Wrong Colors in Your Photos: Common Problems with Your Photography – Part 3

SpinachThis is part three of the common problems in photography series. In the first part we talked about the problem of overexposed photos and in the second part, we looked at underexposed photograph and their solution. These two problems relate directly to the quantity of light getting in the camera. In this post though, we talk about a different kind of problem.

Getting Wrong Colors

In photography colors play a very important role. Colors communicate a true emotion in a photo. It could be slice of that red tomato or the green lettuce in the salad that may make a dish mouth-watering. If colors are distorted and are different from real life, that food photo quickly becomes unappealing.

This problem of wrong color can be most seen when you are not using natural light. In some cases, the result of not using natural light (and not making necessary adjustments) is that photographs have wrong colors. In some cases, your colors may be tinted towards a certain color (and temperature is changed – more on that later), for example your tomatoes may be slightly green or blue. In some photos colors may be too saturated. These issues make it absolutely necessary to capture the true colors of the subject.

How to Know That Your Colors are Skewed

Now that you know what we mean by getting wrong colors, we need to find a way to identify this problem in our photos. The challenge is not just knowing what this problem is but also to identify it. Identifying wrong colors can be difficult, specially if the difference is very subtle.

Here’s what I do in order to see whether the colors are correct or skewed. I try to find a color anchor. Color anchor is something that you are going to hold to while making the decision with your photos. In simple terms, you look for a baseline or benchmark color that you are familiar with. This anchor could be a plate, or a vegetable in your photo, that has a different color. Hold that one color and verify if that seems to be the right color in real life.

4 Reasons Why Your Photos Have Wrong Colors

So, now that we have talked about identifying skewed colors, lets talk about why this happens. There are four main reason for wrong or skewed colors.

Quality of Light

The most common reason for not getting proper color in photos is the quality of light. Light quality can change the color drastically. In direct sunlight, for example, the colors fade. Tungsten light will make the colors warm. If the sunlight is filtered by the clouds, meaning the weather is cloudy, color are fresh like the grass is greener, specially after rain.

Too Long/Too Short Exposure

Another possible reason for skewed colors is exposure. If the exposure is too long, the photo is too bright, so the colors are washed out. On the other hand, if the exposure is too short, of course the colors are too dark, but at a certain setting colors can be too saturated.

Vibrancy Settings

If you use a DSLR (or even some advanced point and shoot) to take food photos, you can set the quality of colors. You can choose to have soft colors, or vibrant colors, or even black and white. In my experience, combination of these settings and white balance settings can also cause colors to be skewed.

Incorrect Camera Setting

This is more obvious than the previous three. I know when I started few years back, I would always get confused between tungsten and fluorescent bulbs. I would set up the white balance for tungsten/incandescent when I should be actually using fluorescent settings. The colors in the photos were all messed up.

How to Fix The Colors

Now that you know what is causing the color to be skewed, you can guess what you need to do to fix this. Here are some ways to make sure you get right colors:

  1. Adjust Camera Setting for White Balance
  2. Use White Card or Grey Card
  3. Use Daylight Bulbs/Light When Shooting Indoors
  4. Correct Colors in Post Processing
  5. Shoot in Natural Light

We have talked about these 5 ways to get true color in previous post. Below are few more ways to make sure you get right colors.

  1. Adjust Vibrancy to Right Level: When you are ready to take photos, make sure that you have adjusted vibrancy levels. If you are trying to capture soft colors, don’t use “Vibrant Colors” setting and vice-a-versa.
  2. Perfect Exposures: As we talked in the previous section, exposure changes colors too. Make sure that the photo is correctly exposed.
  3. Check Your Setting Before You Shoot: It is always a good idea to check your settings before shooting. So, in this case, make sure your white balance settings are appropriate to the light you are using for taking pictures.

Will You Eat This Ice Cream?

Let’s look at a photo with skewed colors.

Ice Cream with Skewed Colors Ice Cream with Skewed Colors

In this photo, it is very clear that 1) the photo is underexposed 2) the colors are wrong or skewed. So question one: Does this make the icecream unappealing? Let’s look at some more clues in this photo that tell us that the colors are skewed here:

  1. See the plate. This is a white plate. Is it white enough?
  2. Strawberries. What do you think? Is this the real color of strawberries?
  3. General bluish color, specially on the white plate

What do you think? Does color ever make your food unappetizing in photos? What did you do to make it better?

Photo Courtesy: Spinach Cakes from Konstantina (Exei gousto)

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