Reducing Harsh Stage Lighting Colours in Post-Processing
This article looks at the problems associated with harsh stage lighting in photography and in particular, how to reduce strong lighting effects in post-processing.
In particular it looks at how applications like Affinity Photo, ON1 PhotoRAw and Luminar Neo tackle this problem but the methods are applicable to any photo editor in the main.
I recently undertook a photo assignment for the UK’s first European Fingerstyle Guitar Festival which was held locally to me at the Exxter Phoenix, UK. On the first day things were pretty hectic, I was involved in photographing workshops, the audience, artists and performers as well as obtaining some candid shots of the various proceedings. This meant “having to fit it with things” quite often rather than calling the shots.
One such area where I initially had no control, and neither did anyone else it seems, was the main stage lighting. This was ramped up to maximun for the various concerts on the first night, creating strong blue and magenta casts and while this looks awesome for the audience, for photography, nah, not good at all.
Now of course I could just go with the flow, it was what it was after all but when looking through the images the performers ranged from having solid blue heads to bright magenta arms and legs etc. The results were, well, not great photographically speaking!
Looking for Solutions
Back in my studio I needed to think through the various strategies available to me. For example, to a certain extent you can negate blue by adding yellow, magenta by adding green and this can often work. However it’s not so easy if you have both of these strong hues involved in your photo. So what to try?
Well, one easy trick is to turn the image monochrome negating the various colour casts as best you can. However, if you want to retain colour then you are going to need to emply a Channel Mixer and Colour Enhancement / Adjustment.
But which software to use as I have access to Affinity Photo, Luminar Neo and On1 PhotoRAW 2022. Which would give the best results? Which would be the easiest to use? Let’s take a look.
Reducing Harsh Stage Lighting Colours in Post-Processing- Applying On1 PhotoRAW 2022 to the Problem
I tend to turn to On1 PhotoRAW for the majority of my editing. It’s a slick, complete editor that “almost” competes with Affinity Photo in terms of precise editing although of course it wins hands down when considering the whole picture.
For a start On1 includes an excellent DAM, presets and LUT’s which simply make it more usable than Affinity Photo when polishing a photo. For this reason I tend to work with Affinity on tricky edits and then call up On1 PhotoRAW as a plug-in to finish off the edit. This is a win-win scenario for me.
Here, I limited myself to just using On1 PhotoRAW 2022 and in particular, the Channel Mixer and Colour Adjustment tools as mentioned above. Firstly, let’s take a look at the result of applying these tools and making a couple of other minor adjustments to the above image. This is a photo of a great fingerstyle guitarist and performer, Rodney Branigan, who amazed everyone with his playing and in particular, his playing of two guitars simultaneously.
Rodney Branigan, September 2022 at the Exeter Phoenix Fingerstyle Guitar Festival
In summary, the tools used included:
- Colour Enhancer, Colour Adjustment and the Channel Mixer
- Basic application of Exposure, Contrast, Tint, Saturation, Vibrance etc to the whole image to balance things out
- Local modification of the orange banners to make them pop
All in all, the edits worked out pretty well. It’s very much trial and error in such situations – there’s no magic bullet, colour-cast take some effort to iron out. Most of the heavy work here is done with the Channel Mixer and Colour Adjustment tools with the other tools providing some balance to the overall image.
In hindsight I could have perhaps reduced the yellow a little more as it’s quite predominant in the image but it’s easy enough to return to this later to adjust it a little more.
The end result is never perfect and one viewer might like the results, another, not so as photography is highly subjective. That being said, the final result makes this image viable where I feel that the original, although atmospheric, just didn’t make the grade
Reducing Harsh Stage Lighting Colours in Post-Processing – Lets look at using Luminar Neo
I honestly didn’t expect much from Luminar Neo is this particular scenario as it just doesn’t seem to have access to the same tools and more importantly, controls that I routinely use in On1 PhotoRAW.
As it was it turned out to be a much more difficult task to curb the blues and hold back the magenta using Neo than it had been with On1 PhotoRAW as there is noChannel Mixer tool provided and the Colour tool is, well, rudimentary. This meant that I had to work a lot harder to find a solution that worked although the results were still good given with what I started with. Infact, some might argue that the colours are better in this version than the On1 PhotoRAW version and yes, I could have made the orange pop a little more in the banners to balance out the two images better.
