In this article we look closer at color correction and color grading in Affinity Photo. Color correction might rank as the most misunderstood job in the world. Color correction should ideally mean correcting the colors to bring them to their natural look. However, there’s another thing called ‘color grading’, and that goes almost hand-in-hand. Color toning is another word that one comes across in these conversations. First, let me help you clarify the differences in the three.
Color Correction – The Regular Meaning and the one for Photographers
Color correction, as mentioned above, simply means giving an image the real look and feel. This means that if you fix the white balance, most of the times, the color correction is done. White balance is also called is color balance. The reason is that white is the sum total of all colors possible. So if the white is white, all the colors will automatically appear how it they should. Although in Affinity Photo, White Balance and Color Balance are separate adjustment tools with slightly different purpose.
How often do we use color correction as merely a white balance fix, though? Not often. What we do is a combination of exposure, contrast, saturation, and even toning in certain aspects. Our idea of color correction in photography is simply about making the image appear better. What’s better? Nobody really knows. Overall, adjustments to exposure and color come under color correction.
What is Color Grading?
Color grading is a process where we give the final appearance to an image. Color grading simply refers to giving an image a look. It is about color tones and temperatures, and how blues and greens and reds appear, etc. It is about taking control of different colors individually to give the final appearance to an image. While color correction is a technical and mostly accurate process, color grading is a creative process. Color Toning, another term used in the same manner, talks about tonings like sepia and monochrome and bleach. There’s not much difference between grading and toning.
Now we know, let’s discuss comprehensive color correction, grading, and toning methods in Affinity Photo.
First of all, you should not use the RAW Persona for color toning or color grading. However, you can use the RAW persona to fix the exposure and white balance to give you an image devoid of much contrast, no artificial sharpness, etc. Aim for just finding the right exposure and color in the RAW Persona. Let’s look at an example here.
Basic Correction in RAW Editor/ Develop Persona
Here, the image we have is of a waterfall in the midst of the greenery. This image is a classic example of true versus better in a way.
Nobody knows what the photographer has seen, but we can judge that the trees must be green. We can try adjusting for the trees, or see that they are already almost in order here, and leave. Or follow the true white balance principle, and use white balance picker tool to pick any pixel that is supposed to be zero saturation. This gives us a scale from white to black. Like the white creamy water. We know its supposed to be lacking color, and hence we try to click it with white balance picker tool. The image suddenly turns warmer, and the greens more yellowish.
What is the correct white balance? It could be either of the two, and hence depends on the photographer.
Now let’s try to improve the image in terms of exposure as well as white balance, while trying to give it a more natural look. So let me move to the normal green trees, and go for the cooler look. Then, I fix other factors, while not touching sharpness, saturation, colors, contrast, or clarity. (We just need to bring out as much details here as possible – as we discussed in our ‘RAW Persona of Affinity’ article).
But can we do color correction inside RAW?
Yes, you can but I don’t advice to do color correction in the Raw persona in Affinity Photo. However, I will quickly show you how you could do it.
Let’s head over to the color tabs. The ‘Tones’ tab offers us with three options: Curves, Black & White, and Split Toning. Let’s look at Tones and try to enhance the picture slightly. Please note, ‘enhancing’ an image, also referred to as ‘Color Correction’ in general terms, is purely personal choice. Now I add a slight green tone to image overall instead of boosting vibrance. I further add a bit blue tone.
Now I will stop here. Why? Because with just three curves, there’s no point adding something in the Develop mode, especially when these changes are irreversible, and you have all these controls in Photo Persona also. If you notice the changes, it is happening in overall image and adding a cast. And split-toning is added at the last and not in Develop Mode. Even if you have to turn an image into Black and White, don’t use the Develop Persona because the changes are irreversible.
Now we just develop the basic image with simple exposure and WB corrections and move over the proper color correction tools. For the next part, we are changing the image with slightly more color variation and scope.
Develop + Photo Persona Editing
We prepare our image in Develop Persona with an Exposure of about .7, highlights down by 40-50% and shadow up by 30-40%. Even if we want to go for a high-contrast look, it is best to have a middle exposure that doesn’t show any clipping in an image like this, and then add contrast and brightness sliders later on while finalizing the image. Then we have to pick a neutral for White Balance adjustment. Some images may have no place for picking a neutral, and as explained above, you have to trust your eyes for this.
Here, in this image, we have a small portion that appears to have a chunk of water. We click on that. We might have to check and see, but with a large volume of water in flow, the color is usually white. If the volume isn’t enough, then the water will show the color cast from its background. Here, we have taken the sample from the water area, and we hit ‘Develop’ button.
