It’s Autumn here in England and the oranges are simply divine but sometimes it is worth enhancing the colours to really make an image stand out. BUT and this is a big but, if you are going to do it you need to do it correctly. I have seen an increasing abundance of orange photos with ‘halos’ around the subjects or even orange grass as the photographer has tried to make the image seem more autumnal but it really isn’t a good look., and looks rather unprofessional.
So how is it done correctly? What gives the best most natural effect? Well the best method depends on what software you have available to you but today I will cover Lightroom
Firstly lets start with the above image that is distinctively autumnal already and lets see what we can do with it, and whether in fact we should!
There are three simple changes that create similar results and are applied to the whole images. The first is ‘split toning’ the image. Here I have applied an orange hue to the highlights then a milder orange to the shadows. The second is adding an orange overlay to the entire image using the adjustment brush tool. Both these first two methods you can play with the selected colours to try and get the best possible result. The last edit is simply altering the colour balance of the image. By increasing the yellow component the image takes on a much more distinctive orange hue. The problem with all three of these edits though is that they look fake to varying degrees. The horse and the grass are now orange which is not realistic. This is the type of change I see quite regularly. On it’s own it can easily be missed just how orange the image has become.
Next up using the adjustment brush tool I have painted an orange layer over the trees. The image looks a bit more natural than the previous edits above as the horse and grass are their natural colours now, but the tones of the trees are quite unnatural. Also because the change is quite significant because in Lightroom it is hard to edit defined edges there is a ‘halo’ around the horse created where the colour tapers, and also I often see bits being missed. In this image I have purposefully left the bits between the horse’s legs to illustrate. You can also see a section of the grass to the right of the horse where the adjustment brush has overlapped resulting in orangey/yellow grass.
My fith version is a variation of a previous edit. This time I have adjusted the white balance again, but instead of the whole image I have used the adjustment tool brush to only change the trees. I have also only done a smaller less dramatic change. Because it is a smaller change it is easier to disguise a halo and overall the tones look more natural than the orange overlay. This edit could easily now pass as natural as long as care was taken to prevent a halo.
The last change option is changing the saturation levels for individual colours. This is normally my favoured option as it only enhances colours in a scene it doesn’t change them. I have increased the saturation on the oranges and yellows only. The only time this edit type doesn’t work is if the horse is chestnut or your client has particularly tanned skin. An alternative in that scenario would be, using the adjustment brush, to increase the saturation in specific areas of the image but this would increase the saturation of all the colours in those areas not just the oranges/yellow.
Overall personally I prefer slightly more muted tones and I’m generally adverse of adding colours that didn’t already exist in an image as it generally looks quite fake. Subtle white balance or saturation changes can enhance an image, but if you are finding yourself making large wholesale changes I would be questioning if that is the right decision. If in doubt as to how far you are taking changes always go back and compare your edit to the original. Edits on their own often look passable but when compared to the original look very over the top.