Color Correction with Photoshop in 7 Easy Steps - Digital Photography School

Color Correction with Photoshop in 7 Easy Steps

One method of color correction that I like to use is one that I learnt from Photoshop gurus, Dan Margulis and Taz Tally – any errors in this process are mine and not theirs.

The process relies on reading data from the image and then adjusting the numbers that the image provides. It’s a way to remove a color cast that is relatively simple and which involves reading and setting RGB values rather than making objective decisions about an image. I’ll show you how to do this using an image shot in the early morning and which is hazy, underexposed and which has very poor color.

color-correction-step1.jpg

Step 1

To get started, open an image that you think has a color cast. Choose Window > Info to display the Info palette. This gives you information about the pixels in your image and, if you’re working with a standard photo, you’ll have RGB mode displayed in the upper left corner of the dialog.

color-correction-step2.jpg

Step 2

To make the color correction I’ll use the Info palette to display information about the image. To do this I’ll need to make some color sample points on the image and I’ll do this using the Color Sampler tool which shares a toolbar position with the Eyedropper. Click the Color Sampler tool and, from the toolbar, select the 3 x 3 Average Sample. This is important as you’ll want to sample a larger area than just a single pixel.

color-correction-step3.jpg

Step 3

Now locate a place on the image which should be white or a light neutral gray in color. Click on it with the color sampler tool and you’ll see a marker appear on the image with the number 1 beside it. Make sure the point you select is one which should be white or light gray and don’t select an area of the image which is blown out such as a light spot.

Repeat the process, this time clicking on another point which should be either white, black or a neutral gray. This gives you a second sample point. You can continue and add a total of four markers if desired. Each should be placed in an area of the image which should be white, black or a neutral gray.

color-correction-step4.jpg

Step 4

Check back in the Info palette to read the color information for each of these points. For the lightest points you should see values of around 245 for the R, G and B channels. For the darkest points the value should be around 15 for each of the channels. For gray points you should have equivalent values of R, G and B, although they can be any value, they just need to be roughly the same for each.

color-correction-step5.jpg

Step 5

If your image has a color problem you’ll find that the numbers at each point are not within a range of 2 or 3 values of each other. To color correct the image what you’ll do is adjust the curves for each of these channels to bring them closer to each other. Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and click Ok. You’ll be correcting individual channels so from the Channel dropdown list select Red and then Ctrl + Click on the first point that you marked in your image. This adds a small marker on the curve line which shows you where this point in the image appears on the curve.

Identify whether you need to increase or decrease the value at this point. To increase it, drag upwards and to decrease the value drag downwards. You’ll see that you’re not making subjective judgments here; you’re simply adjusting the curve to bring the numbers closer together and closer to the desirable value of 245 for a white point and 15 for a black one.

color-correction-step6.jpg

Step 6

Repeat this last step for all the sample points that you created on the image and then repeat it for the Green and Blue channels so that you end up with all the sample points containing values that are within 2 to 3 values of each other.

color-correction-step7.jpg

Step 7

When you’re done, click Ok to close the Curves dialog. You can now apply other fixes such as adding contrast to the image with a further Curves adjustment or use the new Brightness/Contrast tool in Photoshop CS3.

Using the Info palette combined with sample points on the image makes it easier to remove color casts by reading and adjusting numbers.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • http://www.niels-henriksen.blogspot.com/ My Camera World

    There are times when colour correction whether global or local would be better performed in LAB mode. This is because in RGB you can only directly affect the Red, Green and Blue colours and other colours indirectly by their combinations.

    In LAB mode you can directly affect Yellow/Blue and the Red/Green which can give new variants on changes.

    For images with multiple light sources do set measuring points with the eye dropper and then hand tune the curves for each of the measuring set points.

    Niels Henriksen

  • Deirdre

    This seems like it could be quite helpful, but It would be really helpful to me to see a before and after.

  • http://www.tanyaplonka.com Tanya Plonka

    To make this a little simpler, you can define those points in the Curves dialog box itself.

