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Color correction (and other basic image correction techniques) are a big part of why Photoshop is such a great digital imaging tool. Below I have an example of a photo that just went wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I guess it was at the beginning of the roll or something, because at the bottom of the picture, there is some negative damage (redness—from light bleeding onto the negative). The photo is crooked, and my goodness! It is way too dark!

I used Photoshop 6 for this tutorial, but the techniques illustrated will work with Photoshop 7 and CS as well. (And probably Photoshop 5 & 5.5, and Elements too.)

Disney - before
Before: Truly wretched! Certainly not befitting the Magic Kingdom!
Disney California Adventure - color corrected
A picture taken at Disney's California Adventure (in Anaheim, CA) after color correction.

Measure ToolThe first thing I needed to do was to crop and straighten the picture. (I just decided to crop out the messed-up red "bleed" at the bottom of the picture, since there wasn't much of it anyway.) Cropping was easy (using the Crop tool - press "C") but straightening takes a little more work. The best way I've found is to use the Measure Tool.

Then I take my mouse and drag it along a spot on the picture that I feel should be straight (either horizontal, or vertical). In this case I chose a lamp post. After I draw the straight line along the lamp post, (circled in red below) I immediately go to Image >> Rotate Canvas >> Arbitrary. A menu box will pop up, with an angle number. That is the exact amount of rotation needed to straighten out the picture. So I click "OK", and voilà! The picture is straightened!

Rotate Canvas screenshot

The next thing to do is to set the white and black points. I pick the little white eyedropper icon on the Curves box, and then I find a spot on the photo that I think should be white (I chose the clouds). Then I pick a black point (after clicking on the little black eyedropper) and I am done! The photo looks much better!

Curves Screenshot

I wanted to lighten up the middle tones of the picture some more, so I opened up Levels, and then moved the middle arrow to the left just a bit. That did the trick.

Levels screenshot

That's it. That's all I needed to do to turn this wretched photo into something decent-looking!

It's always best to leave your original image untouched during the correction process, so I used Adjustment Layers to do the Levels and Curves thing. (Layer >> New Adjustment Layer >> Levels). Adjustment layers are great for fixing up your picture, while not actually altering the original image. If you trash an Adjustment Layer gone bad, and your original picture will remain unscathed!

I didn't do any RGB (or CMYK) color adjustments, because I didn't see any drastic need for it in this photo. However, you can do basic color adjustments (like adjusting a photo that has too much of a red cast) by opening Image >> Adjust >> Color Balance (or Command - B [Control - B for PC]). Using an Adjustment Layer for Color Balance is recommended (Adjustment Layers are always a good idea). Use the various color sliders to tweak your image. Color Balance is one of several Photoshop tools used to adjust color casts. (Or, a much more fun way to fix a picture's color is to open Image >> Adjust >> Variations. It is very fun to use, and quite "newbie friendly"!)


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All images and graphics © J.R. Dunster 2001 - 2006

Last Updated: March 30, 2005

Graphics made with Photoshop 7

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