

That’s why advertising agencies use both color correction and grading techniques to produce emotion-provoking and attention-grabbing advertisements.

Photography Industry

Cameras cannot always perceive colors exactly the way we see them in real life. Variation in angles, light sources, or other external factors causes colors to often appear either dull, more vibrant, or unrealistic. This is a universal issue for photographers of every genre be it wildlife, portrait, or wedding photography. 

Photographers use color correction to maintain the color balance and overall enhancement of photographs. Some photographers also use color grading to give their photography a new height by creating a specific mood, theme, or signature style.

E-commerce Industry

The e-commerce industry is one of the top stakeholders in using color correction and color grading techniques. Product photos are the only source through which customers can be attracted. So brands have to use visually appealing professional quality photos. Also, they have to show the colors of their products exactly as they will appear to customers in real life.

That’s why the e-commerce industry uses the color correction technique to gain customers’ trust and maintain their brand value. They also use color grading to establish a unique visual identity and aesthetic for their brand.

Product Packaging

Most customers nowadays purchase products because they want them, not because they need them. The attractive product package is one of the main factors that attracts customers. Brands use the color correction process to represent accurate color on the packaging materials. 

However, there may be a slight color difference between digital and printed package images. Hence, to maintain the consistency of their packaging appearance brands use the color grading process.

Outsource Color Correction and Color Grading Service

Professional quality color correction and color grading require the expertise of professional hands. Even though there are many AIs and photo editing apps available, you will not get the same level of satisfaction from them as you can from outsourcing photo color correction services.

Graphic Aid is a leading photo editing outsourcing company that has been offering services since 2013. The company provides top-notch photo editing services, including color correction at a competitive rate. They have a large team of highly skilled Photoshop specialists and graphic designers to ensure that their clients receive the highest quality services.

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Frequently Asked questions

The popular tools for color grading include Adobe Photoshop, Da Vinci Resolve, Lightworks, Adobe Premiere CC, GIMP, Color.iO, and so on. Some of these tools allow the editing of both photographs and videos.

Color correction comes before color grading. It works as the foundation that helps to apply color grades and get the best results.

No. Color correction and color grading are two different photo or video editing techniques. Applying color grading to images with color issues won’t create the best quality images. Hence, color correction is done before doing color grading.


In this digital age, professional-quality images are the key to attracting customers, gaining their trust, and establishing brand value. For that you need to maintain the visual appeal of the images through balancing the color elements, which creates a sense of harmony and professionalism.

Hope this article has helped you understand color correction and color grading techniques in detail. Use this knowledge to identify which technique you need for your project.

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