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How to Use Complementary Colors for Color Correction of Your Images

Two days before my wedding, I got sunburnt on a fishing trip. It was also my bachelor party.

Image: Al Shallal Ice Rink in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – before color correction

Al Shallal Ice Rink in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – before color correction

Image: Al Shallal Ice Rink in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – after color correction

Al Shallal Ice Rink in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – after color correction

My wife’s cousin, the makeup artist for the big day, took one look at my bright red nose and dragged me into a changing room. She sat me down and pulled out a jar of green powder.

“Is that green powder?”

“Yep – green is the opposite of red on the color wheel, so this cancels out some of that shine.”

Those probably weren’t her exact words – but it was something like that. However, it stuck with me. She added a dash of green powder and my nose was slightly less red.

Using Complementary Colors for Color Correction

We are always striving to use color theory in new and captivating ways. Using complementary colors in your images, and creative adjustments to color balance and split toning can take your images to the next level. You most likely adjust white balance, including temperature and tint, somewhere at the start of the editing process. The ‘Temperature’ slider gives your images a cool or warm tone. The ‘Tint’ slider gives a green or magenta tint.

You use these sliders to add to the overall mood and tone of the image. Those values are fine-tuned throughout the editing process while making other adjustments. Recently, I made use of my knowledge of color theory (and that critical lesson on my wedding day), for an entirely different purpose.

Image: Lightroom White Balance Slider at Default Settings

Lightroom White Balance Slider at Default Settings

I currently live and work in Saudi Arabia. To the surprise of many people, I also play ice hockey out here for The Red Sea Sabres. We practice in Jeddah and play in international tournaments every year. On Saudi National Day, our team was invited to play in a friendly scrimmage against the re-emerging Saudi National Team. It was part of an effort to showcase ice hockey in The Kingdom (the details of the entire story are in the blog post linked in my bio).

When we arrived at Al Shallal Ice Rink, the ceiling lights had been tinted green in honor of the Saudi Flag. There was also a large mist looming over the entire ice surface. It was kind of like playing ice hockey on Venus. We were also part of a larger ice skating and Saudi National Day showcase, and there were heaps of photographic opportunities everywhere I looked.

Shooting backstage was fine, as you can see from the before and after images below that have only a few adjustments to the RAW cuts. However, backstage was under ‘normal’ fluorescent lighting and not the green tinted light hanging over the ice.

Image: Original RAW file

Original RAW file

Image: And after minor corrections in LR

And after minor corrections in LR

Tint Slider

Image: My import screen filled with heavily tinted green photos.

My import screen filled with heavily tinted green photos.

You may already add small amounts of tint to your images for artistic purposes or to balance color after shooting under lighting conditions that cast an unwanted tint to your images. However, I had never seen anything like the RAW files I captured that night. As I watched my import screen fill with a tapestry of heavily tinted green photos, one word popped into my head…’magenta.’ I moved the tint slider toward the magenta side of the spectrum and the green cast faded.

Image: Before the ice hockey scrimmage, an ice skating exhibition took to the ice – before col...

Before the ice hockey scrimmage, an ice skating exhibition took to the ice – before color correction.

Image: And after color correction.

And after color correction.

Image: Usually, I don’t go above +20 on the magenta slider, but the photo above required +130!

Usually, I don’t go above +20 on the magenta slider, but the photo above required +130!

Split Toning

How to Use Complementary Colors for Color Correction of Your Images

How to Use Complementary Colors for Color Correction of Your Images

To help adjust skin tones and overall colors of jerseys and ice, I adjusted the split toning to add even more magenta to the image. However, I struggled to fully-correct the skin tones, but they looked better than the pale green faces staring back at me on import!

How to Use Complementary Colors for Color Correction of Your Images

How to Use Complementary Colors for Color Correction of Your Images

Image: ‘Split Toning’ helped remove more unwanted green from skin tones and even out the...

‘Split Toning’ helped remove more unwanted green from skin tones and even out the color of the ice.

Some of the images required a tradeoff. As with the image below; the foreground is backstage under fluorescent lights, and the background is on the ice under green colored lights. You can see that the player’s skin tone is off from the heavy magenta tint on his neck. However, it’s such a compelling image I allowed the tinted skin tone in exchange for the overall shot to be balanced.

How to Use Complementary Colors for Color Correction of Your Images

Image: This image could be further corrected in Photoshop using a localized correction on the player...

This image could be further corrected in Photoshop using a localized correction on the player’s neck to correct his skin tone further.

Conclusion

Color, mood, and tone have a dynamic relationship in every image. If you are a self-taught photographer like me, you probably missed out on formal training in color theory. I have a picture of the color wheel on the wall in my editing office. That way, I am always reminded of the subtle but powerful difference using complementary or anchoring colors can add to an image. Alternatively, in this case, how adding a significant imbalance to one side of the spectrum can rescue images.

If you have been challenged by colored lighting conditions or have some images you’d like to share with us, please do so in the comments below.

 

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Roger Gribbins

Roger Gribbins Roger Gribbins is a photographer and writer who captures the human spirit through images and words that evoke emotion and tell a compelling story. He currently lives and works near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. See more of his photographic work here, and read the entire story about Hockey Night in The Kingdom at this blog post: here. You can also follow him on Instagram. See author page for details.