Tips For Achieving The Best Fall Colors

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  By Karyn Lee
Tips For Achieving The Best Fall Colors

So, you’ve planned a fall shoot, the leaves are turning color, your clients are pumped, and you get through your shoot like a champion. You’re excited to get to work on these images – the images that should have beautiful, magical fall colors.

Only, you open the RAW files to discover that the fall colors weren’t nearly as spectacular as you remember. Your client looks great, but the leaves appear lifeless and lackluster.

There is a very simply Photoshop fix for this. First, let’s talk about why the colors don’t look as spectacular as you’d hoped. If you shot in RAW, your files are automatically going to look a little flat. This is because when a camera compresses to JPEG, it discards extra color information in an attempt to shrink the file, and this gets rid of muddy colors.

Below, I have given you a sample of an SOOC RAW image.


A few observations – the colors are generally flat, and also there aren’t too many varieties in the fall colors. This was shot in Southern Alberta, Canada, and while we do have changing leaves, most turns from green to yellow, then fall off the trees within a matter of 3 -4 weeks. We really don’t get a lot of variety.

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You can see the adjustments I have made in the RAW dialog box above. I warmed the temperature of the image up from 5100 to 5700 to bring out the yellows in the trees. I also moved the tint slider over to the magenta side just a little bit, to remove the greens. To eliminate the flat colors, I increased the contrast to +25, and also slid the highlights to +11 and the shadows to -9. Lastly, I made very small adjustments to the vibrancy and saturation.

The most important thing to remember is that I kept it looking natural while increasing the contrast.

Below, you’ll see the image after those basic adjustments. You’ll notice it’s already made a pretty significant difference.


Now, on to the fall colors.

All I have done is created a Selective Color Layer, and adjusted only the Reds and the Yellows. I haven’t touched any other colors. I have also only masked this color onto the trees and the mountains.

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I would avoid getting it on the grass, as that is always supposed to be green. I didn’t exactly mask carefully either – you have the freedom to be a little bit sloppy.

Here is the finished image.


More Drama

Now that you have the basics, you can use the same principal to add lots of drama to drab photos.

The sample I have chosen below was taken during the first week of November – by that point, all the leaves were gone, and everything around here looked pretty dead. Using the simple trick of shooting at a really low depth of field, I can actually make the trees in the background appear as though they have lots of leafy detail.

From there, I can make the colors really pop.

Below is the SOOC image – it’s pretty boring in terms of color.


The next image includes the same basic adjustments I made to the first image, along with standard retouching. I have eliminated those steps to keep this tutorial short and focused on fall colors.


From here, we can begin to work on the fall colors. Because I want something really dramatic here, I have duplicated my background layer and changed the blending mode to Overlay. This will give all of your colors a solid pop.

Next, I use the same selective color layer I used in the first sample, only much stronger. I have made adjustments to the Reds and the Yellows, just like the first time, however, I have increased the intensity.

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Last, I wanted the colors to appear dark and moody, so I added a simple curves layer to bring down everything. This curves layer is again masked off the subject – I only want to the effect to apply to the trees in the background and the umbrella.

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This is what all my layers look like combined.

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As you can see, I’ve been very careful to mask off my subject, because an Overlay blending mode will give your subjects some really strange color casts. If you’re not careful with your masking at this stage, you’ll end up giving your subject a very obvious halo. It’s the same with the Selective Color Layer – Because the intensity has been increased so much, I have to be much more careful about masking off my subject. Inattention to detail on the masking is going to create a halo around your subject.

Here is the final image:


With a little bit of practice, this can be achieved in as little as 2-3 minutes per image!

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Karyn Lee runs a fully appointed portrait studio in High River, and has worked with both family and wedding clients, as well as high profile corporate clients. Karyn uses a Nikon D800 and a wide arsenal of lenses to produce her work. Please follow Karyn Lee on her social media profiles.

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