How to Wash That Gray Right Outta Your Photos (with Photoshop Elements)

Let's talk about a super simple way to fix those gray overcast photos with just a few clicks in Photoshop Elements (I'm using PSE 9 for those following along).

But first...I may be dating myself here, but I remember watching this Clairol Loving Care hair color commercial when I was a kid where the woman was singing about "I'm gonna wash that gray right outta my hair!" (a takeoff on the song "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair" from the musical South Pacific). Now, every time I fix one of my photos from gray to white, I think of that song. And now you will too.

But, I digress. On to the tutorial!
Disclaimer: I am not a Photoshop "expert"! I am, just like most of you out there, always looking for quick and easy ways to edit my photos without spending a lot of time and money on it. with every post on my blog, this is just an account of my way of doing things. I hope it helps you too!

Here's my original photo of one of my Tote2Go ID Wallets. I love the wallet, but the's okay - nice and clear, but gray as a Seattle winter's day...

Yuck. Gray, gray, go away...don't come back another day...
If you find your should-be-white-background type photos have this sort of gray overcast to them, give this quick fix a try - it may save you tons of time messing with sliders and numbers! Here's what to do:

Let's Talk About: Custom White Balance

A while ago, I wrote about how manually adjusting your "EV +/-" setting can help you brighten up your gray photos quite easily. However, if your color balance is way off - beyond just a bit of graying out, then it's time to look at the next step in managing the color of your photos: Custom White Balance.

Yikes. That is some serious blue background!
White balance is a camera setting that adjusts according to the ambient light around your scene. In most cases "auto white balance" works just fine, however, when it comes to small object photography, sometimes "auto" just doesn't give you the results you need. When this happens, it's time to go custom!

For the Record: Quick Photography with Natural Light

I recently made a set of pendants for an upcoming gallery show and wanted to take some quick photos of my work for my personal records. I didn't want to set up my whole photography setup so I grabbed my point and shoot camera and a large white envelope that was sitting on my desk and proceeded to start taking photos.

My studio window...nice and big! Look at all of that natural light!
I love my huge studio window, but for photographs in the middle of the day it was just too much light to take effective photos. To correct this, I closed my blinds and used that white envelope to create a quick mini studio:

Point and Shoot Cameras: Follow up to the Depth of Field Post on Etsy

In a recent guest blog post on Etsy (Mastering Depth of Field: Techniques for Dynamic Photos)
I wrote about working with your camera's manual aperture settings (aka: f-stop). Controlling this setting in both point and shoot and DSLR cameras helps you create really dramatic photos of your small objects:

Depth of field refers to the area in which an object is in focus
(a "shallow" depth of field is depicted here)
Visit the Etsy blog post to learn more about controlling Depth of Field

But what if your point and shoot camera doesn't have the ability to manually adjust its aperture settings? Does this mean you have to buy a new camera? (click through to find out the answer)

Beautiful Product Photography: Obelisk

Obelisk's Etsy shop photos are smart and beautiful. By manipulating depth of field and taking advantage of natural light, they add incredible warmth to their concrete items.

Notice how the shallow depth of field in the Concrete Zen Tray photo creates a softness around the item? This technique is a very effective way to create an inviting photo that begs to be clicked.

Beautiful work and awesome photography, Obelisk!

Small Object Photography take-away:
  • Don't be afraid of shadows. They add depth to a photo when used correctly.
  • Learn how to manipulate your camera's depth of field to soften your photos and create intimacy
  • When shooting an object in the center of your frame, use the rule of thirds and place a horizon line in the lower 1/3 of your frame to create balance

Backlit Photography with Your Point and Shoot Camera

A bit outside of the "small object" realm, but definitely still "photography" so I'm going to share my tips on creating beautiful sun streaked photos like this one using your basic point and shoot camera:

the beautiful Caitlin Moore of Olympia Seed Exchange and Urban Food Warrior

I created this photo in-camera and posted it here with no other adjustment than reducing the file size. This being my first attempt at backlit photography, I was pleasantly pleased with the way the series of photos turned out!

Here are a few things I learned during this experiment:
  • Spot metering is your friend - it allows you to meter off of your subject's face and therefore create a well balanced photo
  • Setting the camera to shoot in a sepia tone creates instant vintage looking photos
  • The best sun flares look like big vertical streaks of over exposed light in the camera's view screen
  • Trees and other shrubbery help to break up the light and create a beautiful sun-glow effect around your subject
  • It's important to take a lot of not-so-great photos to make sure you capture a handful of great shots
I'm looking forward to experimenting with this technique with my DSLR and see how that differs from the fully automatic point and shoot. I'll post my results here when they're available.

Have you ever tried to shoot back lit photos? 
What tips for success do you have to share?

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