Like the previous blog post in this series, today I’m talking about ways to save a problem photo from the bin. Colour casts are problems which affect the whole image, not just one spot or area. When I’ve been taking photos in one location and every single one has the same problem, I really need a way to save the entire shoot. I’ll explain how the problem arises and why it’s so hard to fix.
Colour Cast – the Longer Explanation
You can skip to the short version lower down but you’ll miss some interesting stuff!
Although the title of this blog says “colour cast” I also have to talk about “white balance” which is kind of the same but different. Stay with me here, it’s fairly simple: When white balance is slightly wrong, a photo will end up looking slightly too warm or cold. For example blue sky might look purple or a white house may look yellow. It’s a bit like when you buy a lightbulb for a room and the box is labelled “warm” or “cool”. You can see a big difference between those two types of light.
Take the wrong white balance to an extreme and we end up with a colour cast. That means the whole photo seems off-colour and unrealistic. Everything is orange or purple and weird.
Film versus digital RAW
There are other ways of getting a colour cast. It used to be a common problem in the days of film photography. It could happen when a print had aged in the sun, or when a film has been processed in the wrong bath of chemicals. Putting the right kind of filter on a lens would affect white balance too. That might give a colour cast if it’s the wrong filter for the conditions. There are yet more routes to achieve a colour cast but you get the idea.
Enough of the history lesson! One of the great things about digital photography is the option to shoot RAW images. From RAW, you can correct the white balance when you edit the digital file. However there are limits even to this, which brings me to today’s featured photos.
Colour Cast – the shorter version
Some places are just too badly lit for anyone to get a decent colour shot. No white balance adjustment can save it. If an orange room is bathed in orange light you will get orange photos; End of.
That’s what was going on when I went to take photos of a Roller Derby practice session. My camera club was invited by the local Roller Derby team. We wanted to practice our movement photography and some flash-blur styling.
You guessed it: The Roller Derby practice was in an orange room with dim orange lights. I won’t list all the different things we tried to do to deal with this as that’s probably a whole other 900 word blog post. Once I got my photos on the computer I tried some editing tricks in both Lightroom and Photoshop to get rid of the colour cast. I did manage to achieve true colours for skin and white fabric with a lot of trickery. Some of the tricks I used are described in this fstoppers article.
This photo was a pretty good save through editing and doesn’t look too bad in colour, but most shots had bigger problems.
Choosing Black and White
However they are still orange photos thanks to the room colour and lighting. That is why I turned most of them black and white. I found the orange too overwhelming, and black and white photos are always quite stylish. That was my reason this time for choosing monochrome.
I’ve had use black and white to fix a colour cast on one other memorable occasion. I was second-shooting a wedding. It was my job to take the audience reaction shots during the speeches, but they dimmed the lights in a very green room. Everybody looked quite bilious in the photos. Luckily much like these sports photos above, candid portraits also look like they belong in a newspaper and therefore seem quite natural in black and white.
Have you ever turned a photo black and white because of problems with a colour cast? Let me know in the comments.
with thanks to Spa Town Roller Derby