Indoor Color Casts Suck: Here's a Trick to Fix Them

Indoor Color Casts Suck: Here's a Trick to Fix Them

One of the most frustrating hurdles we deal with when shooting indoors is the strong color cast that incandescent light emits. I'm going to share with you a quick and easy fix in Lightroom (or Photoshop) to remedy that dreaded "orange glow" when white balance isn't enough.

One of my earliest memories of running into this photographic issue was back in 2003. My stepfather had purchased a point-and-shoot camera and was annoyed with the over-warm color tones plaguing his indoor images. He did what every adult does who is frustrated with technology: handed it to a youngster and asked for help.

Sixteen years later, I find myself constantly dealing with the issue of incandescent lighting casting garish color casts on much of my indoor event and real estate photography.

Incandescent lighting is warm for several reasons, none of which are important to photography (though they do look nice on skin if they're subtle). Unfortunately, some indoor spaces have very strong warm lighting which can be difficult to process in editing later on.

Approaching with Color in Mind

Using a mounted speedlight flash on your camera can neutralize some of the red-orange cast of lighting, but this presents two problems. First, it makes you less conspicuous when sneaking around to take candid photos. Second, it creates two different color casts to work with in post-processing. Therefore moderate fill flash is often the best option if you're going this route.

For images with particularly warm light, you may need to dial a warm color channel back down slightly after adjusting white balance.

HSL/Color to the Rescue

In the HSL/Color panel, dial the orange down however much you need for the scene to look natural. Your sliders will look something like below.

A screen capture of the HSL/Color panel in Lightroom.

Adjust your Orange color channel as necessary. If you feel some of the "life" has left your image, a bump up in the Vibrance slider can compensate.

The image below is an extreme example of how white balance simply wasn't enough. Notice the white bowl in the back is somewhat balanced in temperature (even a bit cool) yet the food is unnaturally warm looking.

a brisket under a hotlight
an image of a brisket under a hot light with an orange glow

These steps work in Lightroom as well as Photoshop.

Again, this trick is to be done after white balance has been correctly applied and you find that the orange color cast is still pervasive.

Lightroom is made for batch processing, meaning you can make this adjustment once and apply it to a whole set of (indoor) images. To do so, in the Develop module press Ctrl + C (Command + C on a Mac) to copy the setting on the edited image. Next, select the images you'd like to apply the edit to and right-click > Develop Settings > Paste Settings.

Do you have any backup tricks for dealing with finicky color casts in post-processing? Share them in the comments section below.

Photo by Rohan Makhecha via Unsplash.

Log in to post comments

18 Comments

I carry a small gray card and grab a shot of it before doing anything else where I know the color temperature requires adjustment in post. It's not a perfect solution, but it's a good starting point for me.

Gerald Bertram's picture

I do exactly the same thing. It's quick and easy especially with my real estate shoots where the agents want me in and out as quickly as possible.

Jeremy Lusk's picture

Personally I find the yellow hues more unpleasant than the orange. For indoor work I often slide my yellow hues a bit toward orange, and then desaturate them as well.

Scott Mason's picture

Good point, Jeremy. Yellows definitely can be a pain, especially with longer exposures.

Ben sussman's picture

Isn’t this a situation calling for using a CTO flash gel & then rebalancing in LR? I usually just have 1 or 2 strobes placed in the background to even the lighting when I shoot events.

michaeljin's picture

Sometimes you just don't have the time. This is actually a really common problem in real estate photography when the home being sold is occupied. Generally, the agents (and homeowner/tenant) want you to be in and out as quick as possible.

Tom Weis's picture

"...speedlight...creates two different color casts to work with in post-processing..."

When photographing events I always carry small 1/4 CTO (Rosco 3409) and 1/2 CTO (Rosco 3408) gels with me. I'll tape them to my speedlights if I need the flash to more balance with the ambient light. I leave two strips of gaffer tape on my speedlights at all times for this purpose.

Often the available light is warmer than my gelled flash, however:

1. The 1/4 & 1/2 CTOs don't eat up more than a 1/3-1/2 stop of light, and since I usually bounce flash I need all the light I can get. A full CTO (RoscoSun 85 #3401) is denser.

2. I can tape 2 or more gels to my flash if I need more correction.

3. Exactly matching my flash to the available light is not my goal. The aim is just to move the flash into the warmer territory, say about 4500˚K just to take some of the orange out of the ambient light when I balance for my gelled flash, but still keep the environment somewhat warm. Totally neutralizing the warmth of a wedding reception hall, for example, would feel too cold or sterile in my opinion.

Scott Mason's picture

Thank you Tom, #3 was especially helpful in explaining just how that approach works. I'm definitely going to bring my CTOs to the next indoor event.

Curious, does the gel ever cast too much warmth objects that are already super warm? If so, would you just tone the channels down in the manner the article states?

Good point on completely neutralizing a scene in regards to color.. I am fond of monochrome, but mainly for artistic applications like shooting live music.

Tom Weis's picture

"...does the gel ever cast too much warmth objects that are already super warm?"
I usually don't find that to be the case as I'm usually underexposing the ambient light a bit, and/or I've installed room lights (more speedlights on stands, and also gelled to match my on-camera flashes) to add backlight or dimension to the scene.

Just to avoid any misunderstanding, by neutralizing I didn't mean monochrome, I meant neutral color without a cast or bias. In other words, white would indeed be white with the RGB histograms lining up perfectly or nearly so.

But yes, converting a photo with a nasty color cast into a B&W photo is an old trick to avoid dealing with the color.

Johnny Rico's picture

Oh natural light photographers, not gel'ing inside

Scott Mason's picture

I use flash whenever necessary and always recommend to. The gel trick never occurred to me, glad I made this post!

user-206807's picture

No problem shooting (post processing) in black and white ;)
__
A trick that I use:
In Lightroom, just under your image (yes, under, it does not touch any part of your image) create a Graduated Filter (just drag some mm high). In this way you will have all the possible corrections of this filter on the whole image, included a supplementary white balance correction.
With the range mask you can also use the correction more selectively, applying it, for example, only to the high lights.
This works, on the whole image, for any kind of correction allowed by this filter, of course.
Cheers!

R. P.'s picture

Tony Kuyper actions do the trick for me easily in Photoshop. Smart object --> 16 bit mask based on the pesky color orange or yellow --> desaturate --> et voilá

For interiors cyan or blue is sometimes a hindrance due to the blue foils in modern window glass.

nikon cameras have an amazing awb (AUTO0 Keep white (reduce warm colors)) that makes everything with incandescent lighting look more balanced. the best in the business.

there is this specific venue that has the guests arrival area full of incandescent lighting. even shooting at 2500k manually doesnt remove the yellow/amber color cast. the awb (keep white) looks so amazing. cleans all that amber right up to neutral color. no pp at all.

Scott Mason's picture

Thanks for the tip. The issue I'm always running into with AWB is lack of consistency between images in PP. Does this specific AWB setting keep a consistent temperature?

if youre shooting under the same lighting, yes. nikons AWB is imho the best in the market, hands down.

Firstly do non flash setup shots and pack down shots, these give you reference and clipboard sources for post processing fixing. Gel up where needed and turn off lights where needed. Shoot tethered so you can see your shoot on a bigger screen and see any colour casts while your shooting. Do colour temperature adjustments while tethered so you can see if it works. Use adjustment layers in Capture One with different colour temperature or open your raw files as smart objects and create multiple layers with different raw colour temperatures etc settings and blend back together. :-)

Scott Mason's picture

This sounds like great advice for smaller private events where one has more control over the scenery. Thanks for commenting!