I’ve talked a bit in the past about the color temperature of light, using off-camera flash, and a few ways you can help improve the quality of interior photos using a few lighting tweaks. I understand, however, that not everyone is going to run out and buy advanced lighting gear, or even a digital SLR camera for that matter.
If you tend to avoid using additional lighting in your setup, or you own a camera that doesn’t allow for external flashes to be connected, just be aware of a common problem that may result. The problem is contrasting light sources, which leads to your camera being unable to properly white balance itself. For instance, a photo of the living room that is lit with interior light (3000° Kelvin), as well as sunlight (6000° Kelvin). I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands of listing photos that suffer from this problem, and once you know how to spot it you’ll see for yourself. A photo that suffers from this discoloration will appear quite yellow within the interior areas, and blue within the exterior or window areas. The color is directly related to the Kelvin temperature of each light source.
To correct this problem, you’ll need to spend a few minutes editing the photo in a program like Adobe Photoshop. Alternatively you can use free image editors available online like The Gimp or Paint.net although the layout and setup will differ slightly. I’ll guide you through the process – just keep in mind that each photo will differ in its specific needs. The more time you spend perfecting your photos in an image editor, the more aware you will become of what exactly needs to be done.
1) Open the file that appears color inaccurate. (In Photoshop, select FILE, OPEN, and track down the file from it’s saved location).
2) Desaturate the yellow channel, and increase the lightness. (In Photoshop, select IMAGE, ADJUSTMENTS, HUE/SATURATION). Next to EDIT:, drop down the menu and select YELLOWS. Drag the saturation down and the lightness up, but be careful not to remove too much as there may be other yellow items that need to retain their color. Depending on the photograph, you may also need to desaturate the REDS. The settings will vary between photos.
3) Desaturate the blue channel, and increase the lightness. As the window still appears cool and blue – repeat the same steps as #2, but select BLUES and/or CYANS from the drop down menu and make the adjustments. Again, each image will vary in its specific settings.
4) Adjust the levels. Flashless interior photos are commonly underexposed and will appear dark and gloomy as a result. (In Photoshop, select IMAGE, ADJUSTMENTS, LEVELS). A histogram will appear, along with a toggle bar with three points on it: one for light, mid, and dark tones. Increase the mid-tones, and lights so the image appears more bright and vibrant – be careful not to blow out your highlights. You may need to pull down your darks to retain shadow contrast. Exact positions will vary between photographs.
5) Make the final color adjustments. (In Photoshop, select IMAGE, ADJUSTMENTS, COLOR BALANCE). You will now be able to modify the red, green and blue color channels. Please note that when balancing color, you can only add more of one color by removing another. For instance, you can only add blue by removing yellow. The toggles will indicate on each side the colors that oppose each other. The yellow-blue toggle is mainly used in situations like these because that is the color temperature of each light source. You may choose to warm up (add yellow) or cool down (add blue) your image to suit your tastes. The highlights, mid-tones and shadows can be fine-tuned separately. Use this time to make any other final adjustments to your image.
So this is one of many methods for how to color correct a photo. Each person will differ slightly in his/her tastes. Personally, I like to saturate the color of my exterior photos (i.e. vibrant greens and blues), but keep my interiors clean, bright and lowly saturated. For more advanced users, you may also choose to custom select areas for more precise color modifications, sharpen the image, apply a noise-reduction filter, and/or crop the photo if required.