There are many ways to achieve neutrality in your images. The results they offer are not same. You need to know the differences so you can make better choices and get solutions that are right for you and your images. Explore them and you’ll be more likely to make better choices for your images in the future. Keep exploring them and you’ll open up a world of possibilities within your images.
Lightroom & Camera Raw White Balance Dropper and Sliders
The simplest way to achieve neutrality is to correctly set white balance during Raw conversion, with Lightroom or Camera Raw. Click on the eyedropper tool and click on a target area within the image. It’s that simple.
What’s not so simple is identifying a good target. This will be easy if you photographed a color checker within the image or in a separate exposure at the same time, but few do. If you’re like most photographers you’ll have to identify a good target visually, introducing a margin of error equal to your discernment. Usually the best choices are midtones. This tool also works well with highlights; but they’re more likely to carry color casts that you won’t see at first glance.
After you click on a target, the results can be refined further with the Temperature (blue to yellow) and Tint (green to magenta) sliders.
Remember, you can use Camera Raw as a filter in Photoshop too.
Normal blend mode
Color blend mode
Match Color is Photoshop’s often unfound and overlooked feature that offers such sophisticated results when neutralizing colors that it’s often surprising. Not all colors will be affected equally – and that can be a good thing. Using Match Color is even easier than using Lightroom / Camera Raw’s white balance eye-dropper because you don’t need to click on a target. Simply check the box Neutralize – and leave all the other sliders and drop down menus alone.
Normal blend mode
Color blend mode
Adjust All Three Channels Using Photoshop’s Levels Or Curves
There’s an old school technique that was popular and has been largely forgotten after the advent of Raw files, which don’t have channels.
Basically, using Photoshop, you set a full dynamic range or a black point and white point for each channel – R, G, and B. This technique makes highlights and shadows neutral as well as midtones, which is usually only the case under controlled artificial lighting; nevertheless it can create compelling color relationships even if the shadows and highlights in the original weren’t neutral. Consider these types of color relationships idealized; they more closely match ideas of color than their reality.
It doesn’t matter whether you use Levels or Curves, they’re capable of doing the same things, but I prefer interface of Levels for this technique. Alternately you could look at the Histogram palette while using Curves.
Don’t start with the master channel RGB, instead start with single channels, R, G, and B. It doesn’t matter whether you start from the top and move down or the bottom and move up; just make sure you set a black point and white point in each separate channel by sliding over the triangles to the point where the main mass of the histogram starts. Don’t move the midpoint on these separate channels – or you’ll introduce a color cast. Instead, after setting black and white points in the individual channels, move to the master channel RGB and use the midpoint slider there, which will adjust the brightness of all three channels equally, without introducing a color cast.
If an image has near black or white information it’s likely this will be clipped. You can get it back by changing the blend mode of the adjustment or adjustment layer to Color. Then make a subsequent separate brightness or contrast adjustment with Curves.
A variation on this technique is using the black and white eyedroppers in Levels or Curves, but once again, if you’re not careful with these you’re likely to clip values. So be careful when you use them.
While it’s not the right tool for the job when there are major color casts to remove, Photoshop’s Selective Color is exceptionally useful for fine-tuning neutrals when all the other colors are looking good. Remember, all the other methods of adjusting neutrals adjust all the colors, in theory improving them. But for those rare times when they’re good to go and neutral colors still need a little clean up, Selective Color works wonders. Make a Selective Color adjustment (preferably as an adjustment layer) and use the drop down menu to select Neutrals. You can work more magic with Whites and Blacks. For adjusting neutrals (and only for neutrals) stick to the C, M, and Y sliders as Black adjusts the brightness, which is better done with Curves.
Remember, every one of these color adjustment methods can be used either to remove a color cast and neutralize an image – or do the opposite if you’re not careful. Success lies in the ways you apply them. So take a little care when you use them.
Once again, every one of these techniques can be used to neutralize an image, yet they all produce different results, sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically. So explore your options before you settle on a final solution. If you do, you’re likely to find some very pleasant surprises.
Read more on Color Adjustment here.
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