First, in our Photo Persona, we can do a check if there’s any color-cast still left. We do it by boosting the saturation of the image. When we apply HSL, and add about 30-40% saturation, we see that the overall colors are still balanced and there’s nothing wrong. For experiment sake, we add a layer below HSL, shifting the Color Balance a bit. Now we see a yellow cast, as we have added. Now we can simply remove the cast through the Hue Shift slider in HSL (by moving away from yellow) or we can add a Color Balance layer to fix it. Here, since there was no color cast originally, we remove all the layers we have added till now.
Color Grading in Affinity Photo
Selective Color Boost
Here, we can go through a technique of selective color boost. It helps in giving a punch to the image and improve the image. In our case, we will try to improve the leaves that are slightly reddish in tone as they will help in improving the overall tonal contrast. Thereafter, we will work on the sky, adding contrast in the same.
We use Selective Color from adjustments, and select Reds to work from the drop-down (the default option is reds only when you open). First step is to uncheck ‘Relative’ in the window. This is because we are working separately on the reds, and want to boost Reds only. Here, I have moved the blacks towards the negative to boost a bit of exposure, turned yellow and magenta up to enhance the red hue of the leaves, and finally reduce cyan to further the tonal contrast of the reds. To see a before/after, we can toggle through the visibility of Selective Color layer.
To work on Blues, we can work on the same Selective Color layer also. But for more control, we use a separate Selective Color and work on Blues this time. We simply duplicate the previous layer, hit Reset from the top right corner of the Selective Color window, and then select Blues. Here, we have to again uncheck ‘Relative’ and then turn the Blacks all the way to the right to get the contrast in the sky back.
The next step is to work on the highlights as we still have to properly work on the Blues in the sky. It still appears slightly washed out. I will work through the curves tab and try to add contrast. I have added a curve and pulled it slightly down from the top end, while slowly moving it towards the normal from the mid-tones onward, leaving the shadows completely untouched. This has been done to bring back the sky details, which are now showing properly.
We usually add contrast either via contrast slider, levels, or curves. It is ideal to use either the levels or the curves adjustments instead of contrast because both of them are more versatile. You can selectively work on just one part, or work in different values on different parts, and also work on different tones. We have already seen in our highlights adjustment above the power of curves.
The difference between curves and levels is simply about the presentation. While levels is more value based, curves feels more intuitive. You can use either as they are exactly the same tools.
Here, I duplicate the curves slider and simply reset the slider. Once I reset, I try to make an S-shape slider, with very little contrast, less towards the highlights and more towards the shadows. Once the required punch to the image is achieved, I leave it as is achieved.
Another option we have, that we can do now, is to selectively increase the exposure of the greens. It is an optional step, but it can do wonders if just a bit of brightness is added, as it may help in improving the image further. Let’s do this by Selective Color again. We duplicate one of the previous Selective Color, move on top, reset it, and then select greens. Now uncheck the relative and move the blacks towards the left to improve green exposure. Do it very slightly, because if you overdo it then the whole image will be spoiled.
Important Note: If you do this step via Curves or Levels, the green will be boosted on entire image. This is why Selective Color is a powerful tool to work on those little areas of the photo. Additionally, you can mask out via brush if it is impacting more area than you wanted.
Now let’s do Color Grading. One of the common methods of Color Grading is via Split Toning. Here, we tone Highlights and Shadows separately. It helps add a grade to image, and changes the overall colors at the same time. From adjustments, let’s select Split Toning. The famous Hollywood split tone, that’s been done-to-death but somehow works, will suggest us to move the highlights towards a yellow tone and shadows towards the blues. Let’s flip that in this case, because the image calls for it.
The blue sky can’t have a yellow tone (unless you specifically want), and the greenish-yellow leaves will appear beautiful with the slightly yellowish shadows. Let’s see the result of our little changes. I have used Highlights at about 235.5 degree with 76% saturation. The image has very little highlights, so it can be pulled off here. Similarly for shadows, I have used around 52.9 degree with 24% saturation.
Importance of a Good Monitor
While image editing, and especially while working with Color – it is imperative to have a good color-calibrated monitor. Most of the professionals use color calibrated high-end monitors while doing editing. Some of the laptops and notebooks come with generally calibrated monitors. If the screen isn’t calibrated, the image you will be seeing won’t be the same that others will see because the colors are varied. You also need to make sure that the monitor at least supports Adobe RGB, because if it doesn’t, you will be working in a limited spectrum and won’t be able to see full range while editing.