Color grading is an important part of post-processing, both in photography and videography. It involves the process of altering or changing the saturation, brightness, contrast, white balance, and detail of the image or video. It is used as a form of storytelling, especially in editorials. It is typically employed by photographers and videographers to evoke a certain mood through their photos or videos – such as by adding blue to make the photo look colder and melancholic or a yellow or orange tint to make it appear warmer and happier. Whether you want to make a minimal difference or completely alter an image’s or video’s appearance is entirely up to you and your creative interpretation. In order to perform color grading, however, you’ll need color grading software.
There are a ton of color grading software available online, most of them, however, need to be purchased. The good news is that quite a few are free for use! These are perfect for beginners and those just doing minor color grading edits.
GIMP is often considered to be the free solution to Photoshop. Short for GNU Image Manipulation Program, GIMP is an open-source online application that relies on volunteers who continually update the application and improve it. It offers professional-level editing and retouching tools commonly found in Photoshop such as Clone, Heal, Dodge/Burn, Crop, as well as the ability to adjust the color balance, hue-saturation, brightness-contrast, levels, and curves of your image.
Paint.NET, unlike many free editing software, allows users to use layers and has “unlimited undo” capabilities, so you can keep tapping that undo button without worries. Unlike its namesake MS Paint, Paint.NET gives you access to a host of tools all packaged with a clean and intuitive interface. It allows you to enhance your image and includes tools such as Hu/Saturation, Curves, and Levels. A big downside is that it is only available to Windows users.
- Fotor is one of the best free photo editing software out there and it’s ridiculously easy to use. It has 13 1-tap options available, making editing possible with a literal click of a button. Its built-in Photo Editor lets you easily adjust color, size, light, saturation, and so much more. Fotor also comes with Effects which are essentially color grading filters to make your life even easier. Just choose which look you want, adjust the slider to set the intensity, and you’re all set.
Best of all, unlike most free photo editing software, Fotor offers a batch processing tool. Just upload all your photos and it will edit them all in one go, saving you a ton of time and effort.
InPixio makes color grading possible with minimal effort with little to no learning curve. To apply color grading to your photos, all you have to do is drag the bar. You can either use preset effects or adjust the contrast, saturation, tint, hue, brightness, contrast, and more according to the mood you’re going for. A cool feature of InPixio is its “before and after” view which lets you see all the changes you’ve added to your photos.
- Photoshop Express
Photoshop Express is a browser-based free photo editing software. It has a clean and user-friend interface, identical to the paid Photoshop version, with tools split into two categories: Edit and Decorate. It also comes with predefined “looks” to help make color grading faster. If you have a set look in mind, you can build it on Photoshop Express Editor and save it there for future use. To build your own look, Photoshop Express Editor has tools you can adjust like exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks. It also lets you adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance for individual colors so you can better set the mood of your photo.
Edits done on Photoshop Express Editor are non-destructive meaning you can revert to your original photo at any time (Phew!) You can only save your image as a JPG, however, which is quite the bummer, as JPG compresses the quality of the image.
Color grading takes a while to master, which is why free photo editing software such as these are great to have to practice on. Common mistakes made are having images that look too dull or too saturated. Ultimately, though, it’s really a process of trial-and-error in finding what you like and don’t like.
Keep practicing and experimenting with different settings to see how they will turn out and what mood it will create. More than just being for aesthetics, color grading should tell a story and convey emotions as well.
While these free software are great for beginners, you’ll need more versatile functionality for larger and more professional editing and color grading. At Paper Boat Creative, we invest in the latest color grading technology including Adobe Lightroom, Capture One Pro, and Adobe KULER.com to ensure that each image looks its best. Creating emotions through color grading and color correction is an art Paper Boat Creative has mastered. Check out how we’ve conveyed emotions in our work.