Muting the Summertime Blues in Photoshop


If you live in the northern hemisphere, it’s summertime, which means it’s time to give thought to taking pictures under bright, sunny skies. Aside from being toasty warm, summertime also packs more daylight into our waking hours than the dead of winter. The farther north you live, the longer the sun lingers in the sky, and if you go far enough north, it never sets at all!

This is all terrific but, like all terrific things, there’s a price to pay. In the case of photography, the price of all these additional hours of sunshine is that the sun climbs so high toward midday that it creates, deep, harsh shadows and, depending on your surroundings, a blue cast that “cools” the mood of the photograph. The sweet magic hours of dawn and dusk remain the same, but the midday sun can make things appear chilly. Photographs taken near the ocean, large bodies of water, or at high altitudes are particularly susceptible to a cooler color palette due to higher concentrations of ultraviolet (UV) light.

The photo of the two gents sitting in front of Charlies Bridge Stop has a bit of a blue, midday cast. Filtering the image in Photoshop with an 85 Warming Filter set to 10% density warmed things up fine.

Sometimes Auto White Balance Fixes Things, Sometimes it Doesn’t

Setting your camera’s White Balance (WB) to Auto will often minimize any blue cast that might appear in your photographs. As for the accuracy of your camera’s WB settings, they vary among camera and brand, but most are fairly good at establishing realistic color and tone.

Midday sun and flying ocean spray add up to lots of blue in the resulting photographs. Though not always a bad thing, adding an 85 Warming Filter at 25% density adds a breath of warmth to the white of the boat’s hull while not taking away from the natural blue tones of the scene.

Keep in mind that any color and exposure adjustments made in-camera are primarily intended for JPEGs, which offer limited color and tonal adjustments, compared to raw files. If you shoot raw, setting the WB to Auto, Daylight, or 5500K only affects the preview image. All color and tonal adjustments are established when you process the raw file in Adobe Photoshop or another editing program. If the sun is casting cool tones, it’s a piece of cake to warm things up.

Photoshop Filters to the Rescue

There are numerous ways of cooling and warming the overall tonality of a photograph in Photoshop. The method I often use is quick and simple. Start by opening an image in Photoshop and click Image > Adjustments > Photo Filters. Once there, you are presented with a drop-down menu of warming, cooling, and color filters that can be applied. Now, it’s simply a matter of choosing a filter and density level that works for you, hit OK, and you’re finished. It’s that easy.

Getting to the Photo Filters in Photoshop is quick and easy. All you have to do is open your image file in Photoshop, go to Image, Adjustments, and Photo Filters. Boom! You’re there.

These filters parallel the filters that were commonly used for film photography. You should note the default density is 25%, and for most applications, I find density levels of 10 to 15% are usually enough to make things right to my eye and not look forced. As a rule, it’s always advisable to go light-handed when adjusting color temperature.

The four images above illustrate how small traces of filtering can subtly change the mood of a photograph. From the top left, moving clockwise: the image unfiltered; sepia-toned at 25% density; 85 Warming Filter at 12% density; and slightly warmer at 25% density. Each is slightly different, and aesthetically equal, depending on the viewer.

Depending on the photograph, I usually try variations of four Photoshop warming filters when tweaking midday blues: 85, 81, LBA, and Sepia, and as mentioned above, I use them in density ranges of about 10% to 15%, though your taste in white balance may vary. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t play around and see what happens when you crank up the density levels. Keep in mind that the settings and recommendations suggested in this post are just that—recommendations. You can play away to your creative heart’s content and we all support you in doing so.

By adding an LBA filter at 25% density, I was able to warm the straw hat, making it pop more. Warming the image also created better separation between the blue and green tones in the photograph. The changes are subtle, but they do make a difference.

One last thing: Color is subjective. What I consider to be too blue, or too warm-looking, might be acceptable to you based on the way your eyes perceive the very same image I’m viewing. Most people generally agree on what colors look good and when colors don’t work, but certainly not always. For the most accurate results when fine-tuning the color and tonality of your imagery, always make sure your monitor is properly calibrated. Color may be subjective, but neutral gray is neutral gray, and if it isn’t on your monitor, none of your colors will ever be spot-on.

An 81 Warming Filter set to 10% density is just enough filtration to neutralize the blue cast from the otherwise white shingles that cover the front of the Brighton Beach Surf Shop.

Do you have any tips for squashing the summertime blues? If you do, let us know about them in the Comments field, below.