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How to Avoid Color Casts (and How to Fix Them in Photoshop) 

Color casts are what happen when a certain tinge or tone comes over your image, which is not correct compared with what you can see with your own eyes.  You will most likely have seen images coming out very orange or yellow, or even cold tones like blue, because these most often occur under modern lighting. Color casts can distort the whole look of a photograph, and can also make it appear to be taken by an amateur rather than a professional. That is why you will want to avoid them at all costs! To be clear, this is not the same as intentionally adding a filter to create a specific mood or theme – instead, this is about distortion which is not wanted. Here’s how you can avoid color casts in the first place – and be sure to read on for a Photoshop fix in case you’ve already made the mistake.

How to Avoid Color Casts

Set Your White Balance

The first port of call in the defense against color cast is your white balance. White balance is essentially a way of telling your camera what ‘color’ white looks like in your current situation – for example, if you were standing under a yellow light bulb, then something white might actually end up looking yellow. If you take the shot with your white balance set up correctly, however, the white will still appear to be white.

So, how does white balance actually work, and how do you use it? Well, there are two ways to change it: through preset modes, and through manual adjustments.

Let’s start here with the preset modes, which are easiest to deal with. You will often find the following options in your camera menu:

  • Auto – Let your camera decide what the white balance should be. This is not always accurate, however, so as a professional you may wish to retain more control.
  • Tungsten – Usually symbolized by an icon of a light bulb, because Tungsten light refers to the yellow bulbs that you will see in most indoor lighting situations. Using this setting will cool the image down.
  • Fluorescent – Fluorescent lighting, on the other hand, can add blue color casts. You should therefore choose this setting to warm the image back up.
  • Daylight, or Sunny – This setting is actually fairly close to the ‘normal’ mode of your camera, so some modern DSLRs have removed it as an option. It is best for what it sounds like – outdoors on a sunny day.
  • Cloudy – Clouds overhead can make the world seem a little blue and cold, but using this setting will warm it back up again.
  • Flash – This will counteract the effects of your on-camera flash to present an image with the right colors.
  • Shade – Similar to the cloudy mode, this will warm things up from the blue/grey shadows.

Based on the situation you find yourself in, you should be able to work out which mode you need. And if you’re not sure, just try it and check the results on your LCD screen!

Manually Adjust Your White Balance

Now let’s talk about doing manual adjustments. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem as if any of the modes properly work, giving you the perfect color and removing any casts. In this case, you can change things manually to a better reflection of what you see in front of you.

You do this using an item called a color checker, or board, or a number of other names, usually relating to the color you have picked out. White or grey are the usual choices. You can point your camera at this white or grey piece of paper or card – even just white printer paper will do – and then adjust so that it looks the way it should. It’s a quick way to make sure that all of your other colors will look right, too.

Fix it in Post

Of course, if you took a photograph without realizing that it had a color cast, you will still want to be able to fix it afterwards.

One of the easiest ways to do this is with the levels slider in Photoshop. Open up the interface and you will see a number of drop-down options. Choose each color channel individually rather than using the channel that combines them all – this is very important. Now, take a look at the histogram that results for each of the colors.

You will likely see that, either at the left or right side of the graph – or at both – there is an area where the lines are right on the base, indicating that the color is not detected in this range. Take the sliders at the extreme left and right ends and slide them in until they sit at the point when the very first spike goes up on the graph.

Do this for all three color selections, and you will be able to see a huge change in your image. All you have to do to check this is click the eye icon on your layers panel, next to the levels layer, and turn it off then on again. You will see that you have much more realistic color.

In cases where this doesn’t quite do the job, perhaps because the image has been distorted or damaged in some way – it’s often hard to get old film scans that have faded to come fully back to life with this method, for example – try the color balance slider next. You can manually adjust here to bring in or take out certain hues, thus creating a more balanced image.

There are lots of benefits to being able to avoid color casts in-camera, and making sure that your work is as good as it possibly can be before you even get it into editing software. But it is also important to know how to fix it in Photoshop just in case something slips through! Use these methods and you will see the instances of color cast in your work decreasing to zero. Want to learn more? Join us in the Summerana Academy!

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