Photo editing tips: dealing with greens

Green means go, unless you’re a portrait photographer. In which case it means stop and think, and prepare to spend time on your edits

As an outdoors lover living near the Devon/Somerset border, spring and summer make me feel very happy. The days are longer, the weather’s warmer (well, usually), and the surrounding countryside bursts into life.

As a portrait photographer, it’s a slightly different story. And that’s because I have to deal with the colour green.

This may sound like a peculiar statement to make. After all, our verdant landscape creates all manner of beautiful photographic backdrops.

But, when you're shooting portraits, the colour green isn’t too helpful. Here’s why:

1. Green rarely looks green straight out of camera. In certain lighting conditions, grass, trees and foliage have a tendency to look over-saturated and neon. And when they do, they need to be edited to look more natural.

2. Colour casts. When light bounces off a coloured surface, it becomes contaminated by that colour. If the light then touches a nearby person or object, it transfers its hue, which is what photographers call a “colour cast”. In outdoor portraiture, it’s very common for light to reflect off trees and foliage to give people a slightly green complexion – never a good look (unless you’re the Jolly Green Giant. Or the Incredible Hulk). While there are ways to minimise the risk of a green colour cast, sometimes it’s unavoidable. In these cases (yep, you’ve guessed it), it’s editing that comes to the rescue.

Here’s a photograph that demonstrates both of these problems.

First, look at the colour of the grass and foliage. It’s too saturated, and has a yellowish tinge. Next, look at the boy’s hair and complexion. Notice the green colour cast?

The image straight out of camera. Note the grass colour, and the green cast on the boy's face, teeth and hair.

If you have trouble spotting the cast in the first image, here’s a close-up of the boy’s face, with the yellow saturation turned up to 100%. This makes the cast much more obvious – look under the chin, at the teeth, and at the hair around the boy’s ears.

With the yellow saturation increased (temporarily!), the extent of the cast becomes obvious.

The final image is the edited shot. To make the grass look more natural, I’ve removed some of the yellow and decreased the yellow and green saturation. Then, I’ve had a tinker with the magenta, and again that troublesome yellow, to deal with the colour cast.

The final edit: the grass looks green, and the boy's skin has reverted to its normal colour.

A side-by-side comparison

Et voila. Thanks to the power of the editing suite, green’s no longer my enemy. Which means I can enjoy the beautiful summer, secure in the knowledge that its bright colours won’t interfere with my photography.

I’ve written this blog as part of the #collaborationnotcompetition project. If you’d like to see how other photographers have interpreted the theme, take a look at any of the websites below:

Anna Hurst Photography

Catriona Mairi Photography

Charles Thorne Photography

Clare Harding Photography

Clare Walpole Photography

Dandelion Photography

Derya Vicars Photography

Hannah Cornford Photography

Helen Rowan Photography

Jo Haycock Photography

Photography by Leela

Light Monkey Photography

Louisa French Photography

Lyndsey Abercromby

Lynne Harper Photography

Mel Wilson Photography

Nadine Brandt Photography

Sarah Gibson Photography

Portrayed Photography

Danielle Reeder Photography

Tor Keene Photography

Nina Mace Photography

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