Color correction in photography

In a previous photo tip entry, Unsentpostcards commented about those “all-knowing” photographers who over-glorify using the creative zone who end up “fixing” their photos in photoshop anyway. And that made me think about why use Photoshop at all. I use Photoshop. I crop, correct colors, add my signature… But not to alter. Meaning? Okay, let me backtrack a little.

When I was still using an analog SLR (you know, FILM), I always lamented how photo processing often ruined colors. With Columbia, for instance (we used to go a lot to the Cubao branch), the photos were too blue. With Fuji, they were too green. Cheap chemicals. Mass production. Express processing. The only place where photos didn’t get ruined was Kameraworld in Shangri-La. Considering that, like all other customers, I paid per piece of photo, well, imagine the cost. Of course, there were times when I complained and refused to pay for all those discolored photos. Some services addressed complaints and willingly redid the job. But not all. The worst services — those manned by badly trained people — always gave me a hard time. Only threats of legal action solved the issue. I mean, when you’re a new parent and you have baby pics — things that you want to immortalize — it just doesn’t seem wise to settle for pics of a green or blue baby, right? Like most people, I wanted a faithful reproduction of the image that I captured.

When I switched to digital photography, photo editors did what those photo processing services couldn’t. Let me illustrate.

Speedy cooked these potatoes with hoisin sauce one night and brought it up to the blue room. The overhead light in the blue room is yellow. Even after adjusting the white balance setting to remove the yellow hues, I still came up with too-yellow photos. hoisin-potatoes-1

How yellow? That bowl is white. Does it look white in the photo? Obviously, I couldn’t post that photo in my food blog because that wasn’t how the potatoes really looked. So, Photoshop to the rescue. hoisin-potatoes-1

Sometimes, it takes just a few clicks. First, I cropped the photo to get rid of too much white space. Then, on the Photoshop menu, I chose Image » Adjustments » Auto Levels. Then, I again chose Image » Adjustments » Curves and brightened the too-dark photo.

Now note that I didn’t alter the subject of the photo. I simply used tools to achieve its most natural appearance.

Second example, this bowl of salmon head soup with tamarind paste and miso. That’s the original photo below. Again, the bowl is white. But it doesn’t look white, does it? salmon-head-soup-1

This time, the Auto Levels function didn’t work. So, on the Photoshop menu, I chose Image » Adjustments » Color Balance. color-balance

The three sliders change the value of the initial zeroes in the three boxes. The problem with the photo was that it was too yellow, so I moved the slider away from yellow and towards blue with a value of 20.

To brighten up the too-dark photo, I adjusted the curves. On the Photoshop menu, that’s Image » Adjustments » Color Balance. curves

Drag the diagonal line upward, the photo turns brighter. Drag it downward and the photo becomes darker. That’s how far upward I dragged the line. contrast

Then, as a final touch to remove the washed out appearance. I adjusted the contrast. On the Photoshop menu, that’s Image » Adjustments » Brightness/Contrast. Drag the slider or manually type a value in the box. salmon-head-soup-1

And the photo above is the result.

So, while many photographers use photo editing tools to create something unreal, I prefer to use Adobe Photoshop to create an image that best represents the natural forms and colors of the subject of my photos.


  1. says

    I mainly use Photoshop for processing my photos, mainly color correction, sharpening and adding a little more contrast.

    But nowadays, it’s Adobe Lightroom, it’s like Photoshop sharpened for purely image processing.

          • says

            I like taking food photos during midday. Lunchtime baga. I always end up with yellowish photos (like your first photo above) kapag gabi na. Once or twice I tried corecting the colors but just couldn’t get it right.
            What I always do for every picture I post: decrease the image size to 450pixels and add contrast (7 to 10 will do). All done in less than a minute.

          • says

            I run a photography business in Newport Beach, California. I am looking for someone who has experience with Lightroom (specifically color correction) and experience in Photoshop would be helpful (but not necessary). I saw your blog and website and like your work.

            The person would not need to have lightroom on their computer – only an Internet connection as the person would be working from a remote desktop. So, they would just need to log onto the site and edit the pictures remotely.

            Please let me know if you or someone you know has such experience.
            This is not a scam. The wages in Newport Beach are very high. I’m simply trying to find a way to lower my costs and provide someone with an opportunity to make some steady money.


            You can check out the website at
            Please forward this to someone you think is qualified and is looking for work.

  2. Svetlana says

    thank you for this lesson, it’s very usefull! A little note if you don’t mind. In this sentence:
    ___To brighten up the too-dark photo, I adjusted the curves. On the Photoshop menu, that’s Image » Adjustments » Color Balance____ – the last menu command is Curves not Color Balance. It’s shown on your next picture. I guess it’s just a typo.