How to Salvage Discolored Concert Photos


Before you get to shoot concerts with amazing lighting like Todd Owyoung does, you'll probably be getting lots of practice in small bars and other such venues with dismal lighting. Once you've equipped yourself with some good gear, you'll need to take your work a step further. As you'll quickly learn, you may have to do quite a bit of work in Lightroom 3. Here is a tutorial on how to save your images.

A Bit About Color Theory

Part of the technical process of creating amazing concert photos is getting the colors right. Trust me, this is quite a bit more complicated than you'd like, and it's sometimes the most difficult part of making the picture the best it can be. In a perfect world, your camera's sensor would be able to get all the colors correctly the first time around.

However, often that doesn't happen.

Part of knowing how to fix this problem is to be aware of the different effects that your white balance settings will have on your images. Then you need need to be aware that there are certain color levels that will need to be tinkered with in order to achieve better results. I even go as far as using brushes in combination with desaturating settings.

So how the Heck do I Actually do this?

First you'll want to import your images into your favorite editing software. I'm usually in bed with Adobe Lightroom (I edit my photos with my laptop on my lap while sitting in bed).

As you see in the photo above, that's some pretty nasty magenta captured with my Canon 5D Mk II and 50mm F/1.8. While some people may like this look because of the realistic feel of it, my failing vision compels me to fix everything that I can.

Lead Writer's Note: My concert gear now consists of the Canon 7D and 35mm F/1.4 L. However, I've also found the 60D to be very good.

First things first: Everything is composed perfectly along the rule of thirds. Since this is out of the way, I don't really need to do any cropping. Notice how:

- The musician is on the right-third line.

- The heads of many in the crowd are on the bottom-third line.

- We can still see much of the venue, a good portion of the stage, and the musician-crowd interaction.

The first thing that I usually do is to raise my exposure levels. While this introduces more noise/grain into the photo, it starts to create a more balanced histogram (as seen in the top right corner of the image). Of course, this depends on just how well exposed the image is in the first place: This image was underexposed, as is evident in most of the color curve being skewed towards the left of the histogram.

Adjusting the exposure to balance the histogram allows me to have more versatility in my editing.

At this point, the next thing I typically do is adjust the color temperature (white balance) and tint settings. Notice how most of the image was very, very purple? That can be adjusted in the tint setting by moving the slider from purple toned to green toned.

I like to adjust the color temperature first, though, and usually use the tint settings for touch ups. In this case, the temperature was cooled (lowered) all the way down, and the tint levels were adjusted. But the image is still nothing like how I'd want it to look. If anything, it looks like Martians were breaking through the roof, about to abduct the entire crowd.

At this point, I determine what else is wrong with the image. For starters, the colors are very highly saturated. To fix this, I scroll down to the saturation bar and start to tweak it a bit until I feel that I've got a workable file.

After manipulating the slider, we can notice that more detail has come out in the musician's pants, his shoulders, the table, the stage, and even the walls of the venue.

After adjusting the saturation, I wanted to get back some of the color that I lost, because I felt that I'd be able to use it later on in the editing process. Instead of moving the saturation bar, though, I raised the contrast from +25 to +40. This gave me some noticeable color differences in the dark and light areas, which helped to make the image pop more.

Now here is where it gets a bit more technical: Lightroom 3 has a panel that allows users to tweak the saturation levels of specific colors. Instead of taking the lazy route and converting to Black and White (nothing against Black and White images), you can go through this process and create a better color image.

Those magentas and purples were still quite a thorn in my side, so I adjusted them a bit to a point where I believed I'd still be able to work with them later on. Be careful though, because if you desaturate too much, it may affect an area that you don't want to.

A workaround for this is using the paint brush feature in Lightroom 3 to desaturate only specific areas, but this can be very difficult to use correctly.

After the specific levels were adjusted, I decided that it was time to finally get rid of those blown out (overexposed) areas. To do this, I messed with the recovery slider until I achieved a look that was pleasing to my eyes. Now the image is starting to look significantly better. Much of the detail has come back to the image, such as the patterns in his shirt, the objects on the table, his skin, etc.

Alternatively, I could have played with the tonality curve, but I usually reserve that for minor tweaking.

Now we go back to the tint levels and readjust them to see what we can get. Again, I'm adjusting the slider until my eye finds a pleasing look.

I like to give a sense of mystery to some of my images, so sometimes I use the vignetting feature. For those of you that aren't familiar, the vignetting tool darkens the outer areas of the image. By adding the vignette to this image, I've:

- brought back more detail to the table

- added more of the "spotlight" to the musician

- given a sense of mystery to the crowd, and

- saved extra details in his pants and the amplifier at the front of the stage.

The next step is to reduce the image noise/grain for the pixel peepers out there. As we can see in the preview above the word "Sharpening," I adjusted the luminance control and raised the detail levels.

Additionally, I sharpened the image a bit and then raised the radius level. The radius is what really makes the sharpness shine through in your images.

Now the image is starting to really look great. But it's still not good enough for me.

At this point, I'd typically go in and adjust the vibrance levels to mute the magentas a bit more. As a result, I'm also muting the other colors, like the greens in the background doors, the hues on the musician's skin, and the colors cast on the crowd.

I want some of the color back though.

Finally, I raise the contrast levels up a bit more and I'm able to get a bit more of the color back, in addition to getting back a bit more detail.

And now I've fixed the image, and I'm very happy with it.

How would you fix the image? Was this helpful? Let us know your thoughts, insights and questions in the comments below.

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I'm amazed, just did a google search for clues as to remedy extreme colour saturation. Some of the venues I like to take pictures at have extreme violet and magenta hues. I don't mind a little bit of work to change things for the better. Great article, well set out and I like the step by step process. Chappeau!

A huge thank you for sharing those tips ! I tried on old pictures that I thought were just bad, and I got to some interesting results (I use Camera Raw but it's basically the same features).

Very helpful article! A good insight for new users like me. 

Thanks for reading, Ryan! We are glad you found the article helpful!

this is great! Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for reading, Libby!

Hi Lenny,

I am with Chris on this one. parting with my 5d would be hard too. if you want to get good black and white with that "film look" colorized, check the new (upcoming) release of Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 as well as alienskin exposure 3. I use it all the time for all sort of black and white and or film coversion look. concert photography can in fact be dificult especially with all the lights however, learning to see the light creatively can really go along way. I will try to post a few images of some examples on what i am talking about some time over the weekend. for now check out the soft i mentioned.


After going through the process fixing the image, I came to a logical
better off shooting it in black and white
(in film with HP5 or digital greyscale)-then it would be easier to color it afterward, and get it to look the way you want it to faster-

If you shoot RAW, you could still have a color version to refer to.