Color Correction

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Adobe Photoshop Elements
   Auto Color (Adobe Photoshop Elements)
   Color Cast
   Color Variations
   Levels (Adobe Photoshop Elements)

Adobe Photoshop
   Auto Color (Adobe Photoshop)
   Variations
   Color Balance
   Levels (Adobe Photoshop)
Graphic Converter
Microsoft Photo Editor

Frequently, the colors in an image will be out of balance, with unrealistic color casts, or certain colors will be emphasized that you would like to tone down. This section will show you the most basic methods for correcting the color of an image.

Adobe Photoshop Elements

Method 1: Auto Color

Elements has an automatic command for correcting a color imbalance, called Auto Color. Auto Color is a pretty sophisticated algorithm that is amazingly effective on a large percentage of images. Try this method first.

 

  1. Go to the Enhance Menu and choose Auto Color. The Auto Color command will apply an algorithm attempting to correct tonal, contrast and color imbalance issues.
  2. If you don't like the result, undo the command (Command/Control Z) and try another method.

Method 2: Color Cast

  1. Go to the Enhance Menu > Adjust Color > Color Cast.
  2. Move your cursor over an area of the image that should be black, white or gray.
  3. The color of the image will shift. If you don't like the result, click the Reset button and try clicking on other areas of the image.
  4. Click Cancel if you do not find a suitable adjustment and try another method.

Method 3: Color Variations

  1. Go to the Enhance Menu > Adjust Color > Color Variations. The Color Variations dialog box opens. Compare the two thumbnails at the top of the dialog box representing Before and After. When you first open the dialog box, these two images are the same. The After thumbnail changes as you make adjustments to reflect your choices.

    Color Variations Dialog Box
     
  2. First select what areas of the image to adjust, Midtones, Shadows, Highlights, or Saturation. Most often, Midtones will be the best choice and just working on Midtones will be enough. If your image is oversaturated (colors too strong in intensity) or undersaturated (too much gray, not enough intensity of color), use the Saturation setting.
  3. The thumbnails in the lower half of the dialog box are for balancing the color. Click on these thumbnails to add or decrease the colors red, green or blue. You can click the thumbnails as many times as you like.
  4. In addition, there are two thumbnails for lightening or darkening the image.
  5. Use the Reset button to start over, or the Undo button to undo the last adjustment.
  6. The Amount slider under Adjust Color Intensity (lower, left) determines the amount of each adjustment. Adjusting this slider will cause the thumbnails to offer stronger or weaker changes in color.
  7. When the After image is to your liking, click the OK button.

Method 4: Levels

A more sophisticated method (requires some skill) of adjusting the color balance of an image is to use the Levels command and make adjustments on individual color channels. If you need to, review the Levels adjustment on the Tonal Correction page.

 

  1. Open the Layers Palette (Windows Menu > Layers).
  2. From the bottom of the palette, click on the half-black, half-white circle to display the adjustment layer choices.
  3. Select Levels. The Levels dialog box opens up.
  4. Make sure that the Preview button is checked on so that you will see the adjustment affecting the image in the document window.
  5. Click on the drop down menu next to Channel and choose the Red channel.

    Levels Dialog Box
     
  6. Adjust the Shadows, Midtones and Highlights sliders. Note that your image will necessarily look out of balance until you have all the channels adjusted.
  7. Choose the green channel and adjust the sliders.
  8. Choose the blue channel and adjust the sliders.
  9. You can return to any channel and continue to tweak with the sliders. When you are happy with the image, click OK.
  10. Because you have created a Levels adjustment layer, you can go back at any time, double-click on the Levels icon in the Layers Palette and change the adjustment settings (see the Tonal Correction page).

Adobe Photoshop

As with the tonal adjustments, color adjustments can be applied directly to your image by choosing commands from the Image Menu > Adjustments. These commands will change the pixels directly, limiting your options later if you change your mind. As an alternative, you can use an Adjustment Layer, placing your adjustment on a separate layer, allowing you to change the Adjustment Layer at any time, discard it or even lessen the effect by bumping down the opacity of the layer. The actual pixels of the image are left untouched.

Method 1: Auto Color

Photoshop has an automatic command for correcting a color imbalance, called Auto Color. Auto Color is a pretty sophisticated algorithm that is amazingly effective on a large percentage of images. Try this method first.

 

Auto Colors is a command under the Image Menu > Adjustments. To apply Auto Colors as an adjustment layer, you need to use the Levels command.

  1. Open the Layers Palette (Windows Menu > Layers).
  2. From the bottom of the palette, click on the half-black, half-white circle to display the adjustment layer choices.
  3. Select Levels. The Levels dialog box opens up. Position the dialog box so that you can see your image.
  4. Make sure that the Preview button is checked on so that you will see the adjustment affecting the image in the document window.

Layers Palette, Levels Layer Adjustment Setting

  1. Click the Options Button on the right side. An additional dialog box, the Auto Color Correction Options dialog box, will open up.

    Auto Color Correction Options Dialog Box
     
  2. Experiment with choosing each of the three choices under Algorithms.
  3. Turn Snap Neutral Midtones on and off with each of the three Algorithms selected.
  4. Click OK when you are happy with the image.
  5. Click OK again to close the Levels adjustment dialog box.

