Warm colors, which are typically found in the orange and red region of the color wheel, are found in nature during the magic hours near sunrise and sunset when the light takes on a golden, orange glow. By starting with a light source that’s already warm, anything photographed under that light looks warm too. This works wonders for travel photos and landscapes, and it’s especially useful in portraiture. This is because virtually all skin tones look better with a little bit of warm glow. The warmth is inviting and humanizing, but too much isn’t necessarily a good thing; a little goes a long way. In lieu of sunset light (which is typically quite vibrant and orange) using the computer, we can add warmth but dial it back to a level that will simply make subjects appear more vibrant and alive. To that end, here are three post-processing techniques for warming pictures in post.
Shoot RAW And Alter The White Balance
Warming pictures in post can be as simple as adjusting the white balance during RAW processing. After all, any image photographed under incandescent/tungsten lighting while the camera is set to a daylight white balance will produce a pronounced orange/yellow shift. This shift is typically way too strong to be considered subtle. It’s the difference in color temperature of approximately 2,000 degrees Kelvin. But if instead you create an image that’s neutrally white-balanced for daylight at 5600K, for instance, you could shift subtly by just a few hundred degrees—to 6000K or so—and watch as the scene gets warmer without creating an obvious or even obnoxious color shift.
This adjustment can be done in Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom, Capture One or any other RAW image processing application. And no matter the program, it’s as simple as dragging a slider to bump the tones from cool to warm. A few hundred degrees Kelvin higher equates to a noticeable amount of warming.
Use Profiles And Presets In Lightroom And ACR
Along with white balance adjustments, Lightroom offers the ability to choose from myriad RAW image profiles as well as several presets (plus the ability to import and save your own), which make warming pictures in post easy with a single click. Default Adobe presets that add warmth include “Warm Contrast” and “Warm Shadows.”
These utilize a combination of Develop settings as well as RAW image Profiles that apply color, contrast and sharpness adjustments to raw image files, which if left unprocessed wouldn’t appear to be correctly exposed. And while Profiles are often used to match specific cameras or film stocks, they can also be applied to creative effect. Adobe has added dozens of creative profiles in recent years and the revamped Profile Browser (found near the top of the Basic panel in the Develop module) makes it easy to scroll through profiles and see their effects in an instant. There’s no specific “warm” profile, nor are their names particularly intuitive (“Vintage 04” and “Modern 07” aren’t especially revealing), but just scrolling over a profile in the Profile Browser shows an instant preview of the effect, making it quick and easy to choose profiles that impart warmth.
Apply A Photoshop Adjustment Layer
Sometimes I find that no matter how warm an image might be it can often benefit from even a little more—especially if that picture is of a person. One of my standard operating procedures after retouching a portrait is to add that last little bit of warmth before I send it off. For this I use Photoshop’s Adjustment Layers—specifically the Photo Filter adjustment layer, set to “Warming Filter (85)” by default. There are other filters that also work, but the Warming Filter (85) tends to do exactly what I want for a portrait, from a lot to a little depending on the desired effect.
For the typical “just a hint of warmth” that I’m aiming for, I’ll dial down the filter’s opacity to just 5 percent or so. If I want the warmth to register more strongly I’ll set the percentage in the teens—around 12 to 15. And on occasion I might want the image to have a pronounced colorcast, in which case I dial up the warmth to 20 or a bit more. The “Preserve Luminosity” checkbox is important too. Left unchecked, the filter will change the perceived brightness and contrast (lowering both), but when checked, the image will retain the prior luminosity settings and black and white levels but with a hint of warmth in the tones throughout.