Home How-To Tip Of The Week Warmer Winter Photos—01/25/10
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Warmer Winter Photos—01/25/10

Top tips for warming up photo color

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Want to stay warm this winter? Wear a sweater and double up on the socks. Want to keep your photos warm in these cold months? Follow these simple tips to add pleasing warmth to even the coolest photographs.

If you want warm light in your photos, you should shoot when the light is its warmest. (Duh, right?) But seriously, that means you have to get out and shoot at the magic hours of sunrise and sunset. Sunrise light is often pink, whereas sunset light tends to be even warmer in the yellow/orange range. If the scene you’re shooting combines that warm sunset light with an equally warm environment (say, the red rock landscape of the western U.S.) the light will impart even more warmth to a subject photographed in that scene. (Look to the covers of some of many past issues of Outdoor Photographer magazine for warm light used at its best.)

Filter your lens. Use of a 81A or 85B warming filter, or any number of other filters that impart a yellow/amber color, is a great way to add warmth as you shoot. The key is to be sure you’re photographing with a manual white balance set, rather than auto WB—which will overcompensate and eliminate the warmth of the filter. The addition of just enough warmth can keep a photograph made in cool light (like open shade or a cloudy day) looking neutrally balanced—as if it were a normal sunlight day. For even more of a sunset effect, consider a stronger amber/orange filter to add an overall warm light glow.

Adjust your white balance. Shooting in daylight? A daylight white balance setting will make for a neutral appearance. But changing your white balance setting to “cloudy” will impart a little bit of warmth—which is how it would compensate to make a cloudy day’s lighting appear neutral, by adding a bit of warmth. Tweaking the white balance further, in the camera prior to capture or on the RAW file in the computer afterward, is a great way to warm up photos, and the results can be infinitely tweaked. But it does get trickier when you want to warm only part of the frame.

Gel your light. If you don’t want to filter your lens or adjust the white balance to impart color to the entire scene, you can add warmth selectively by gelling your flash. A bit of orange gel (quarter- or half-sun, CTO, straw and others) taped over a strobe imparts a little or a lot of warmth—kind of like the glow of a setting sun. Not long ago, gel manufacturer Rosco sent out its sampler packs free of charge. Then a noted photo blogger published this information to his vast audience and the company was forced to rescind the free policy. Thankfully they’ve replaced the samples with a $10 Strobist pack of gels—perfect for covering most hot-shoe mounted strobes for changing their color. Full sheets of gel are ideal for covering windows or larger strobes, too.

- If you’re not shooting with flash—or even if you are and you only want a hint of warmth—consider only warming the fill. How? By using a gold reflector instead of white or silver. The added warmth is subtle enough not to overpower the scene, but strong enough to have a definite impact on the feeling of warmth on the subject. It works especially well for portraits.

- Warm it up with Photoshop. There are many ways to impart color to an image in Photoshop, but my absolute favorite technique for simply and effectively adding warmth is to utilize the Photo Filter tool. In the Image>Adjustments menu, choose Photo Filter. When the dialogue opens, select Warming Filter 85 (or scroll through many of the other filter options) and slide the density until you get the desired warmth—whether that’s just a hint of warmth or a bright orange glow.

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