Saturday, December 04, 2004

Digital Photography & Colour Correction

A comment left on one of my posts earlier by Viv suddenly inspired me to write this quick post on the advantages of colour correcting your digital photos.

The first rule of thumb is to try and take your photograph with the correct exposure and white balance. In real life this doesn't always happen. Amateur Food Photographs usually look better without a flash. Natural daylight is best, but often an impossibility. So what do you do if you spend hours creating your culinary masterpiece, but you just can't get the white balance right? Or what if you're having the meal of a lifetime in the restaurant of your dreams and you are disappointed, later, when all your photos are really dark?

Well, you're probably not going to win any photography prizes, but even excessively dark or colour cast photos can be corrected with the help of some simple-to-use software. A few minutes spent colour correcting can make all the difference to the appearance of the photos on your blog.

I am ashamed to say, I took all of the photos on the left. The first four with a Casio Exilm EX-Z3 and the fifth one with a Canon 20D Digital SLR. To attain the better-looking results on the right, I used Photoshop Elements which is available at around $30. Even the really dark picture in the middle survived with the help of the correction tools. The result may be a little grainy, but definitely usable as a blog insert.

The buttons I use the most in Elements are Enhance -> Auto Levels/Auto Contrast/Auto Color Correction. I might use one, two, or a combination of all three depending on the problems in the original photo. There is no harm in trying them all to see the result, and there is an undo button so you are not going to ruin anything. Always save your colour corrected version with a different name in case you make a mistake.

Other digital photo tools also have Colour Correction facilities, but Photoshop is probably the best. I used ACDSee successfully until we got Elements a couple of weeks ago.

Try it and see what a difference it can make to the look of your pictures!

Digital Photography & Colour Correction


  • At 4/12/04 16:07, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Sam,
    I diligently color correct all of my food photos at Simply Recipes. I use a cheap ($150) FujiFilm FinePix 2M digital camera. With the macro setting on and the flash off I take between 10 and 20 shots of the dish at different angles. It helps having an external spot aimed at the dish. I then pick out the best from iPhoto, move it to Photoshop and adjust the color, contrast, and brightness. I also apply a blur brush to the background to give the illusion of a more focused shot. I use the Save for Web setting to save the file and adjust the jpg quality to get the file size down.

    As you pointed out, turning the flash off makes a big difference. A macro lens setting helps too, so you can get some decent close-ups. Thanks for posting!

    Cheers, Elise

  • At 5/12/04 08:13, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Nice post sam - we should make it reccomended reading to all aspiting winners of the coveted Good Looking Blog of the month award :-) will link to it from IMBB :-) cheers (ronald)

  • At 5/12/04 21:07, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    With some photos, auto color correction can be unpredictable.

    I don't know if Elements have the eyedropper tools in the Levels and Curves controls, but they're a much more precise exposure and color balance control. Just choose the middle eyedropper on the Curves or Levels box, and click on an area on the photo that should be a neutral gray. And presto, the image will automatically be balanced. If it's off, try a different spot.


  • At 5/12/04 22:18, Blogger Sam said…

    Hi Paul

    Yes, Elements does have that facility and I do use it too plus lots of the other features to correct my photos. You are right that the auto functions can be unpredictable sometimes, but they are a good starting point for beginners. I don't spend *too* much time on my blog photos, but I spend more time in photoshop on photos I plan to print.
    thanks for stopping by

  • At 6/12/04 14:42, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've run into similar problems taking photos in dark restaurants, with a Canon PowerShot S500 and Photoshop. I've tried touching up in Photoshop to make photos better, but I've had limited success. In my experience, the advantage I gain from taking a photo without flash often seems to be outweighed by the graininess and loss of focus that results from trying to brighten it with software. Usually if a place is hopelessly dark, I end up just using the flash... I have a full Photoshop version, but I don't really know how to use it. Any of you guys got tips for even more tweaking? :)


  • At 13/1/05 05:23, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great post - full of useful tips! I have a Canon Powershot A80 and have learned by trial and error to take macro shots without flash and just try to pump up the ambient light as much as possible. I have just got Jasc PaintShopPro and am going to have a play around with it as Microsoft Photo Editor is, erm, somewhat limited in its functionality!!


  • At 6/4/05 12:45, Blogger Chef JoAnna said…

    Great suggestions. I often turn off the flash when I'm in restaurants and I want to capture the presentation, but.... well.... then they come out fuzzy because I simply cannot hold the camera still enough! The photos I take at home, I'm lucky enough to be able to open all my windows in my dining room, so there's plenty of natural light. My husband is just tired of eating food that's cold from having been plated over half an hour ago, and I've posed it and tweaked it, turn the lights up, turned the lights back down, turned the plate 30 degrees again and again, sprayed it with Pam for the sheen, and then said, "Here honey... uh, do you want me to microwave this for you?"

    it's HIM, poor thing, who suffers for MY art!


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