Color Controls and Digital Photography - dummies

By Julie Adair King

To make the most of your digital photos, you will need to know where your color controls are. Look for the following features, usually found on intermediate and advanced cameras:

  • White-balance adjustments. Digital cameras use a feature called white balancing to ensure accurate colors. In most cases, the default white balance setting, auto white balance (AWB), works fine. But problems can occur when a scene is lit by multiple light sources, so being able to manually control the setting is important.

The option to choose from a menu of specific light sources — cloudy daylight, sunshine, fluorescent bulbs, and so on — is standard on intermediate and advanced cameras and even available on many basic models. But those settings often don’t get you where you need to be, color-wise, so many cameras offer ways to fine-tune white balance.

  • Color space: The color space determines the range of colors a digital device can capture. The standard digital camera space is sRGB (standard RGB), which is fine for 99.9 percent of users. But for photographers who demand a little larger color spectrum, intermediate and advanced cameras usually offer a second color space: Adobe RGB.
  • Picture Styles: This feature, which goes by different names depending on the camera, enables you to choose from several different recipes that determine how the camera “processes” your digital originals. Common styles include Landscape, which amps up blues and greens; Portrait, which warms skin tones; and Monochrome, which creates a black-and-white image. This feature affects only pictures that you shoot in the JPEG file format, and it also tweaks other picture characteristics, such as sharpness and contrast.

Oh, and don’t confuse the Landscape and Portrait Picture Styles with the Scene modes that have the same names. Yeah, it’s confusing, but camera companies work hard to make things that way…for some reason.

  • Raw file capture: Okay, so this feature isn’t a color control, strictly speaking. But the Raw file format makes all the other color controls somewhat moot because you determine how raw pixel data is translated to photo colors when you process Raw files. As long as you use a capable Raw converter, you can play with color in endless ways, from choosing a white-balance setting to altering the saturation and hue of specific colors. You might make all your reds more intense, for example, or turn navy blue into medium blue.