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    Russell Viers is a Transition Expert in the publishing world. Since 1997 he has helped newspapers and magazines adapt to changes in the industry. Read more...

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  • Quick Color Balance Trick

    October 8th, 2008 by Russell Viers

    Please Note: In the story to follow there is a reference to the possibility of a Miss Margeret Sturton from Winchester drinking excessively. This rumour has been dispelled by the aforementioned Miss Sturton who, in fact, claims to be a teetotaler. Therefore, it must be assumed she was not drinking excessively, but, more likely, out all night dancing with Germans who had been drinking excessively. We regret any inconvenience the below reference may have caused.

    My new friend Margeret Sturton from Peter Symonds College in Winchester, England emailed me with a question the other day, and it’s worth sharing.

    She attended the Fall Yearbook Conference we host every year and she saw me color balance a photo with a yellow cast very quickly using the eyedropper in Photoshop. I don’t know if I just did it too quickly or if she had been drinking excessively, but she didn’t get the notes down properly. So here is the refresher course for her and perhaps a new trick for the other two people who might happen to read this article.

    It’s all about gray. In a photo studio, when setting up lights for a photo shoot, photographers will use a gray card in a photo to measure the color balance of the set. The logic is this: if the lights are throwing off a yellow cast, the gray card will turn yellow, as well. Then, when developing the photos (or adjusting digitally in Photoshop) if you make the gray card (which became yellowish) gray again by adding filters, etc…the rest of the photo will adjust, also.

    So image a gray card that shifted to yellow ten percent. That means the rest of the shot has taken on a ten percent yellow cast, as well. Make the gray card gray by taking out the ten percent yellow and the same amount is subtracted from the rest of the photo giving you color balance again.

    Simple.

    So here is the problem with photos NOT taken in a studio: where’s the gray card? It’s a little hard to get David Beckham to hold a gray card while dribbling down the field for a shot. Nope…you have to find your own gray card in a shot.

    Look around you…there’s gray everywhere…especially in Seattle. If you have a photograph that has something in it that is supposed to be gray, you’re set. It doesn’t matter what shade of gray. It could be concrete, a metal trash can, a gray car or a dark gray sweater…doesn’t matter.

    Once you find that you’re only a click away.

    Notice this photo of a P-51 Mustang. It has a slight yellow cast turning the sky a bit green. You don’t really notice it in the plane so much, but often in a photo some areas show a more pronounced problem then others. Note: I’ve seen people focus on the problem areas by making selections (like of the sky) and only adjusting that. I recommend you try this solution first and then do selective adjustment only if really necessary.

    Now, select Image> Adjustments> Curves (or Levels, but I prefer Curves). You will see three eyedropper tools. The white one sets the White Point and the black one sets the Black Point (which we will discuss at another time). The middle one sets the Gray Point. Choose that one.

    Now simply click on something in the image that is supposed to be gray and BOOM…Photoshop neutralizes the color of that pixel to gray again, and applies the same adjustment to the rest of the photo.

    If you don’t like the adjustment, keep click on gray stuff until it looks the way you want it to. Just like the airplane photo above…the sky is blue again and the plane looks better after a single click of my mouse.

    I had a lady ask me one time “What if there isn’t anything in the photo that’s gray?”

    Well…then you can’t use this technique. But if there IS gray, you’re set.

    After showing this trick at a conference in Oklahoma, a person in the audience approached the next day and said “I saved about three hours work adjusting photos last night. I had a bunch of photos of old people to adjust and all I did all night was click on gray hair, click on gray hair, click on gray hair….

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