Many times we see these before and afters that look something like this:
And we’re all like OMG that is AMAZING and you’re a fabulous editor – Photoshop is amazing! I’ll be honest I do it too!!! Yes – Photoshop IS amazing but I’ve seen so much emphasis on this that many people and photographers believe it’s JUST the software. It isn’t.
I receive a lot of emails weekly from other photographers asking about my shooting and editing techniques. I recently had one person who really upset me. They asked me about my editing, what actions I use, etc. When I told them I don’t really do much editing they basically told me I’m a liar because we have the same cameras and our photos don’t look the same.
Shortly after this email exchange I was at this shoot and took an Instagram photo of my LCD screen:
Notice something strange? It looks nothing like my before photo above. OK, I faked that before picture for this exercise BUT I have gotta before photos that LOOK like that photo. And the answer is really two words. White balance and exposure.
Now this tutorial is going to explain how to FIX exposure and white balance. I HIGHLY recommend practicing and getting it right in camera because although these steps are simple – getting it right in camera is even easier. I currently use Kelvin for white balance and check my histogram for exposure. I also know that we may have pictures where we just plain messed up and want them to look nice OR we see these amazing before and afters and get discouraged. Don’t get discouraged. Many, many of those before photos are because they shoot on auto white balance and fix it in Photoshop. I sometimes do that too and I sometimes take an underexposed or overexposed photo. Happens to everyone. As much as getting it right in camera is what we strive for sometimes it just doesn’t happen and that’s where Photoshop will come to the rescue!
White balance. This is the green/magenta and blue/yellow that make up your image. Improper white balance will make a beautiful image yucky. Lucky you if you shoot in RAW it’s an easy fix. The harder part about fixing white balance is judging skin tones to find the proper balance. There are very helpful devices out there to combat this headache inducing I want to scream and punch my computer screen syndrome. I started with a Whibal gray card – I used it until I learned to see the colors properly. Now I don’t really use it as I can see proper white balance (typically).
Exposure is how light or dark your image is. An underexposed image will tend to have a bluish hue. If you don’t fix your exposure first you will have a hard time with white balance because you think you’re fixing blue (well, you ARE fixing blue) but you should be fixing exposure too.
HERE WE GO
So here is my fake underexposed, bad white balance photo along with the settings on the right
The first thing someone may do is think to themselves “OK, this photo is blue – I need to add yellow”. No. First thing you want to do is adjust your exposure.
Since I actually took a properly exposed image and underexposed it for this tutorial I just adjusted it back up a stop. The image above is underexposed by about a stop. You want your histogram (that thingy at the top) to be all spread out representing highlights through shadows. I am not getting into teaching histograms because I’m too lazy but what you basically want is the colors to stretch all the way from left to right without empty spaces on the sides. See how in the above image the right side is empty? Click the arrow at the top right and play with exposure – slide the exposure button to the right. See all that red on your photo now? That’s showing you what part of your photo is OVEREXPOSED. We don’t want this. In the above photo I fixed the exposure to produce this pretty picture:
So now you may be thinking to yourself “OK, it’s better but its still really blue.” Yes, you are quite observant. I haven’t fixed the white balance yet.
Next I’m going to play with the yellow/blue and magenta/green sliders until the color looks good. This is where a WhiBal card comes in handy if you don’t trust yourself to just eyeball it.
With my WhiBal card I would just have the person hold it in each setting. Each time we moved to a location i would have them hold it and i would snap a photo. I didn’t do the whole custom set in camera because again, I’m a bit lazy and this works just as well. If you have a WhiBal card you can open the image with it AND your image at the same time in RAW. You grab the eyedropper tool at the top, click on the WhiBal card and it will set the proper color. You then highlight that photo and the rest and click Synchronize – White Balance. BAM – proper white balance.
Now you have this (my original SOOC):
From here to my final image is not as OMG that’s AMAZING as the original image may have evoked but I promise it’s just as interesting. That tutorial will be posted next Thursday. Be sure to become a fan on Facebook to be kept up to date with the going’s on.
If you have any questions please leave them as a comment and I hope to be able to answer them all!