HOW TO... 10 quick ways to improve colour in your images

10 quick ways to improve colour in your images
Tutorial

Monday November 28, 2016

By Jeff Meyer

Are you tired of photos that look dull and dreary? This time of year the grey, overcast conditions and shorter days can leave photographers dreaming of those summer days and images full of resplendent colour.

While there’s no match for a gorgeous summer sunset, there are some quick ways to get stronger colours in your images. Here we show you how to improve the colour in your photos using tried and tested techniques that any photographer can achieve.

Better colour photos: 01 Find the best light

It sounds like the obvious one on this list, but it’s also the most important and true. Waiting for the best light will have a dramatic improvement on your images and will save you all the time and hassle of trying to rescue or enhance an image later.

When you wait for the Golden Hours of dusk and dawn, the angle of the sun at these times of day can transform an average scene into one of breathtaking beauty.

Colours are rich and vibrant. The whole scene is saturated.

In autumn the sun is lower in the sky and allows for nice, beautifully lit landscapes. In summer, the sun is directly overhead around midday, and you’ll want to avoid shooting at these times to avoid harsh shadows.

On cloudy days you can wait for a break in the clouds so that your subject is spot-lit, which can provide a nice dramatic effect.

Better colour photos: 02 Keep your back to the sun

As we suggested above, the angle of the light will provide dramatically different effects on your subjects and scenes.

Back-lit subjects will display more muted tones, while subjects that are side-lit will show more dramatic contrast, with areas that feature strong colours while others thrown into shadow or blown out.

As a general rule, you’ll get the best exposures most of the time by stnading with the light behind you.

SEE MORE: 6 photography composition techniques for more creative images

Better colour photos: 03 Use your auto white balance

Better colour photos: 03 Use your auto white balance

When you graduate to a camera that lets you take more control over the image-making process we generally encourage you to experiment beyond your camera’s automatic modes.

However, even many pros rely on their camera’s auto white balance system. Your AWB adjusts the colour balance of your scene to suit the light you are shooting in, and it generally does an excellent job.

In most situations your AWB mode will accurately render colour and tone, however in some instance with mixed lighting you may notice your images look too blue. Or sometimes they may be dominated by a green or orange colour cast.

This is very easy to correct, particularly if you shoot raw files. Raw files retain all of the information from a scene, and in your raw editor you can very quickly remove an unwanted colour cast.

Better colour photos: 04 Adjust your white balance at night time

A common colour mishap after dark is images looking too orange. This is because, as good as your Auto White Balance setting is in most situations, it has a limited range in low light, particularly if shooting floodlit buildings or indoor scenes with mixed lighting.

In these instances you’ll get more accurate colours by setting your white balance manually. To do this, press your camera’s Menu button and navigate to the White Balance folder. Within your white balance presets is an option to set a custom white balance.

To set a custom white balance, make sure the image of the orange scene you just photographed is on your LCD screen. Press Set. Now change your White Balance from AWB to Custom.

Keep in mind that every camera has a different way of doing things, but in general, this is how you do it.

Better colour photos: 05 Use a polariser filter

One of the most useful accessories in any landscape photographer’s camera bag  will be a polarising filter. A polariser is useful because it helps you eliminate reflections in water or on windows.

While a stunning reflection can be a striking addition to a landscape scene, what a polariser does is minimise the bright reflections on surfaces that you hadn’t even noticed.

By cutting out the reflections from windows and puddles and ripples on water you fill find that your images will benefit from improved saturation.

What’s more, a polariser will also help make your skies achieve a deeper blue, while also bringing out the shape and texture of the clouds.

When you mount a polarising filter on the end of your lens, try rotating it around until you see the effect you want.

SEE MORE: Common camera filter errors (and how to avoid them)

Better colour photos: 06 Capturing accurate colour in sunsets

Better colour photos: 06 Capturing accurate colour in sunsets

Sunsets are another situation where your Auto White Balance setting might get confused. Your AWB is just doing its job in these situations, but what it will do is try to filter out the rich, red hues of the setting sun.

To capture those tones and really emphasise their splendour, try setting the ‘wrong’ white balance setting. Setting your white balance to Cloudy will instruct your camera to compensate for warmer tones.

SEE MORE: Best camera settings for sunsets

Better colour photos: 07 Alter the saturation

You probably knew that you can adjust the saturation of your colours on the computer, but you can also alter the level of saturation in your images in-camera, as you shoot.

Most cameras will have a picture style or scene mode menu where you can choose a combination of exposure settings designed to enhance the appeal of particular subjects and scenes.

If you select a Landscape mode, for instance, your camera will capture a bright scene full of vivid colours in most situations.

And if you are shooting raw files, you can then enhance these colours even further on the computer.

Better colour photos: 08 Experiment with exposure times

When you under-expose an image slightly, you’ll find that the colour saturation is a bit stronger. And if you’re shooting raw files as per above you’ll find that you can then make adjustments to these slightly darker images that brightens them while retaining the saturation of colour.

Better colour photos: 09 Look for red subjects

Red is a colour that can jump out of an image, captivating the viewer. Other colours like yellow can create drama simply by their inclusion in a composition.

Looking for these colours and thinking about how you can include them in the frame will give you an extra advantage when trying to make eye-catching images.

Better colour photos: 10 When to ditch colour altogether

Sometimes no matter how well you’ve thought about your composition or how thorough you’ve been in setting up your camera or waiting for the right light, the lighting conditions just won’t be suitable for images with strong colour.

However, not all is lost. When the colour isn’t quite right, don’t force it. It might be best to then consider black and white.

Take your image in colour, then convert it to black and white in your photo editing software.

It’s worth remembering that dull lighting conditions don’t automatically make for a good black and white photograph; but sometimes you can find a diamond in the rough.

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