  • http://www.flashfrog.net zetson

    Good article. I would also like to share a genious tip on how to find neutral grey (50% grey) in a picture:

    1) Make a new layer.
    2) Fill with 50% grey
    3) Set blending mode to DIFFERENCE on the grey layer.
    4) Add a THRESHOLD adjusment layer. Drag the slider all the way to the left and start dragging it to the right. The first black areas that first appear on the image are 50% grey in your image. Add a marker with the Eyedropper tool as explained in the article above on one of these black spots.

  • gato

    i would like to agree with deirdre, before and after would be good

  • Phil Worthington

    Thanks a lot for this. I realise this may seem odd to some people, but have you tried using Picasa for basic colour correction? Apologies if I’m preaching to the converted here, but I do know some people who have tunnel vision and regard Photoshop as the best and/or only solution to every photographic problem. :)

    I’m obviously not trying to suggest Picasa is superior to Photoshop, but I use it for sorting my images and doing some of the basic work that can take a lot longer in other programs. If you click on a photo and use the ‘tuning’ tab on the menu you get a nice little pipette icon with which you can click on a white or light grey area and it automatically adjusts the image for you. I’d be interested to see how this compares to Photoshop’s results, but it seems to be the same process, simply automated.

  • http://www.smashandpeas.com/ Lee Milthorpe

    Nice tutorial, I’m never one for getting colours right straight away so this helps!

  • Badowski

    @zetson Awesome tip. Tried it out and it worked great. Thanks!

  • http://www.imaginarydesign.co.uk/blog/ Adam

    Interesting, thanks :-)

  • A-Rock

    Great process! That made color correction very easy. Thanks for sharing – you saved me a lot of time fiddling with “Color Balance.”

    @zetson – also a great tip! Thanks

  • http://simonewphoto.com themisfit

    interesting I will have to give this a try!

  • Paul A. Orosco

    This works! Thanks for the detailed tuorial.

  • Bode

    for someone who is just new in photoshop can someone direct me to a site for beginners. I am hearing about RAW and all these scare me

  • gtvone

    Hi Bode, You should, err, try this one :) Have a look around in the forums, there are many people that can help you in there.

    Best,
    Sime

  • Jeff

    Yes, this procedure will find neutral gray in the UNcorrected photo. But that isn’t what you want …. you want what SHOULD be neutral gray once the photo has been corrected. Scott, Dave and the rest of the Photoshop guys are flat out wrong on this one. They have backed off in version two of their color correction using gray dropper …. saying to the effect “this method will often get you close.” When you click on gray eye dropper, you are telling PS to “make this color neutral because it should be neutral …. that is, it should be gray. Gray is an equal mix of R, G, and B.
    Anyway, this is something that got started … and wasn’t thought through all the way. While it may get you close, it’s logical is wrong. Think through it yourself to understand the flawed logic. Anyway, …… good day. :-)

    Jeff

    Good article. I would also like to share a genious tip on how to find neutral grey (50% grey) in a picture:

    1) Make a new layer.
    2) Fill with 50% grey
    3) Set blending mode to DIFFERENCE on the grey layer.
    4) Add a THRESHOLD adjusment layer. Drag the slider all the way to the left and start dragging it to the right. The first black areas that first appear on the image are 50% grey in your image. Add a marker with the Eyedropper tool as explained in the article above on one of these black spots.

  • Fritters

    I am apparently Doin’ It Rong, because mine came out really weirdly colored.

  • murraysJ2

    When you do a custom white balance, use a polarizer or set the camera to cloudy, you will get a better, less blue cast, picture outdoors to begin with, so you won’t have to mess with the color balance. Do it correctly when you capture the image and save a lot of post processing time. Another alternative is to change the camera settings using different white balance pre-set modes on the camera and select the best color and best exposure for the desired effect for the image from several shots when you upload them. Be sure your monitor is calibrated properly as well as your printer.

  • Ruth

    Didn’t work for me either.
    when I move the curve for one sample the other one moves as well.
    It’s easier to jsut type inthe corrct ‘output’ number such as 245 rather than move the curve but still this causes the other samples to move. would be nice to see a youtube video on it should anyone want to create one.
    I am trying the instructions from another tutorial – it it works I’ll post the link.

