Tag Archives: Saturation

Avoid funny colour casts in your holiday pictures

White balance - grey card

White balance – grey card

Unnatural indoor colours?

Holiday time – out comes the camera and most daytime shots are great. However, indoor shots often get a funny colour cast. Odd yellowish, greenish or blue tones have appeared. The reason? Auto-white balance problems. The condition is curable.

Auto-white balance problems

Outdoors the auto white-balance function works reasonably well. But not in all cases. Auto-white balance aims to iron out colour casts in your photography. The problem is that the camera frequently gets it wrong. There are two main places that can happen…

  • Out of doors when there is a lot of one particular colour around (eg. lots of sky blue; orange/red sunsets or snow)
  • Indoors when there are artificial lights illuminating the scene (ordinary domestic lights, fluorescents and bulbs).

When a lot of one colour appears in your shot. The camera assumes that too much of one colour is a problem. So, it shifts something called the colour temperature toward a neutral grey colour. This takes out the colour cast.

Intentions ruined

If you intended to capture that colour cast (from a sunset for example), the auto-white balance mechanism will ruin your shot. Typically blue skies and white snow tend toward grey. And, the real classic, lovely orange and red sunsets look pink, cartoon-like and flat instead of saturated. Orange and reds are particularly badly affected. So if your sunsets look cartoon pink/grey instead of saturated fire-orange you need to adjust your auto-white balance.

Auto white-balance fail!

• Auto white-balance fail! •

Cartoony pink-grey skies. The auto-white-balance function has colour shifted the orange/red tones toward greys.
Click image to view large
• Auto-white-balance fail! • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Artificial light also creates a colour cast. Often the auto-white balance cannot properly adjust for this. The result is odd yellowish, blue or greenish tones in the picture where you did not see them yourself at the time. These also require an adjustment to your white-balance.

Why is there a problem?

Mainly the problem arises because we have made an adjustment in our heads without noticing. Most of the time we compensate for these colour casts and don’t see them. In fact, once we realise there is such a thing as a colour cast we can train ourselves to see it. We certainly see the heavy red colour casts of evening and early morning light. If we look carefully we can also see the yellows and blues from domestic lights – although less strongly.


There are two possible ways to tackle the situation…

  • Compensate for colour casts by using a camera pre-set.
  • Correctly set the white-balance so it records the natural colours.

DSLRs have reasonably good pre-sets to tackle well known colour cast issues. On most cameras you will find white balance settings something like these below. The notes explain details…

  • Auto – The cameras best-guess colour match for what it senses. OK most of the time. Poor when there is a predominance of a strong colour.
  • Tungsten – (bulb icon) indoor, tungsten incandescent lighting using bulbs. Cools the colours – often bluish. This setting helps remove blues to warmer tones.
  • Fluorescent – for use under fluorescent lights – will tend to warm up the colours.
  • Daylight/Sunny – (sun icon) indicates the ‘normal’ white balance (may not be present if this is the default setting).
  • Cloudy – (cloud icon) Adds a warmer, yellowish colouration.
  • Shade – This light is cooler (bluer) than sunlight. Shade mode warms the colours a small amount.
  • Flash – (lightening icon) Stark and cool, flash desaturates towards blue. Flash setting compensates with a slightly warmer yellowish tone.
  • Custom – You do a little procedure to get an accurate setting to suit the situation.
Accurate colours

Colour accuracy is important. You really do want a bright blue sky or white snow or saturated red sunsets. The problem is that the pre-sets are averaged out for the “types” of situations encountered. The pre-sets will change the colours from dull flat colours to more representative ones. For example more saturated sunsets will be captured if you use the cloudy setting. However, to get it right you need to adjust the custom white balance.

Setting the custom white balance is simple. The camera does most of it. You need a “neutral grey card”. This is simply a card or piece of material set at an average grey colour, normally at 12% grey, which matches the cameras accurate shade for neutral. You can buy these quite cheaply at most camera stores. (See: Range of photographic grey cards).

• The Lastolite Ezybalance •

  • collapsible; durable
  • wipe clean; very light
  • 12% grey; 30cm wide

An easy to use grey-card system. White on one side, grey on the other. The card doesn’t crease, the sprung border stretches the material tight. The card collapses into the supplied case, slipping easily into your camera bag. A great accessory to ensure colour accuracy in your pictures. You should not be without one.Spacer image

To set custom white-balance

It’s easy to set the white balance. However, there are lots of variations for how different cameras do it. Therefore it’s essential to use the right procedure from your manual. To get ready…

  • Place the card about 30cm/12 inches in front of your camera.
  • Zoom in or out to make the grey card fill the frame.
  • Now follow the camera manual “custom white balance” instructions.

To ensure complete accuracy you must do this procedure in the ambient light in which you will be shooting. This is the light the camera will sense and compare to the grey on the card.

