I wrote a tutorial last month about how to fix blown out colors in Photoshop Elements.  Lightroom can repair blown colors too, and today’s tutorial will show you how.


From the before and after above, you can see that I edited quite a few things in this image, and did them all in Lightroom:

  • Removed electric outlet and handhole cover on ground
  • Straightened the photo
  • Cleaned up wall
  • Corrected overall white balance
  • Darkened exposure slightly
  • Darkened face and adjusted skin tone
  • Brightened and sharpened her eyes

These were all pretty easy fixes. But the sleeves on her shirt were driving me crazy! The problem is that they are blown out in the red and magenta color channels.

As I explained in the PSE article, blown out areas of your photo appear as pure white if all of your color channels are overexposed. However, if the problem affects only one or two channels, you get the bright oversaturated look that you see in the first photo above.

Because I’m used to identifying blown out areas, my eye told me that this was a problem right away. However, if you’re not sure, Lightroom will measure the colors for you so that you know for sure whether they are blown.

To measure the numbers, enter the Soft Proof view in Lightroom (Develop Module/View Menu/Soft Proofing/Show Proof). Next, hover your cursor over the area that you suspect to be blown out. Here is the reading I got from measuring just below the brightest shoulder in the image above:

blown color lightroom numbers


Red is 254 – any time a number measures higher than 240, it’s blown out. Green, on the other hand, is 0. The opposite of Green is Magenta – they have an inverse relationship. 255 is the highest number on this scale, so if Green measures 0, Magenta must be 255.

To fix this color imbalance in Lightroom, you have a couple of options. Before we start, I want to restate what I said above. Any color that measures 240 or above is not just blown out, it’s oversaturated. That means that the color is so bright that it’s blinding and you start to lose detail in it.  Since it’s oversaturated, reducing the saturation is a great way to counterbalance that.

To begin this sleeve repair job, I used the Local Adjustment brush in Lightroom. These were my settings:

blown color lightroom adjustment brush


Rather than desaturating using the Saturation slider, I used the Tint slider to reduce magentas, which is the same as increasing greens. Desaturating using that Saturation slider would have desaturated all colors (not just my two oversaturated colors) and the sleeve would have turned gray.

I also decreased Exposure and Highlights, to add a bit more darkening to the sleeves.

Remember how both Red and Magenta are blown out? My Tint adjustment helped the Magenta, but there’s no similar slider for red. The opposite of Red is Cyan, however, so I used the color box (it has an orange box around it in the screenshot above) and clicked on a cyan to offset the red. I reduced the saturation of this cyan to 7%, using the S slider at the bottom of the color picker in this screenshot:


blown color lightroom color adjustment brush

The saturation of the colors you choose here usually needs to be low – a little goes a long way.

I brushed these settings over the arm on camera left at full strength, then reduced the Flow to 50% for the second arm, which wasn’t as bright.

The adjustment brush alone did most of the color fixing for this image. However, I still wanted to take the colors a little darker. Using the HSL panel, I adjusted the Saturation and Luminance of Red and Magenta.

Luminance, by the way, is similar to brightness – nice that you can change it on a color specific basis, right?

blown color lightroom hsl


I used the Adjustment Brush before HSL, and was careful not to go too far with the HSL edits because HSL affects the entire image – I didn’t want to risk toning down those cowgirl boots or the all-important puppy purses.

You can see the increased detail in this before and after:


So these are the techniques I use to tackle blown out colors in Lightroom. Start with the local brush if you can, and use HSL next if you need to.

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