  • Ruth
  • http://www.digital-scene.com Jamie H

    A great method to use for accurate results, thank you. But for newbies – remember photography is an art form and use your eyes to get images YOU are happy with…….

  • http://simonewittenbergblog.com wazime

    thanks for the tutorial I will have to give this a try.

  • Abin J Arouje

    Its very intersting………

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/anantsinghal/ anant singhal

    “Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and click Ok. You’ll be correcting individual channels so from the Channel dropdown list select Red and then Ctrl + Click on the first point that you marked in your image. This adds a small marker on the curve line which shows you where this point in the image appears on the curve.”

    Nothing happens when I ctrl+click :(

  • NAN

    this is complicated! It seems to me that when we spend thousands of dollars on cameras,lenses, etc
    and still come out with photos with bad colors—This is absurd! Why can’t the industry address this
    problem? And we put up with it. How crazy. Give me a simple solution!

  • kjrhead

    Does anyone know someone who would come to Idaho and teach a few employees at a business how to color correct correctly? Or are there classroom courses in the western states that someone can go to?
    thanks.

  • vi

    I don’t think this is a good example.. the photo looked better before it was corrected, and this is on a very old version of photoshop. newer versions have the curve tool and colour levels tool which you can access without going through the window menu.

  • http://www.colorexpertsbd.com/photoshop-masking-services.html Photoshop Masking

    Wow… really helpful for me and I think all, I am also working with Photoshop Color Correction related thing from last 5 yrs

  • murtaza melankoli

    hi thanks for your help and i am sure about the yalova havuz to color correction in the stuation and on the tabela it is the football thats the football.

Some older comments

  • kjrhead

    September 27, 2012 06:31 am

    Does anyone know someone who would come to Idaho and teach a few employees at a business how to color correct correctly? Or are there classroom courses in the western states that someone can go to?
    thanks.

  • NAN

    March 22, 2012 01:53 pm

    this is complicated! It seems to me that when we spend thousands of dollars on cameras,lenses, etc
    and still come out with photos with bad colors---This is absurd! Why can't the industry address this
    problem? And we put up with it. How crazy. Give me a simple solution!

  • anant singhal

    August 2, 2011 07:05 pm

    "Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and click Ok. You’ll be correcting individual channels so from the Channel dropdown list select Red and then Ctrl + Click on the first point that you marked in your image. This adds a small marker on the curve line which shows you where this point in the image appears on the curve."

    Nothing happens when I ctrl+click :(

  • Abin J Arouje

    June 7, 2011 02:07 pm

    Its very intersting.........

  • wazime

    March 17, 2010 01:18 pm

    thanks for the tutorial I will have to give this a try.

  • Jamie H

    January 22, 2009 07:49 pm

    A great method to use for accurate results, thank you. But for newbies - remember photography is an art form and use your eyes to get images YOU are happy with.......

  • Ruth

    January 19, 2009 03:26 am

    yep--this link has a more fool proof method:

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/photoshopsupport/discuss/72057594125375245

  • Ruth

    January 19, 2009 02:43 am

    Didn't work for me either.
    when I move the curve for one sample the other one moves as well.
    It's easier to jsut type inthe corrct 'output' number such as 245 rather than move the curve but still this causes the other samples to move. would be nice to see a youtube video on it should anyone want to create one.
    I am trying the instructions from another tutorial - it it works I'll post the link.

  • murraysJ2

    January 18, 2009 04:27 am

    When you do a custom white balance, use a polarizer or set the camera to cloudy, you will get a better, less blue cast, picture outdoors to begin with, so you won't have to mess with the color balance. Do it correctly when you capture the image and save a lot of post processing time. Another alternative is to change the camera settings using different white balance pre-set modes on the camera and select the best color and best exposure for the desired effect for the image from several shots when you upload them. Be sure your monitor is calibrated properly as well as your printer.

  • Fritters

    January 17, 2009 01:49 am

    I am apparently Doin' It Rong, because mine came out really weirdly colored.