Method 2: Variations

The Variations command is not available as an adjustment layer, you will need to apply it directly to your image.

 

  1. Go to the Image Menu > Adjustments > Variations (the last choice on the list). The Variations dialog box opens. Compare the two thumbnails at the top of the dialog box, Original and Current Pick. When you first open the dialog box, these two images are the same. Current Pick changes as you make adjustments to reflect your choices.
     
Variations Dialog Box, Photoshop
  1. Current Pick appears two more places in the Variations dialog box. The lower right side of the dialog box is the Lightness (Brightness) area. Clicking the Lighter thumbnail is the same as dragging the Brightness slider to the right, in the Brightness/Contrast dialog box. Choosing Darker is the same as moving the Brightness slider to the left. Each time that you click a thumbnail, the Current Pick changes in all three locations, and all the other thumbnails except the Original change to reflect the next potential change you can make.
  2. First select what areas of the image to adjust, Midtones, Shadows, Highlights, and Saturation. Most often, Midtones will be the best choice and just working on Midtones will be enough. If your image is oversaturated (colors too strong in intensity) or undersaturated (too much gray, not enough intensity of color), use the Saturation setting.

 

  1. The mid to lower left side of the dialog box is the Color Balance area. Here the Current Pick thumbnail is surrounded by thumbnails that can add cyan, magenta, yellow, red, blue, or green to the image. To add a color to the image, click the appropriate color thumbnail. To subtract a color, click the thumbnail for its opposite color. For example, to subtract cyan, click the More Red thumbnail.
  2. To have finer control over the adjustments, use the Fine/Coarse slider to determine the amount of each adjustment.
    Moving the slider one tick mark doubles the adjustment amount.
  3. Check on Show Clipping to see a neon preview of pixels that have lost either shadow or highlight detail and have been converted to pure white or pure black. Clipping does not occur when you adjust midtones.

Method 3: Color Balance

  1. Open the Layers Palette (Windows Menu > Layers).
  2. From the bottom of the palette, click on the half-black, half-white circle to display the adjustment layer choices.
  3. Select Color Balance. The Color Balance dialog box opens up.

    Color Balance Dialog Box
     
  4. Make sure that the Preview button is checked on so that you will see the adjustment affecting the image in the document window.
  5. Choose which areas of the image to work on by clicking on Shadows, Midtones, or Highlights at the bottom of the dialog box. Midtones will be the most useful choice.
  6. Adjust the three sliders. Moving a slider will add the color you move it toward and subtract the color it is moving away from. For instance, if you want to remove a blue cast from the image, try moving the bottom slider towards yellow and away from blue. Moving the top slider away from cyan (a kind of blue) and towards red will also help. If all three sliders are lined up at any location, your image will be unchanged.
  7. Check on Preserve Luminosity at the bottom of the dialog box to prevent your adjustments from affecting the tonal (light and dark) balance of the image.

Method 4: Levels

A more sophisticated way of adjusting the color balance of an image is to use the Levels command and make adjustments on the individual color channels. The directions for this method are the same as detailed above in the Method 4 of the Adobe Photoshop Elements section.

 

Graphic Converter (Mac Only):

For adjusting the color balance of an image, use the Brightness/Contrast command.

Brightness/Contrast Dialog Box

  1. Go to Picture Menu > Brightness/Contrast. The Brightness/Contrast dialog box opens up.
  2. There are three thumbnails at the top. The first, labeled Picture, shows the original file full frame. There is a square that can be moved around to affect what area of the image is shown in the Before and After thumbnails. You can zoom in closer by using the Zoom slider. The After thumbnail shows the image with the settings changes.
  3. There are nine sliders for adjusting individually, red, green and blue colors by hue (color shade), brightness and contrast. The adjustments are not intuitive. Bumping the Hue red slider down adds blue and moving it up adds green. Try to affect your color change by using the Hue sliders first. Refine your adjustment by moving the brightness and contrast sliders.
  4. If you want to add saturation (intensify the colors), move the Saturation slider to the right. If you want to remove saturation (making the image more gray), move the Saturation slider to the left.
  5. Click OK, the adjustment will be applied directly to the pixels of your image.

Microsoft Photo Editor (PC Only):

Use the Balance command to affect the color balance of an image.

  1. From the Image Menu, choose Balance.
  2. The Balance dialog box opens up.
  3. Adjusting the sliders with All Colors set in the bottom, left of the Balance dialog box (as it is set by default) will adjust more for tone (lights and darks of the image). See the section on Tonal Correction.
  4. To adjust the Color Balance, click on the All Colors drop down menu and choose Red, Green or Blue.

    Balance Dialog Box
     
  5. If you want to just adjust the color, not the tone, adjust the Gamma slider. For instance, if you have a blue cast, with the color set to blue, move the Gamma slider to the left to reduce the blue, increasing the opposite color, yellow. Moving the Gamma slider to the right will be increase the color selected, e.g. if you want to increase red, set the color to red, and move the Gamma slider to the right.
  6. Try working with all three colors for better refinement.
  7. Using the Brightness or Contrast sliders will affect the color balance and the tone of the image.
  8. Click OK when done.