Color Correction without a Spyder

I have seen a few people on Facebook and the likes asking about color correction and vibrancy.  These things are interesting subjects on their own but can cause a lot of drama together as well. Before I get into how I color correct an image in Photoshop without any added software please remember that sometimes a “color correct image” is not as good as an “incorrect color image.”  This is the case in things like Infrared photos that turn out quite red/orange normally out of the camera and also on occasion a visible light spectrum image that seems week or uninteresting at first can be made to be interesting with false color.  De-saturation is good and can be used to change the feel of an image. Much the same as an over saturated one.  I am not a magazine photographer by any stretch of the imagination. My work is at best compared to theirs, outlandish but would you compare Bill Henson to Andy Warhol?

Still want to be color correct all the time?

Now that’s out of the road lets get down to the nitty gritty.

Photoshop color correction is rather simple and can even be done on a black and while screen if you know what you should be doing. Each image should have a “true black” and a “true white” value in them at some point. These values ensure you have a good dynamic in your image and are a great way to correct the color in your image. So how do you use this to correct?

Step 1 – Open a Curves or  Levels layer. Once open you will see A black slider and a White slider. (little arrows at the bottom of your graph.) If you click on the sliders you will get numbers underneath them. These are important to change if you want true black found within a printers capability. Printers can not print at a ‘0’ value or a ‘255’ value. So you must change the values. On a levels layer you simply change the value that says ‘0’ to ‘5’ and the one that says ‘255’ to ‘250’. On a levels layer you need to click the slider and then change the input and output to ‘5’ for black and ‘250’ for white. Clipping the values by 5 allows for the printing color to be correct.  Refer to below.

Where to find the curves layer shortcut and the sliders to change the range of color in a photo.

Where to find the curves layer shortcut and the sliders to change the range of color in a photo.

Step 2 – The colors correction step it’s self. On the left there are 3 eye droppers. Eye droppers are used to “sample” a color or tone. In this case we are going to use them to Sample from our “true white” and “true black” places on our image.  The easiest way to figure out where to find a value is to find the brightest highlight and darkest shadow. The spot between closed legs is almost always true black if they have black pants. Pupils in the eye are another great one. For true white look for things like the shine on hair or the reflection of your softbox in the eyes.

So now you know your “true values” click your black dropper (top one of the 3) and hold down the ALT (PC) COMMAND (MAC) key while hovering over your image. The image will go very funny colors but don’t panic. The true black will appear to be the darkest color on your picture now. If you need to zoom in to make sure you sample the right pixel don’t be afraid to. Your zoom in shortcuts will not remove your eye dropper tool. Once this is done your image may look a little funny but that’s ok as it will be fixed when you use the lowest dropper or white dropper in the same way. This time when you mouse over with your modifier key to get that funny looking image you are looking for the brightest point of the image to sample from. Use the images below for assistance on what you should expect.

The black and white eye dropper locations on a curves layer.

The black and white eye dropper locations on a curves layer.

A view of how the ALT/COMMAND button will change view in dropper mode.

A view of how the ALT/COMMAND button will change view in dropper mode.


That’s all there is to it. I want to remind you that not all photos need or even should be color corrected. Some images are better with artists impressions and false color on them. As I was told many times before you should understand the rule before you break the rule. Also consider making sure your skin tones do not need to have an additional color correction layer on them to keep both them and the background color corrected. Sometimes a flash or reflector will change the balance of your foreground in comparison to your background. Layer masks and an additional layer are friends if this happens.

Consider printing out a Color calibration sheet and having it printed at a print house such as RGB Digital or Arthead (ask and they will send you the file and printed one from their machine)  and manually making sure your colors are correct in your computer to aid your color choices. When manually setting your screen it’s advised to use a daylight globe in the room and set while it’s on. It’s very hard to set a screen in the dark because there is no light hitting the paper so your brain is trying to compensate more while you do it.

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