Join Tim Grey for an in-depth discussion in this video Achieving a neutral gray, part of Learning Color Correction in Photoshop (2013).
More often than not, I'd prefer to adjust color in my images based on a visual evaluation. In other words, I'm just looking at the image and trusting my eyes to ensure I'm getting the best color possible. Usually that means accurate color, but at least I'll be achieving the most pleasing color, or so I hope. But sometimes I would like a little extra help to ensure that I'm getting a neutral value for certain areas of the photo. For example, here we have a cruise ship under cloudy skies. The scene was certainly a bit cool.
The color tones were a little bit toward the cyans and blues. But I must not of had the best color temperature setting established on my camera because the color is looking pretty off. Now, I know the cruise ship is white and even though there were relatively cool conditions, I'd like that ship to appear neutral. In other words white or a bright shade of gray at least. Let's take a look at how we can use information from the image, to determine how much of an adjustment we really need and in what direction we need to take that adjustment. I'll start off by bringing up the Info panel, I'll go to the Window menu and then choose Info. Note that you can also press F8 to bring up the Info panel. And with that panel pulled up, you'll see that as I move my mouse over the image, I'm able to view RGB values at the top left of the Info panel for the specific pixel that is under my mouse right now.
So, you can see for example, that the red value is relatively low, the green value is a little bit high and we can think of the blue value as sort of the middle value. And so, with a low red value, of course we have a little bit of cyan and with a high green value, we have a bit of green. So, we have a sense already of which direction we might want to take our adjustments. However, I'd like to take things a bit further, I'd like to be able to refine my adjustment while I'm observing values on the Info panel and for that I'm going to use a color sampler. So, I'll go to the toolbox and click and hold my mouse over the Eyedropper tool, that will bring up a fly out menu, and from that menu I will choose the Color Sampler tool.
I'll then move my mouse out over the image and I'll click in an area that I would like to establish as a neutral value. In this case, just the side of the ship. I think I'll also click to add an additional Color Sampler up at the bow in this slightly darker area, where there's some shadow. Just so I can monitor a couple of values at the same time. Now, if you look on the Info panel you'll see that I have an indication for both of those color samplers that I placed on the image. And so, I'll be able to evaluate those numbers in real time as I'm applying my adjustment.
In this case, a color balance adjustment is called for so, I'll go to the Layers panel and down at the bottom I'll click on the half black half white circle icon. The Add Adjustment Layer button and choose Color Balance from the pop up menu that appears. At this point, you'll notice that I have two values for each of those color samplers on the Info panel. The values to the left are the before values, the values that I started with and the values to the right are the after values, the values based on the adjustment that I'm applying. Of course at the moment, for both of these color samplers we see the exact same values.
Because I've not yet applied an adjustment. But let's go ahead and get started with that adjustment. We can see that the red value is a little bit low compared to the other values. Now, to achieve a neutral gray result, I need all three of these values to be the same. And so, I need to increase the value for red, and to do that of course, I'll simply drag the cyan red slider over toward the right. To establish a positive value, which will increase the amount of red in the image. And as I do so, you can already see that we're getting a more neutral result.
In this case, I'll bring the red value up to a level that matches the blue value, and then I'm going to bring the green level down to match. So, at the moment, I have 138 established for both red and blue and I just need to reduce the green value down to 138 as well. You will notice for my second color sampler, the red and blue values also match in this case with a value of 61, since the second color sample is in a slightly darker area. So, I'm ready to bring down the green value and that means shifting the color a little bit toward magenta.
It shouldn't take too much of an adjustment. But as I shift the slider over to the left, you'll notice that the red and blue values are also changing. And that's making it a little bit difficult to establish a neutral value. It's a little bit more difficult to achieve a balance, when all three values are changing at the same time. The reason for that is that I have the Preserve Luminosity check box turned on. And that means that, while I'm only adjusting a single slider affecting a single channel for the image, Photoshop is adjusting all three channels in order to maintain the perceived luminosity for the overall image.
So, to make my job of adjusting the color to achieve a neutral value a little easier, I'm going to turn off the Preserve Luminosity check box. At this point now we can see that our values for red and blue still match for the initial color sampler that I added, and I just need to reduce the value for green, in other words, shift toward magenta. And now you'll notice that only that one value is being affected, only the green value in this case. So, at this point I've achieved a neutral gray for this side of the ship but I've not achieved a neutral gray for the shadow area at the bow of the ship. You can see that the blue value is a little bit higher then the red value and that the green value is lowest of all.
And that indicates that that shadow area is a little bit magenta, it has a little bit of a purplish tint to it. But of course shadows are often going to reflect some relatively cool values. And bear in mind also that that bow is at an angle where it's going to pick up reflections from the water. And the water of course in turn is picking up reflections from the sky and with that cloud cover, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a bit of magenta. And so, in this case I think the side of the ship is the better area to evaluate in terms of achieving a perfectly neutral value.
Now, of course just because that area is neutral, doesn't mean it should be neutral. Perhaps I want to take things a little bit of a step further, maybe I want to warm things up a little bit. In many cases, when I'm trying to achieve a neutral gray value in an image, I'll then decide that I don't want it to be perfectly neutral. But establishing that value as a perfectly neutral value, gives me a very good starting point. So, I might want to for example, shift a little bit toward yellow just to warm up the image a little bit, shifting away from that perfectly neutral value.
But having started there with a neutral gray, I have a much better starting point and therefore it will be a little bit easier to achieve the result I'm looking for.
- Configuration considerations
- Understanding and evaluating color
- Foundations of color adjustment
- Balancing a specific color
- Eliminating a problem color
- Recovering color detail
- Neutralizing highlights and shadows
- Whitening and brightening
- Using an adjustment layer to paint in a correction