Troubleshooting Color Cast


Hi guys,

Lisa here from Bliss Photography. Last weekend I shot an entire dance company’s rehearsal photos. We started early in the morning and shot until evening. recently moved into a new studio and haven’t quite gotten used to the lighting ( I usually prefer the natural light but here there isn’t any). Here I am using 2 studio lights, 1 being a large softbox and the other a fill. I am asking for a critique to this photo because I am noticing a purple-colored cast across my white backdrop. I have my lights set with my trigger and shot at 1/100 f18 ISO 200 and my white balance is on auto. I was thinking this was a white balance issue so on a few other photos I adjusted it but most made it worse so my best was auto. My thought was maybe the light blue color on the walls in the studio is what’s causing this. Please let me know your thoughts and opinions and more info on studio lighting!



Thank you for submitting this image for a photo critique Lisa, it’s always nice to be able to see a working photographer’s work and help with suggestions to make your, and other photographer’s, jobs easier.

I have done jobs like these and I don’t envy you. They are all-day, grueling jobs with parents gawking and fussing and children losing interest fast. Usually the attention span of a 5-year-old is about 30 seconds. That being said, I think the fact that all of the children are looking toward the camera is admirable. But let’s address some things that could have improved the image.

Three of the girls are looking at the camera and the little girl in the back right is looking somewhere off camera. This is incredibly nit picky, I know, but this is something that I would have noticed in my own work, so I feel compelled to bring it up in yours. In order to achieve a higher level of commercial polish, I would ensure that the background doesn’t compete with the subjects – this means taking all of the wrinkles out either before the shoot, or in post. They pose could be improved by moving away from a square and more toward a triangle. This will improve the balance and fill some of the open space in the center of the photograph.

There is one thing in the image that suggests you are working in a crowded space. This is the fact that you are shooting wide angle and the girls are really close to the background. Ideally, the subjects should be as far off the background as you can get them. In my studio days, I would routinely have a subject placed 10-20 ft. off the background. This is even more important when you’re shooting high key (light on light background) and everything will be seen. Pulling the subjects off the background will help lessen the sharpness of the background and it will also help provide a sense of separation, and therefore depth.

Now let’s talk color cast. There is a distinct color cast to the image. If your walls are blue, and the color of your strobes are slightly warm (yellow) then it’s understandable to get a purplish cast on your background. When I owned my studio I painted all of my walls Dove gray. It’s a paint I purchased from Home Depot and it was almost a perfect match to a gray card. When the walls were white, light bounced all around in my studio and it was impossible to control. When it was black (stupid decision) it was a pit from hell. After going to extremes I realized that gray was the perfect color for me. I also ended up shooting on the gray walls, as they looked a lot like Annie Liebovit’z gray canvas.

Just because you didn’t do a white balance (on a gray card or a white wall) before your shoot doesn’t mean you can’t fix it in post. Photoshop and Lightroom both offer white balance features that you can run in batches. If you shot in RAW (which I encourage everyone to do) then you can bring them into the RAW dialog box in Photoshop, use the white balance picker, select your background and achieve white. You can then synchronize all of your shots with this. Lightroom is far more efficient for batch adjustments and I’m sure David will cover this in his comments.


Just assessing the lighting I can see that you are running into a problem with your whites. You mentioned that your studio walls are blue, that is most likely the cause for this discoloration. Through Lightroom and Photoshop there are several approaches to correcting white balance. It is also easy to batch process your images in either of these programs if you don’t want to consider repainting your space.

On a separate note, the wrinkles in the back drop caught my attention. If you are trying to get rid of some of the wrinkles in the back drop, you can spray some water on the sheet ahead of time to avoid ironing. When the water dries, the sheet will be wrinkle free. That will save a lot of time in post if you’re trying to go for a smoother look in the backdrop.



First let’s talk about the image. I like the symmetry in the photo and I’m sure the client was pleased as well. Each of the subjects have a great smile on their face and the posing is very fitting to the scene. I know how difficult it can be to get children to do the right thing during photos, but they look like they cooperated very well. Their placement forms a visual square structure with each subject’s face being a corner of the square. While this form works well in the symmetrical space of the frame, it may have a tendency to leave a whole in the center of the image. There may have been opportunity to close the whole by having the two girls who are standing to turn their shoulders to one another and close the whole a bit. This could be a challenge with their dresses limiting how close they can get, but it’s important to think of the spatial relationship of the subjects in the frame.

Now in regards to the color, there is a blue tone that is coming in on the highlights. There are many factors that can affect color in a photograph. The color temperature, white balance setting, and reflective colors are just some of these factors. Computer calibration, post process, and display settings can all have an effect on what is seen. The recent viral “Blue or Black dress” conversation is a testament to that idea. With that said, it’s hard to pinpoint down specifically what may be the direct factor on a color cast issue. Based on the stated situation, it may be the light blue color of the walls of the studio that can have the subtle effect. When the studio strobes flash, that light can bounce off the walls of the studio and spill into the white of the background. Another factor can be the color temperature of the studio strobes. Not knowing the brand or settings of the strobes — they can give inconstancies in color. Obviously cheaper strobes will have the potential for more inconstancies than more expensive – calibrated systems. But I’d guess that the color of the studio walls plays more of a factor.

The reality is that it can be difficult to identify the specific factor that is causing the issue. What’s more important is what can be done to correct it. In regards to your studio walls, it’s best to think of a neutral paint color. This is why you’ll see many studio walls being painted black or dark grey. This helps to absorb any light spill and keep the neutral color of light from being reflected from influencing the scene. White, while neutral, will have some light bounce off the walls and can cause issues for your lighting control. However, something to consider is how you want your studio to feel. Your light blue may help the feeling that your clients have when entering the studio space. You may not want to get rid of that.

The other option is to understand what needs to be fixed in post production. Setting a white point is really all that’s needing. You know that in this photo the white point is the background. There are many tools to set that. You can also use Photoshop color adjustment to shift the highlights to more yellow to offset the blue cast in the image. The last consideration is to think about a color checker card. This card can help when determining accurate colors during a shoot. The first shot captures this card to determine accurate colors across each image of the photo shoot. This setting can be applied to the whole series of photos.

While it can be frustrating to deal with all the technicalities to a image, what’s most important is the image itself. The photograph’s emotional reaction is more important that the technical reaction. How a photo moves you will outweigh its more technical features.





2 comments on “Troubleshooting Color Cast

  1. Wendy Mayo

    Totally agree with all the pro critiques. Aaron’s comment about more space between the subject and the backdrop is helpful in that you would then have space to light the backdrop separately from the subjects. White backdrops look best and less grey if they have their own lighting. Might also add that I get better results by setting my camera white balance to flash when I am using strobes.

  2. Lisa

    Hi guys thank you so much for the amazing critiques without them I’d never be able to improve my work . I knew with this shoot I’d have a lot of post work ie: my sensor dirty didn’t realize until after and my backdrop wrinkles . This shoot was planned two days before and I had zero prep time ! With mom’s In the back of me talking to their children it wasn’t easy to get all eyes on me with 10min increments for each class and over 50 girls this was a huge challenge ! But this has helped me for my future studio sessions to correct my light for sure I am in the process of having new lights put up.
    I am also not super Photoshop savvy as I teach myself and use different editing programs depending on what I’m doing so batch work and fixing things in Photoshop that are new to me will take time. I have also had so many problems shooting in RAW and delivering a file to my client that is readable for them I just do what’s easy for me and shoot fine jpeg. All this being worked on ! I will continually try to teach myself new and improving ways to make my work that much better especially through critiques ! Thank you


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