Colour balancing photos – especially ones taken with a digital camera – is most definitely a black art. Purists advocate screen calibration and the use of Photoshop’s innate functions, such as curves. But in the real world of tight budgets and fast turnarounds, a Photoshop plug-in can go a long way. For many years I’ve used Intellihance Pro (formerly from Extensis, now onOne Software), not due to amazing results but because it produces consistent photos that reproduce well in print. But there’s a new kid on the block – ColorWasher 2.0.
Working on any RGB image, ColorWasher can correct colour, contrast, exposure and saturation with a number of algorithms, many of which can function automatically. The window can be split in several ways to allow you to see the same part of the image before and after correction, side-by-side, above-and-below, or one part corrected and the other part as original. In easy (read wholly automatic) mode, just select an area that should be grey and ColorWasher corrects the colour cast, choosing from one of three autodetect types. Next set Auto Contrast to Normal and Exposure Fix to Autodetect and that’s it – one corrected photo. Well, almost. A large percentage of images will be significantly improved in this way, but some won’t.
In advanced mode, you can control all aspects of ColorWasher or just those you choose to. There are semi-automatic options too. For instance, you can select one of five autodetect cast types or choose the kind of cast (green, red/orange, etc) and then manually adjust the cast level and its effect on highlights and shadows. Similarly, there are five presets for contrast, eight for exposure fix and nine for saturation method, or full manual control of each if you feel so inclined.
With access to 15 different histograms of the resulting image, including individual CMYK for print evaluation, it is difficult to find an image that can’t be colour balanced.
To help decide manual settings, the image window has a number of uses. It can show multiple strips for exposure, cast types and hue, plus 36 box grids for hue and colour temperature. For consistency within a series of photos, presets can be saved and loaded back in. Also, the online contextual help is pretty good.
It’s only when we see a photo colour corrected by an expert that we realise how bad most of us are in this area. While ColorWasher won’t make you an expert, it will certainly help you to improve your photos beyond using the standard Photoshop methods. In many respects, that’s the joy of the software – irrespective of whether you have a colour-calibrated monitor, you grow to trust many of the automatic settings. There are a few gripes, all of a user-interface nature. It would be nice to be able to enlarge the plug-in window, have more than one level of undo, and be able to use the keyboard’s +/– keys for zooming rather than clicking on-screen icons. These minor points aside, ColorWasher is a worthy addition to any Photoshop user’s arsenal. Try the demo on this month’s cover CD.