Color casts remains a common issue even though modern cameras are getting better at neutralizing it, and allow you to change the White Balance. It might not always be prominent but even a slight cast can be enough to distract the viewer from the image. Thus, making it less impressive.
There are certainly times where a slight color cast can look good. For example, a warm orange glow in a sunset photograph. However, it’s better to manually add this in post-processing or by deliberately using a warmer White Balance in the camera.
The unwanted color cast that comes from the camera, or perhaps Neutral Density filters, is often less appealing and has a grungy feel to it. This is something you want to avoid.
In this article, we’ll look at 3 ways to remove a color cast in Photoshop. These are all fairly easy techniques and won’t take more than a few simple clicks to apply. The before and after, however, can be huge.
Method #1: Remove color cast using a Levels Adjustment Layer
The Levels Adjustment Layer is a tool that can be used for many purposes. Those who are familiar with Photoshop might use it to adjust the contrast. What many don’t know, is that it’s also an easy way to remove the color cast.
This technique requires a bit of trial and error but once you get the hang of it, you’ll see how powerful it is. Let’s get straight to it and see how you can remove color cast using the Levels Adjustment Layer:
- Open a Levels Adjustment Layer
- Change the Channel to Red (Click the arrow next to RGB and select Red from the drop-down menu)
- Take the left knob (that controls the darks) and pull it towards the right until it meets the left edge of the histogram (skip this step if the histogram touches the left-side wall)
- Grab the right knob (that controls the highlight) and pull it left until it meets the right edge of the histogram
- Change the channel to Green and repeat step 3 and 4
- Change the channel to Blue and repeat step 3 and 4
These few steps should have removed the worst of the color cast. Not too difficult, right?
I find this method to do an acceptable job in most situations. You might notice that in addition to neutralizing the worst color cast, it also introduces some additional contrast.
If there’s still a color cast and you’re not satisfied, you can go back into the Levels Adjustments Layer and adjust the middle knob (controlling the Midtones) for each of the channels. This is where you need to experiment a little. Which direction you pull the knob depends on the specific image.
As mentioned, this technique requires some trial and error but once you get the hang of it and understand how the colors of the different channels work, it has the potential to do a great job.
Method #2: Use the Match Color adjustment
In situations where the color cast is very dominant, such as in the example image from this article, the Match Color technique does the best job.
Best of all? It’s an easier technique that only requires three mouse clicks! Let’s go through the three steps involved:
- Go to Image -> Adjustments -> Match Color
- In the window that appears, check the box for Neutralize
- Click OK
Done! It can’t get much easier than this.
This took only a few seconds and, as you can see from the before/after below, the difference is extraordinary. This technique has removed nearly all of the blue color cast and taken the image closer to what I saw with my own eyes.
The image used in this example had a dominant blue color cast caused by the use of a cold white balance but the actual sunrise was more colorful than the image suggests. Neutralizing the color cast failed to bring back some of the oranges and reds I saw. To fix this, I made a few extra adjustments to the Luminance and Color Intensity sliders.
Adjusting these two sliders helped reintroduce some color and life into the image. Both the saturation and brightness was increased slightly
You can achieve similar effects by using other color management techniques in Photoshop but why not keep it simple? At least when it does such an impressive job.
You normally won’t need to make the additional adjustments. Simply clicking the ‘Neutralize’ box is enough in most cases. This just proves that playing around with various sliders can be a good way to learn and, from time to time, it can make big improvements to the photo.
Method #3: Remove color cast using the Nik Software plugin
The third method to remove a color cast in Photoshop is to purchase and install the Nik Color Efex Pro 4 plugin by DxO. It’s no longer a free plugin but it’s still one that I recommend every photographer to install. Nik Collection 3 includes several plugins that will be useful in your post-processing workflow.
An advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require the use of Photoshop. The Nik Collection can be used as a plugin in Adobe Lightroom as well!
Removing a color cast in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 is just as quick and easy as the previous methods we looked at. It only requires a few simple steps:
- Open Nik Color Efex Pro 4 (from either Photoshop or Lightroom)
- Find Remove Color Cast filter in the left-side navigation and click it
- You’ll now find two new sliders on the right-side: Color and Strength
- Adjust the Color slider until you find a color that neutralizes the color cast
- Adjust the Strength slider until you’re happy with the result (the stronger the color cast the more strength you need)
It might take some trial and error to find the best values in the Colors slider. Pulling the slider too far in either direction can intensify the color cast instead of neutralizing it. As a rule of thumb, a cold color cast is neutralized by using a warm color, and vice versa.
You’ll find a few other tools in Nik Color Efex Pro that also can be used to remove color cast. For example, the Pro Contrast filter includes a slider named Correct Color Cast. This does a good job but the method shown above is more flexible and tends to give more accurate results.
Global vs Local Color Management
The three techniques above are easy, flexible, and relatively accurate methods to remove color cast in Photoshop.
But there’s one additional thing that’s important to understand: the difference between global and local color management.
This is a slight digression from how to remove color casts but it’s an important subject still on the same topic.
The techniques we used in this article are global adjustments. That means the adjustment is visible throughout the entire image.
Most images require a certain degree of global adjustments but it’s not always the ideal solution. Keep in mind that colors and light changes throughout and the camera isn’t always able to capture these differences.
So, in some cases, you want to keep the color cast in specific areas of an image. It actually benefits the image. Shadow areas often look better when there’s a slight blue color cast present. A warm cast in the shadow quickly looks unnatural
The best way to remove color casts from specific areas is to use Luminosity Masks or manual Layer Masks. You can use these to remove the corrections after applying the color cast techniques. This is a much more accurate and visually pleasing method of removing the color cast.
A layer mask can be easily added to the layers created in the methods above so I urge you to experiment with using one. Again, this allows you to manually remove the color correction (adjustment) from the places you want to keep the color cast.
Even though digital cameras are becoming smarter and we have the opportunity to make in-camera changes to colors and white balance, it’s not uncommon to have dominant color casts in our photos. This can be caused by the light and the camera’s inability to process it, or by the use of Neutral Density filters or wrong white balance settings.
Whatever the cause is, it’s something we want to avoid. Luckily, removing color cast in Photoshop is quick and painless. It only takes a few clicks!
There are many different techniques and most give similar results. Your most important job is to find the one that fits best into your post-processing workflow.
Color casts aren’t always bad, though. Sometimes they can help emphasize the mood in an image. In those cases, it’s better to apply color adjustments through a Layer or Luminosity Mask.
What’s your preferred method of removing color cast? Let us know in a comment below!