Here is the Luminar Neo edited image which, because of the ack of a Channel Mixer, took about 40 minutes to get to this stage.
The basic tools I used here were:
- Develop and in particular curves, saturation, contrast, blacks and whites
- Several instances of colour (with masking) to affect certain areas of the image eg trousers, hair, shoulders etc
- Dodge & Burn
The key to subduing the blues in this image was to use the Curves tool and really pull down the blue tint across the board, i.e. in the shadows, mid-tones and highlights. However, this has the effect of changing other hues so this meant I had to work hard to adjust these back to a more normal colour range.
Given the start point, I can’t be too unhappy with the result. The horrendous blue colour cast has gone, while the strong magenta highlights are constrained to a more acceptable level. In fact, the general colourisation of the image is more that acceptable.
In reality, Rodney has a good tan so the skin tones, which makes him look a little orange so these could be further improved, but overall, these aren’t too far off. As with the On1 version, there is perhaps a tad too much yellow in this image but this could be subdued with a bit of extra work.
Reducing Harsh Stage Lighting Colours in Post-Processing – And finally, let’s talk about Affinity Photo
Affinity Photo is not the easiest software to use but it is a fully featured, powerful editor equal, for the most part to Photoshop in what it can do. Like On1 PhotoRAW, the key tools it has at its disposal for this type of edit is a Channel Mixer and Selective Colour Adjustment and in truth, these are all you need to remove the colour cast in this image. Here’s the result of these tools being applied to the image shown in the header.
A super easy trick – Convert your image to Monochrome
Probably the easist and certainly the quickest solution when dealing with a photo of this type is to simply convert the image to monochrome. You can almost get away with doing nothing else but if you want to fine tune your result, you can play with the various sliders which control the colours and luminosity in the base RAW image. This can help remove some of the colour cast affecting the various parts of the image. Here’s a quick example using On1 PhotoRAW to create the B&W image from the RAW image at the top of this article. Not bad for zero effort and a worthy image for this artist to use in his portfolio.
I find Luminar Neo to be a somewhat tricky editor even though, as can be seen above, it can create some good results when pushed. When compared with On1 PhotoRAW though, there seems on initial inspection to be a lot missing, or at least, the tools are not where you’d expect to find them. Moving from Tools to Edits is also a pain and the inability to rename the various tools used, for example where you have three or four instances of Colour as I do in this edit, is really not helpful.
The Masking Ai that Luminar adopts is pretty good but the lack of a refine or edge-aware brush really tells when trying to tidy up mask edges. It’s also very laggy in use and exporting the final image does take considerably longer than Affinity Photo, or On1 PhotoRAW which are both significantly quicker to export.
Deciding you’ve got it all wrong and need to undo a few actions is also impossible with Neo as there’s no history to fall back on and no undo feature. You heve to delete the individual tools you’ve used in the edit. Worse still, if you decide that it’ll look better if you apply a Preset then you’ll lose everything! Yes, Neo is good, very good at times, but it’s far from perfect and it’s a long way off being the only editor you’ll ever need if you want to do complex editing.
By contrast, both On1 PhotoRAW 2022 and Affinity Photo feel more polished and indeed, they are. They can both do the easy stuff really well, and the complex stuff doesn’t seem to faze them. Both provide undo features, the ability to rename the tools used in the edit and a history dialog.
On1 goes further by providing versions which are great for trying out ideas while Luminar Neo by contrast, offers none of these things. The other key feature offered by On1 PhotoRAW is a highly functional DAM with tag editing etc.
While all three editors offer LUT’s, Presets and Textures I do feel that On1 provides a better overall package plus it does offer some clever search facilities. It also includes all of the advanced tools such as NoNoise, HDR, Portraiture etc as part of the core software. In Luminar Neo, you’ll have to pay $49 (or £49 if you live in the UK) to be able to use many of the latest tools as they are only offered as “paid for” extensions. These become super-expensive if you buy them all on a perpetual licence.
That being said, Skylum currently have a good deal if you buy them on subscription. Of course if you are moving away from Lr/Ps for this reason, handcuffing yourself to another software company might not be something you are looking to do.
Overall, I think I prefer the result from Affinity Photo over the other two but that being said, I am partial to contrasty B&W images which I think can look great as here. Given that it also took just a few minutes to achieve, you might prefer to go down that route.
As they say, “you pays your money and takes your choice”!