In most situations modern cameras do a great job of getting color right, but every now and again something goes wrong. In this article we explain why some color photography errors occur and how to avoid making such mistakes in the future.
Color Photography Mistake No. 1: Incorrect white balance set
Different light sources produce different colors of light, but our eyes and brain do a great job of correcting for these variations so we don’t see dramatic shifts in color when we walk from a sun-filled garden into a shady room and then look in a cupboard lit by a fluorescent tube.
A digital camera’s sensor, however, needs to be told what the light source is to avoid the image having a color cast.
That’s why cameras have a selection of white balance settings called things like Daylight, Cloudy and Shade that are specifically designed for used particular lighting conditions.
There’s also an automatic white balance option that attempts to workout the color of the light and adjust the image processing accordingly.
One of the downsides to using white balance settings other than the automatic option is that at some point you are likely to shoot an image with the wrong value set. This can produce quite extreme color casts.
Using the Daylight white balance when shooting under tungsten light, for example, produces a very warm, orangey image.
Meanwhile doing the reverse and shooting with the Tungsten white balance setting selected in daylight results in a very blue image.
Fortunately, if you shoot raw files you can change the white balance setting quickly and easily using the raw conversion software. In many cases it’s just a matter of selecting the correct preset value from a list.
Raw files contain all the date that’s available for interpreting the image from a sequence of zeros and ones into a visible picture, so switching between white balance values has no consequences for image quality, it’s the same as doing it in-camera before taking the shot.
JPEG files can also be adjusted but they have less information and as result image quality can suffer with a loss of gradation and the introduction of banding.
In some cases the JPEG file may not have enough color data to adjust the color sufficiently and get the hues just right.
The lesson here is to shoot raw files, or raw and JPEG files simultaneously, whenever possible.
PAGE 1 – Color Photography Mistake No. 1: In correct white balance set
PAGE 2 – Color Photography Mistake No. 2: Image has no atmosphere
PAGE 3 – Color Photography Mistake No. 3: Mixed lighting
PAGE 4 – Color Photography Mistake No. 4: colors don’t suit the scene
PAGE 5 – Color Photography Mistake No. 5: colors washed out
Color Theory: the best color combinations for photography (and how to take it further)
Color Photography Explained: simple tips for making your brightest ever images
What is color temperature: free photography cheat sheet
Using white balance settings that work every time