Ask what adjustment they think of when they hear “color correction in Photoshop” and most people will answer “Curves”. Nothing wrong with that, I pretty much always use it myself, either alone or in combination with another adjustment. For some reason, though, when asked the same question, will burst forth with the answer “Color Balance” ; I’m not sure why because, even though they may not work on every color problem (but what does?), Color Balance adjustments are fast, kind of fun and work great, especially in conjunction with a curves adjustment or two!
Let’s look at this image for instance. Granted, it doesn’t have a terrible color cast, more of a slightly yellow haze, but it’s definitely not all it could be. Color Balance lets you adjust the primary colors, the additive primaries, red, green and blue, and the subtractive primaries, those made by combining the primaries: red + green =yellow; green + blue= cyan and red + blue=magenta. Color Balance is a little like a non-destructive version of Variations, with the extra added benefit of you being totally in control!
Also, like Variations, you can work on the Shadows, Midtones and Highlights independently of each other, but with a much better all-around result. You can adjust the tones in whatever order you like, just keep in mind that if you switch to another image and come back, for whatever reason, the program switches back to the default, Midtones. It’s a good idea just to keep an eye on that setting.
All you do with Color Balance is move the sliders to the left and right and discern which adjustments look better to you. That’s it! You can go back and do more whenever you like, unless you access the Color Balance panel through Image > Adjustments > Color Balance, or Ctrl/Cmd +B. In that case you need to make a duplicate layer specifically for the adjustment as it’s destructive and works on the image itself, and you can’t go back and readjust later.
Talk about a simple adjustment! What could be easier? But there’s something else that can make it even better, a good old Curves Adjustment! Here’s another image with a slightly green cast.
Make the visual adjustments as before:
Then add a Curves Adjustment, using the black and white eyedroppers on the darkest and lightest points. If it’s too bright, bring the opacity of the Curves layer down to between 50 and 75%. This image now looks like it was taken today!
Now we know it works great on light color casts, but what about heavier casts? This image has a heavy red/yellow cast. Let’s see what Color Balance can do for it.
First, go through all the tonal adjustments. A heavy cast may take a step or two more, so don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Just go for a decent visual adjustment.
Now add a Curves Adjustment, using the black and white droppers on the darkest and lightest points.
If it’s too bright, which this is, and here’s the beauty of adjustment layers, go back and tweak the Color Balance adjustments!
Yet another color correction tool to try, Color Balance is sure to be a keeper in your digital restoration took kit!
Below find a small before/after gallery of images lightened, brightened and corrected using Color Balance:
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