More after this…

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Shooting with RAW vs. *.jpg

I am sure lots of you are saying, “But I shoot with RAW and this is unnecessary”. OK, that is partly true. You can, with RAW format files change the white balance in the post-processing. Here are two reasons you should NOT do that…

  1. It is time saving to get as much right in the camera as possible. I like to spend my time shooting not computing!
  2. I have rarely met anyone who can remember colours so accurately that they get the post-processing colour and temperature balance right. I like to get them right in-camera as accurately as possible. Then I can safely change them later if necessary.

RAW format is excellent – you have complete control over colour temperature and hues. However, if the picture is wrong from the start, RAW is only as good as your own memory or colour awareness. Artists of many years may be able to remember colours accurately. Very few others can. Beginners especially have very poor colour memory/accuracy. So, use RAW, get it right in-camera – then do your artistic processing from a solid colour-base you know is accurate.

Compensation and accuracy

While both compensation for colour casts, and accurate representation of colour casts both rely on white balance there are differences in how they are treated. Strong colours or a strong colour bias through the picture needs some special treatment. Think about the two different methods above and practice them.

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or why not leave a comment at the bottom of the page…

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Are Your Colours Too Colourful? Don’t Over-Saturate!

What IS wrong here... too much colour! Horrible.

Picture one: What IS wrong here? Too saturated! Horrible.

When your picture is dull…

A common mistake made by photographers doing their first few post-processing jobs is to over-saturate the colour. It’s very easy. You have a photograph that for some reason just does not seem to stand out. When something fails to stand out it is natural to want to pep it up. Should you change the saturation?

A picture with no vibrancy rarely has colour saturation issues. Usually it is something else. The light may be poor. The contrast between the blackest blacks and the whitest whites may be limited. There is also a high chance there are few tones between the colour variations (flat colours). Yet, when you put the picture into an image editor you can seem to make it pop off the page by raising the colour levels.

Well, here is a piece of advice. Don’t change the saturation except in very, very rare situations. Even then keep it to a minimum. In perhaps only one picture in 500 do I consider adding any saturation and then rarely more than one point on the scale.

Picture one (above) has poor, flat lighting. It has not been improved by bombing it with colour. In fact I have strongly over-saturated to make an example. However, even adding one or two points of saturation with your editor can really ruin the natural colours.

Here is another revelation. Many photographers getting started in post-processing often cannot spot their own over-saturation errors. Their eye is not well trained in colour matching. It takes very little to really unbalance the colours. Worse still, everyone else can see the colours are too strong. Whats going on?

Have you ever written a paragraph and someone tells you there is a mistake? Did you spot it straight away? Did you read it several times and still not see it? Wow! That’s happened to me dozens of times. And, it has happened to most writers. When it comes down to it – we are not good at spotting our own mistakes. In fact over many years working with writers and photographers I have found the same thing many, many times. Looking into your own work somehow makes you go a little blind. Colour vision is very much like text vision… you go a little blind when you are doing your own editing.

Here is the original of the picture above…

It is just poor light. Lack of contrast and flat lighting make this picture dull.

Picture two: Poor light, lack of contrast and flat lighting make this picture dull. It is not going to be improved by colour bombing!

If the light is poor, you are pretty stuck. Picture two above is straight out of camera. The subject is mundane with flat lighting and poor contrast and limited colour tones. Colour bombing it would not help. However, for those with little colour editing experience it might look better when you raise the colour saturation. But this is because you cannot spot the dizzy tones that come with over-saturating the colours. It is an illusion. You want to be proud and pleased with your picture. Sadly, it is just not a good picture – and you refuse to admit it to yourself.

What can you do about it?

Editing your pictures is a difficult task. Your pride-of-authorship is strong. You have a lot invested in your shot and you want it to work. So the first tip is… be very harsh with yourself.

Harsh editing is something that only comes with a lot of practice. One way to get that practice is to find someone who you trust and respect to be a critical friend. Ask them about your edits. Make sure they actually do tell you what they think is wrong. Train them to tell you what is right too. Ask them to be honest but supportive. Try not to judge them if they don’t like a shot. Find out what they suggest to improve it. There is no right or wrong here. Their opinion is valid even if you disagree. Try to see their point of view, and question your own actions in editing. Once you are able to ask yourself questions about your own editing you will be on the way to spotting your errors.

The second tip I give you is to check against the original as you work. When editing I normally have a copy of the original file open while doing the edits. It is then easy to have a point of reference. You can look from one to the other and see if you have strolled too far into the realms of editing fantasy. It helps you see what you have changed and how much those changes have impacted the original.

Editing is a skill. It takes time and effort to get right. No editing is perfect. Edits are judged by the viewer which is sometimes hard to accept when just starting out. Someone will always find fault. However, with time and the help of trusted critics you can gain a great insight. You will learn to spot the right and wrong moves when doing your processing. When getting started try to keep it real. Develop your skills from there.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.