Off-color remarks: Fix the Pix, Episode 14

What to do when the color in your photos has an unnatural tint

Are your pictures coming out too blue or orange? It's time to learn how to set your White Balance.

Today's Fix the Pix photos were shot with a Panasonic ZR1.


You've taken a shot indoors without flash, following my advice to take advantage of ambient light whenever you can, and there's a problem: All the pictures have an orange cast. Or, you shot a portrait in open shade, following my advice to avoid harsh shadow-producing sunlight, but everything looks sickly blue. In both cases, you can greatly improve the color by adjusting your camera's White Balance (WB) setting.

Oops, forgot to change the White Balance! I shot this portrait of my daughter at Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick, NJ, right after taking some pictures indoors with the white balance on the incandescent bulb setting. I forgot to switch it to daylight, and the resulting shot has an overall blue tint.

Cameras are balanced for daylight. Auto WB, which is the default setting, is designed to recognize when the light is something other than daylight and make the necessary adjustments, but this doesn't always work out. If you check your results on your LCD monitor and see that the color is wrong, you can manually override the automation and choose the most appropriate WB setting.


Fixed: A simple switch to auto white balance gave this shot accurate color. In most cases, auto white balance will work fine for snapshots.

Indoors, when an image is too orange or yellow, the camera hasn't compensated for the warmer light projected by incandescent light bulbs. (If the image cast appears greenish, that is caused by the cooler light projected by fluorescent bulbs.) Most digital cameras have clearly-marked WB settings: Incandescent is indicated by a standard lightbulb icon, while flourescent WB is indicated by a long, rectangular shape.

Outdoors in open shade, the wide canopy of blue sky causes a blue cast that the naked eye may not see, but the camera sensor picks up. An open shade WB setting will easily fix this. But if, as I did, you accidentally shot outdoors in open shade while your camera is set to indoor/bulb, the blue will be exaggerated.

Well, what about Photoshop?

“Oh, that’s OK,” you might say when you discover you messed up the white balance. “I’ll just fix it later with Auto Color Correction in Photoshop.”  Really? Let’s see how good a job that does…

I went to Photoshop Elements > Enhance > Auto Color Correction and got this "corrected" version. Compare this to the before-and-after shots above. Yes, you can probably eventually get the color more or less correct, but this will require more work and waste your valuable time. Still think Photoshop is a good idea here?

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