White balance and color corrections are basic image adjustments you’d expect to find in any photo-editing application, so let’s see how they are applied in Exposure X.
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We’ll use this interior shot of a boutique hotel as an example because it has some very serious color issues caused my the mixed lighting. The strong blue/purple lighting in the original is part of the hotel’s color scheme, but what if we were asked to produce a ’neutral’ version? Is it even possible with a color cast this extreme?
1. Start with the white balance
White balance adjustments are a lot more successful if you start with a RAW file, because these retain the full color information captured by the camera sensor. The Exposure X Basic panel shows the temperature and tint values embedded in the RAW file, but we can change these – and in this case, the white balance eyedropper looks the best solution.
2. Choose a ’neutral’ area
With the white balance eyedropper selected you can move it around the image as you choose a neutral area to click on. Unusually, Exposure X shows a preview of the correction even before you click. I’ve chosen an area of tiling on the wall, still showing wit the strong blue/purple cast under the eyedropper, but already Exposure X is showing how the image will look if I click on this (which I do).
3. Add a layer for the color correction
Even with the white balance ‘corrected’ as best it can be (none of the other areas in this picture offered a better target for the eyedropper), the picture still has a strong yellow cast, so I’m going to try to fix this by swapping to the Color panel. Before I do this, though, I create a new Adjustment Layer. It’s a quirk of Exposure X that the Color adjustment won’t take account of the changed white balance setting if I work on the original layer.
4. Selective saturation reduction
The Color panel does something a white balance adjustment can’t. It lets you adjust individual color ranges – and in this case I select the Saturation tab in the Detailed Adjustments panel, and then click on the small direct adjustment gadget just to the right of the ‘Luminance’ label. Now, if I click and drag downwards on an intense yellow area of the scene, it reduces the saturation for that specific color range.
5. Masking the roof panel
That’s actually worked rather well and the whole interior now looks a lot more neutral – but this adjustment has knocked some of the color out of that beautiful stained glass roof panel. But I can fix that. First, I click on the masking brush tool at the top of the Tools panel. This opens the mask options, where I select the Eraser – I’ll also adjust the brush settings to make the brush medium sized and quite soft.
6. Copying a mask
Now I can paint freehand over the skylight to mask out the color adjustment and restore the original color – the masked areas appear as black on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel. So that’s counteracted the saturation adjustment – but can I also remove the white balance adjustment from this area? Yes, that’s easy! I can right-click on the mask, choose Copy Mask, then right-click on the layer below where I made the white balance adjustment and choose Paste Mask.
7. The mask overlay
This screenshot shows the mask as a red overlay. The red areas are affected by the adjustment, while the clear areas are masked. The stained glass skylight now has the original uncorrected colors.
8. Final adjustments
Very often, you only get a proper sense of an image’s tonal properties and its potential when you’ve finished correcting the colors. In this case, I can see that I’ve got the overall color rendition much closer to neutral than I ever expected – and the image can now stand a substantial Exposure increase to make it much brighter and more airy. I’ve also increased the Contrast, increased the Vibrance and brought down the Highlights a little.
How far can you push color adjustments?
There are limits, even with RAW files. The strong color cast in my shot pushed the white balance adjustments in Exposure X right up against the buffers – there was only just enough information in the RAW file to ‘neutralise’ the colors. The Color panel, however, offers another layer (figuratively as well as literally) of adjustment, helping to neutralise lighting with a strong spectrum ‘peak’ – artificial lighting doesn’t just shift the spectrum, it can also distort it, so it can be a very useful additional adjustment.
This was an extreme example. The Color panel can also be extremely useful for regular outdoor photography, for shifting specific hues with subtle and selective adjustments.