6 Ways to Get Great Colors in Your Photos Without Photoshop

by Ryan Libre Aug 24, 2010
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1. Use a polarizer filter.

Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido is the largest national park in Japan. All images courtesy Ryan Libre.

A polarizer filter takes away reflections when used at the right angles. By cutting out the reflection you can see the “true” colors. These colors can be more vivid than the human eye can see, but are very real. It especially works great on leaves, the sky, water, and skin tones.

2. Underexpose a little or a lot.

The Kachin Independence Army has been fighting for freedom from the Burmese military Junta since 1961. All images courtesy Ryan Libre.

Your camera’s built-in metering system tends to err on the side of lighter exposures. This leaves colors looking faded or washed out. If you underexpose your images the colors will be much richer. Try -2/3rds of a stop.

3. Adjust your in-camera saturation level.

If it’s an overcast day and you know the colors might be a little dull, you can adjust your in-camera saturation. Most every camera has this option. This has two advantages over photoshopping it later. One is you can see the colors in front of you and can select a more “real” saturation level than you can looking at your monitor in an office abstracted from the context of the photograph. The other benefit is that it just saves time.

4. Use your white balance.

The Manau Dance is the central festival that binds all Kachins together. The Kachins sing and dance for 3 days at the Mykitna Manau Festival. All images courtesy Ryan Libre.

Your in-camera white balance is an amazing tool for correcting different lighting and adding mood to your photos. Try taking a portrait on cloudy and auto, and you will see your camera auto WB generally shoots on the blueish side of the spectrum. Good use of white balance can improve a photo’s colors immensely.

5. Switch your color space.

Jo Jandai’s new adobe house. Jo Jandai and others started the Pun Pun center for self reliance outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. All images courtesy Ryan Libre.

Your camera is set by default to SRGB, which only shows the colors visible on the web. If you switch to Adobe RGB, the color gamut is much wider and your camera can capture a larger variety of colors.

6. Shoot at optimal times of the day / year.

For example, if you want great fall colors, take your shots on just the right day and at just the right time. You will get amazing colors in your photos and the pleasure of seeing them with your eyes as well.

*If your goal is to be a travel photographer, the MatadorU Travel Photography program has the resources you’re looking for.

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