  • Jeff

    January 16, 2009 08:19 am

    Yes, this procedure will find neutral gray in the UNcorrected photo. But that isn't what you want .... you want what SHOULD be neutral gray once the photo has been corrected. Scott, Dave and the rest of the Photoshop guys are flat out wrong on this one. They have backed off in version two of their color correction using gray dropper .... saying to the effect "this method will often get you close." When you click on gray eye dropper, you are telling PS to "make this color neutral because it should be neutral .... that is, it should be gray. Gray is an equal mix of R, G, and B.
    Anyway, this is something that got started ... and wasn't thought through all the way. While it may get you close, it's logical is wrong. Think through it yourself to understand the flawed logic. Anyway, ...... good day. :-)

    Jeff

    Good article. I would also like to share a genious tip on how to find neutral grey (50% grey) in a picture:

    1) Make a new layer.
    2) Fill with 50% grey
    3) Set blending mode to DIFFERENCE on the grey layer.
    4) Add a THRESHOLD adjusment layer. Drag the slider all the way to the left and start dragging it to the right. The first black areas that first appear on the image are 50% grey in your image. Add a marker with the Eyedropper tool as explained in the article above on one of these black spots.

  • gtvone

    January 16, 2009 02:09 am

    Hi Bode, You should, err, try this one :) Have a look around in the forums, there are many people that can help you in there.

    Best,
    Sime

  • Bode

    January 16, 2009 12:06 am

    for someone who is just new in photoshop can someone direct me to a site for beginners. I am hearing about RAW and all these scare me

  • Paul A. Orosco

    January 15, 2009 10:26 pm

    This works! Thanks for the detailed tuorial.

  • themisfit

    January 15, 2009 03:41 pm

    interesting I will have to give this a try!

  • A-Rock

    January 15, 2009 04:08 am

    Great process! That made color correction very easy. Thanks for sharing - you saved me a lot of time fiddling with "Color Balance."

    @zetson - also a great tip! Thanks

  • Adam

    January 15, 2009 02:32 am

    Interesting, thanks :-)

  • Badowski

    January 15, 2009 12:51 am

    @zetson Awesome tip. Tried it out and it worked great. Thanks!

  • Lee Milthorpe

    January 14, 2009 09:55 pm

    Nice tutorial, I'm never one for getting colours right straight away so this helps!

  • Phil Worthington

    January 14, 2009 07:03 pm

    Thanks a lot for this. I realise this may seem odd to some people, but have you tried using Picasa for basic colour correction? Apologies if I'm preaching to the converted here, but I do know some people who have tunnel vision and regard Photoshop as the best and/or only solution to every photographic problem. :)

    I'm obviously not trying to suggest Picasa is superior to Photoshop, but I use it for sorting my images and doing some of the basic work that can take a lot longer in other programs. If you click on a photo and use the 'tuning' tab on the menu you get a nice little pipette icon with which you can click on a white or light grey area and it automatically adjusts the image for you. I'd be interested to see how this compares to Photoshop's results, but it seems to be the same process, simply automated.

  • gato

    January 14, 2009 10:42 am

    i would like to agree with deirdre, before and after would be good

  • zetson

    January 14, 2009 09:18 am

    Good article. I would also like to share a genious tip on how to find neutral grey (50% grey) in a picture:

    1) Make a new layer.
    2) Fill with 50% grey
    3) Set blending mode to DIFFERENCE on the grey layer.
    4) Add a THRESHOLD adjusment layer. Drag the slider all the way to the left and start dragging it to the right. The first black areas that first appear on the image are 50% grey in your image. Add a marker with the Eyedropper tool as explained in the article above on one of these black spots.

  • Tanya Plonka

    January 14, 2009 06:05 am

    To make this a little simpler, you can define those points in the Curves dialog box itself.

  • Deirdre

    January 14, 2009 03:36 am

    This seems like it could be quite helpful, but It would be really helpful to me to see a before and after.

  • My Camera World

    January 14, 2009 02:21 am

    There are times when colour correction whether global or local would be better performed in LAB mode. This is because in RGB you can only directly affect the Red, Green and Blue colours and other colours indirectly by their combinations.

    In LAB mode you can directly affect Yellow/Blue and the Red/Green which can give new variants on changes.

    For images with multiple light sources do set measuring points with the eye dropper and then hand tune the curves for each of the measuring set points.

    Niels Henriksen

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