Basketball season is at its peak, and our newspaper covers a lot of games. We have a great sports scene in our area — competitive and exciting.
I wondered as I was photographing one of those games last week, a tournament-heavy week with lots of games, how many photographers face the same thing I do all the time: overwhelming color casts in certain gyms.
In fact, there were at least six other photographers in last week’s mix — Steve Sisney, Josh Clough, Jeannie Neal, Courtney Morehead, Glen Bryan and Lonny Dorman. I am always glad to see them.
The lighting problem comes from a combination of lights that are designed to be efficient (instead of color-neutral), and floor and ceiling colors that create a sort of color feedback loop. For example, several of the gyms I photograph have yellow school colors, painted on courts that are finished in yellowing varnish, reflected by yellowing ceiling tiles.
These are nice places to work, and I love the opportunity to work at these schools, but the color balance in my photographs requires some very aggressive correction. How do I do this?
• I always, always shoot raw files. We in the photographic community probably preach about this too much, but it really is a game-changer. Raw files contain thousands or even millions of times more color values than standard JPEG files.
• I don’t bother adjusting white balance in-camera, because…
• I will use Adobe Lightroom to fix the color, first with the eyedropper tool, which I click on a neutral spot; sometimes this is all the fix I need. It’s pretty dramatic, actually, sometimes accompanied by the word, “wow.”
• I use additional color adjustments in Lightroom’s excellent Hue/Saturation/Luminance (HSL) dialog, which allows me to change not only the amount of the offending color but also the brightness and the hue of it. I can use this to take a bright lime green basketball court and make it appear a very natural pale tan.
• The most important aspect of this, of course, is to create normal-looking skin tones of the players and fans. This can sometimes require some very aggressive application of color sliders in Lightroom or Photoshop.
• As tempting as it is to use the pop-up flash instead of existing light at these venues, you will always be happier with existing light for sports.
I see other people’s image from some of these places, and they all exhibit a common thread: difficult color balance. Take it from me: raw files plus aggressive editing can fix these problems and result in very satisfying images.