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Colour Me Bright

It’s easy to get complacent when shooting with a digital camera. It’s all so easy: line up the shot, press the button and move on.

Get back to base and you download your collection of shots, maybe send some to friends over the Web, perhaps make some prints for the album.

But take a good look at your work over the last year or so. How’s the colour? OK? So so? Or just plain brilliant?


If your answer was ‘brilliant’ maybe you’d better move on. You probably don’t need my help.

But maybe now you’re starting to wonder if the colour in your digital images is really as exciting and vibrant as it should be. If so, read on.

Jumbo Tail

Sometimes your camera’s auto exposure system gets fooled by the scene’s overall brightness, a hot sky or even a bright light that may not even be in shot.

Result? Murky whites, dull sky, flat colour.

One way to fix this is to adjust the camera’s exposure before shooting by using compensation, opening up the lens by a half or even a full f stop. Most cameras have this feature.

But, if you were unaware of the fault at the time, all is not lost. ‘Back at the ranch’ you can usually fix it in software by raising the general light level of the scene or, in such applications as Photoshop, adjusting the highlight and shadow levels.



Now for some fun. This shot of a 50s Chevy was made in dull, grey light. Unusually, the car was virtually the only colour in the scene, with the houses behind rendered in greys and soft whites.

First, the car’s blue colour was given a starring role by setting highlight and shadow levels in Photoshop. Boring!

Then the car was ‘repainted’ in pink, by adjusting Hue in Hue/Saturation, then highlight/shadow levels reset.

Chevrolet in Pink.jpg

Chevrolet in Mustard.jpg

Mustard or pink anyone? Same method: Hue was adjusted in Hue/Saturation, then highlight/shadow levels reset.

Go for it!

Red sports car 2.jpg


Sometimes I shoot pictures that have only one strong element: flashy colour. Two examples are the red car and the indigo wall. Love ‘em!

The only caution I can offer when making images that have an overpowering colour: set up a strong composition, with a forceful foreground element.

Tricks of the Trade

If you’re after accurate colour it pays to make the corrections at the time of the original exposure: if the weather is cloudy, adjust the colour balance setting; if you’re shooting inside, make the colour balance suit the prevailing light quality.

You can work marvels on colour rendering with even the most basic software.

Take care with shots of people; unless you’re after a Dracula effect, the human face is very unappealing when the colour is off beam.

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Barrie Smith
Barrie Smith

is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

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