Dealing with Different Colored Lights and Color Casts

Yesterday I addressed the issue of blown out lights in an HDR image. Today I tackle different colored lights in an image. This is common in any interior or urban night shot. Often you will find all of the lights have a constant tungsten or fluorescent white balance except for one or two. I think these kinds of light bulbs that give a different color are sodium vapor or mercury vapor. Sometimes they may be a fluorescent bulb mixed with tungsten lighting.

Most of the lamps around the University of Chicago campus give a nice warm tungsten glow. But every so often you will find one that gives off an other-worldly yellow/green color. I want to turn this color to match the tungsten bulbs. What I do is identify the offending color. You can try altering each of the colors in the HSL panel in Lightroom and see which one affects the color you want to change. For my night shots at UofC I need to change the hue of the yellows.  I pushed it to the orange end of the color spectrum. This changed the yellow-green to orange without affecting any other colors. After analyzing the two images, I may like the uncorrected version better. But there are many times when you have too many colors competing for attention. This is when you want to employ this technique.


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Greenish-yellow lamps



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"corrected" lamps

“corrected” lamps


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When I’m not staying up all night figuring out the details of our next Out of Chicago Conference, you’ll find me at the park with our son and daughter, playing my guitar, out on the golf course, or following my favorite (Detroit) sports teams. I love Chicago, but I’ll always root for my Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, Michigan sports, and Pistons.

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  • THANKS Chris for sharing your immense knowledge with us. I find myself each morning checking my inbox constantly until I find out what will be the lesson of the day. You are throughly a wonderful teacher!

    • Thanks Maria! That makes it all worth it. You have no idea how excited I am for this first workshop.

  • The HDR process may also be messing with those two lights, blowing them out. Hard to tell without the original brackets.

    Sometimes the HDR process blows out light sources, creating artifacts in lights. Often this happens when the light source is moving between the brackets, like on water reflections or light trails. But it also happens on very bright light sources, when the HDR software gets confused, and chooses blown out pixels for the light. Or it selects some underprocessed pixels within the bright light, and you get a grayish tint or some other color change. That may or may not be happening here.

    When this happens, I try a couple of things. One is to use the deghosting tool in Photomatix and select a single exposure for the light source. Sometimes this works, sometimes it fails miserably. The other is to use Photoshop, one of the single exposures, and a layer mask to paint over the blown out light sources.

    • In this case, the color was clearly from the lights. It was in my RAW files. I’ve never had success with the de-ghosting tool. Maybe you can help me some time. I do it the other way you described using Photoshop and layer masks.

      • Weird. I wonder I their is some weird glass on those old lights that is causing that color and the shape within the lights.


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