Are your Colors Manipulated?

We have heard it a thousand times… “Those colors must be Photoshopped.” Just recently, we received yet another similar comment on one of our posts – the color looks “over-cooked” in Photoshop. I’m willing to bet that most of you have heard the same thing. We’re used to the question, so it doesn’t bother us much – but it’s a worthwhile point for discussion.

Now, before we get into this – we don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking artistic liberties with your colors. This is art, and the artist makes the rules. But – it seems that sometimes people fail to realize that nature itself can “over-cook” the colors… in a good way, of course. The key is to realize that brilliant colors occur under certain condition. When you learn to take advantage of those conditions, you won’t need help from Photoshop. Let nature do it for you!

Take a look at the two photos below:


The colors are quite different, right? So, what’s going on here? Both these photos are from the same location. Jay used a circular polarizer for both images – and processed them with the same RAW parameters. He even used the same version of Adobe Camera RAW. You can take a look at the settings he used below…

So, if all the parameters are equal – why do the two images look so different? In this case, it comes down to two major factors – seasons and light conditions.

The photo on the left was taken in mid-summer. On that day, the skies were bright blue. Strong directional light from the upper right overexposed the greens on the left – and the shady right side ended up underexposed. The dry weather also meant that the moss had died out for the season, so the rocks are brown. Deep green, summer foliage surrounds the waterfall.

The photo on the right was taken in Spring. Jay took the shot in between rain showers, when everything was wet. Overcast skies meant filtered, non-directional light – so the whole scene is bathed in very soft light… and the diffused light makes everything seem to glow just slightly. At this time of year, the waterfall is at it’s peak – and the moss and spring foliage has a fresh golden color. A bit of morning mist adds a moody effect.

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams

  • Keith

    I. AM. IN. LOVE.

    your work is stunning! i just discovered you today. as a wannabe with pretensions and delusions of entering the world of photography, color has become an important issue for me: i always wondered about adjusting color. why did the artist make the sky bluer, less blue, the trees greener, brighter, darker? i know i’ve seen the sky with x shade of blue, so isn’t that natural?

    you explanation here is wonderful! and the results you show with the two pictures beautifully illustrates the decisions, all while allowing for artistic manipulation as well!

    thank you for sharing your beautiful images, and especially thank you for sharing your time and wisdom! i am profoundly grateful!


    • I’m glad you found the article helpful, Keith. 🙂 You are more than welcome.

  • Hello,
    I read this article. It answer my question on your fantastic colors in landscape pictures.
    I will try it this advices

    • So glad it was helpful, Michel! Good luck with your photography!

  • Very well done Jay and Varina! That’s why I like your work so much (and personally, too – ha). You go straight to the point giving useful information and examples. You both have very good teaching skills besides the creative and technical ones.

  • I do many art shows and this question is always asked. My answer is: “of course I make adjustments. The digital camera does not capture exactly what I experienced when I shot this photograph. I use the different software programs to bring those photographs back to the reality I experienced.” Now granted, I don’t tend to create colors that don’t exist and I don’t over-saturate so this response sits well with my viewers.

    • Well said, Christine. I think honesty is the key. If you are truthful, people usually respect your choice as an artist… even if they don’t understand why you need software to produce more realistic results.