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Easy Neutral Colors

neutral color demo original01 Easy Neutral Colors
Oftentimes it might be a bit tricky to achieve the right White Balance, especially when shooting jpg. I usually shoot RAW and try to get the color temperature as close as possible in Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom.

For this tutorial I purposely introduced a slight yellow-ish warm cast to the image. Oftentimes, it’s hard to find a neutral spot for using the mid-gray picker in the curves or levels… the goal is to make this image as neutral as possible with the least amount of work.

First we make a duplicate via “duplicate layer”:
neutral color demo1 02 Easy Neutral Colors

which should look like this:
neutral 02a Easy Neutral Colors

now, select the top layer and run the Filter>blur>average filter, which gives us some ugly looking brown mess like this:
brown with layers03 Easy Neutral Colors

now we make a curve adjustment layer:
neutral04 Easy Neutral Colors
neutral color demo brown05 Easy Neutral Colors

take the neutral color picker (the middle one) and click anywhere in the brownish area
(marked with the X) – voila, your brown shows as neutral gray:
neutral layers06 Easy Neutral Colors
here how this simple move applies to the RGB channels without me (or you) touching a single curve:
neutral 07 Easy Neutral Colors

now you can simply deactivate (or toss) the middle layer to see the final result – pretty cool, huh:
final with layers08 Easy Neutral Colors

The easy way out: If you go into the curves “options” dialog you’ll find a “Snap Midtones” option which works almost (but only almost, depending on the image) as good:
snap Easy Neutral Colors

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About Markus

Markus Hartel is a (street) photographer, graphic designer and educator living and working in New York City.
You can purchase prints, or book a one-on-one street photography workshop directly on this site.

13 Responses to “Easy Neutral Colors”

  1. franx says:

    Really, really cool. Thanks a lot.

  2. jacob says:

    Thanks! why did i never think of that??

  3. tapan chandra chandra says:

    dear sir,your guidence is very simple and easy to understand,I believe every one will be helped.thanking you.tapanC

  4. Mark Goode says:

    Very helpful tutorial and a GREAT site. Inspiring . . .

  5. Chris Savery says:

    This doesn’t work right for me. Did everything as said and does what you said but I get a massive green cast to final image. There is a large red flag in the image though – so I gather this only works when the image is pretty much neutral on average to start with? Or maybe I’m missing something?
    BTW Found some cool tips on your site. Thanks!

  6. fabrizio says:

    i discovered your fantastic site while i’m looking for leica’s info on google. Your an a great street photographer, your photos are full of meaning…so intense. I like very much your work.

  7. Patrick says:

    Thanks mate thats works really well :D

  8. Ann Chaikin says:

    This is so great! Thank you for this information. It works just perfectly.

  9. Anonymous says:

    next time i go to new york i’m buying you a drink. thanks a ton!!!

  10. Many thanks mate for sharing your wealth of knowledge on photo shop.
    Kevin Clogstoun

  11. Hikari says:

    Thanks a lot Markus , from today I´ll be using this tip as I´m a bit colorblind and got some trouble with some greens and reds…

  12. Thank you so much for this Markus. Reading through this before trying it, I didn’t think it was going to work; it just seemed too simple, espescially condsidering the amount of grief this issue has caused me. However, it works fantastically,
    BTW, I’ve been a big fan of your work for a while now.
    Thanks again.

  13. There’s another one for a macro. Cheers!