Color management is one of the most difficult aspects of photography to master. Any portrait photographer is well aware of how challenging it can be to consistently produce pleasing skin tones. While we don’t have to worry about skin tones on a German Shepherd, photographing pets can present an entirely new set of editing challenges.
One of the most common mistakes I see in pet photography is when black dogs look a little blue…and I don’t mean that they look sad, they look physically blue.
Thankfully there are some easy ways to fix that! First, let’s try to fix it in camera.
Make sure that you have adequate lighting.
Taking a photograph of a dark subject in a dark room is a recipe for underexposure and noise. In order to attempt to properly expose your subject you will need to raise your ISO. While each camera will vary in the amount of ISO you can use, at some point the higher ISO will introduce both luminance and color noise, which will affect your color management.
Create a proper exposure.
If your image is too underexposed then it will be a challenge to bring the exposure back up in post without your blacks looking contrasty with alternating blocks of deep black and grey. This can happen if you clip some of the blacks, meaning there is no detail in that pixel to bring up in exposure.
Set a custom white balance.
I know that I can get lazy on occasion with setting a custom white balance since it is so easy to fix in post. However, time is money and why not try to get the best image possible directly out of the camera so you have that must less post-processing work. I personally love my ExpoDisc. It’s easy to keep around my neck during a session and only takes a few seconds to change my custom white balance. If you do not have access to a grey card or ExpoDisc then at least set your camera on one of the more specialized white balance settings such as shade or full sun. That will prevent each photo in your session from being a different starting white balance.
“Ok, so we did all of that and my black dog still looks blue!”
Make final adjustments in your editing software.
It’s ok, now it the time to fix it in post. Let’s look at some quick fixes in Lightroom before we go to Photoshop.
The easiest way to account for the blue color cast is to adjust your White Balance to make the image a little bit warmer.
You can see here that the WB adjustment has taken care of the blue hue that Blitz had, although I’m not too crazy about the color of the grass in that warmer image. Let’s try this a different way.
In the develop module, find the HSL/Color/B&W section. Then click on Saturation.
Grab the blue button and slide it to the left, desaturating that color channel.
If you want to see exactly what parts of the image will be desaturated, grab the blue channel and pull it all the way to the right. Then there is no mistaking what you are pulling out of the image.
Unfortunately, Lightroom only supports global Hue/Saturation/Luminance adjustments currently. So if you have blue in the image that you want to keep, such as the owners blue pants or the blue sky you need to pull the image into Photoshop for some targeted adjustments.
I have found that I need to do this often, so I created a handy dandy little action to create my blue removal mask then I just grab my brush and paint with white where I want the blue removed. I highly recommend you do the same if you find yourself starting to see blue EVERYWHERE! Hint: blue is often found in white shirts too!
Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.
Select the dropdown menu named “Master” and select “Blues”
Pull the Saturation Slider all the way to the left.
Command + I to invert the mask to hide all adjustments.
Grab a white paintbrush and paint that blue away.
If it’s too desaturated simply slide the saturation slider a bit to the right to adjust.
Nicole Begley, Pennsylvania
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Nicole is a professional photographer specializing in modern and expressive imagery of pets, equines, and families. She spent 13 years as a zoological animal trainer working with everything from seals, to primates, to free flight birds prior to starting her business in 2010 so pet photography is a great way to combine her love of animals and photography. Nicole lives in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA with her husband, 2 children, and 2 cats.