Color Correction and the Color Wheel

The color in my print doesn’t look right…”

How many of us have heard this from friends and other photographers, or have said this about our own prints? Let’s go over some basics of Color Correction and then you can color correct with more confidence and accuracy.

Color Correction is correcting an imbalance in the color cast of an image.

To correct an image with an improper color cast, add its complementary color to bring the color balance back to where it needs to be.

Use the Color Wheel to help you determine the proper color balance.


The “Color Wheel” will help you visualize how the Primary Colors Red, Green, and Blue — and their corresponding Complementary Colors Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow — interact with each other.

Graphic of the Color Wheel by John Watts.

Here’s how it works:

Opposite the Primary Colors in the wheel is their Complementary Color, such as Yellow being the Primary Color, and Blue being its Complementary Color.

You can describe a color by adding the two surrounding colors in the wheel. For instance, Yellow + Magenta = Red.

When judging for proper color balance in your image, look for “neutrals”, such as white or grays. Correct for those colors, and the rest of your colors will tend to fall into place.

Here’s an example: Let’s say that by looking at the “neutrals” in an image, the color cast is too magenta; add green to correct the improper color balance.

However, this is over-simplifying things a bit, because in the “real world” true primary colors don’t exist. Bottom line, you’ll probably need to use two colors in your RGB settings in Photoshop to correct your image. As an example, let’s say your image has an orange cast (which is Red + Yellow) – you would add a combination of Blue + Cyan (the complementary colors) to correct for this.

Note: Rules are made to be broken, so you should know that the “Neutral rule” doesn’t always apply. A sunset is a perfect example, as it needs to stay nice and warm.

Until the next time, have fun and stay well!

by John Watts, Watts Digital Imaging
Click here to visit Watts Digital Imaging website.
All text & photos / screen shots: © 2010 John Watts, Watts Digital Imaging. All rights reserved.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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