Our most asked questions often revolve around how to edit underwater photos, including how to get those skin tones right! I could easily write a whole book on this subject (and maybe one day we will) but for now here are some quick tips. Hopefully they'll help those just getting started and maybe if you've been at this for a while you'll learn a new trick or two as well.
There's a few things to keep in mind before taking the shot that will help you in post:
- water filters out the red light, hence why people turn into smurfs underwater. The deeper you go the more light gets filtered out so you'll get better skin tones closer to the surface.
- this is probably pointing out the obvious - shoot in the clearest water possible! Murky water turns your photos more muddy and makes it harder to correct in post. You can't control the ocean or other natural bodies of water, but if you shoot in a public pool, go early in the morning before the water turns into sunscreen soup.
- staying close to your subject also helps getting the clearest image possible.
- if you are shooting with a professional camera, shooting raw will give you the most flexibility to correct your images later
Now on to post processing!
It goes without saying, that as with any art, there are no hard rules and many ways to do things, and we all have a different vision. This is how I approach my editing, which of course doesn't mean it's the "right" way (for you), or the only way!
OK, moving on. So, I import my raw files into Lightroom and it looks something like this (actually, I run a home made preset on import, but SOOC would look like this):
Meanwhile my vision is more along the lines of this:
First, I want to put some of the contrast that's lacking into the image. I pull down the blacks, add some vibrance, and then play with the tone curve. You may have heard to crank up the clarity - I'm careful with that as it will also enhance any noise and artifacting in your image, so I usually only do a tiny bit of clarity.
Now on to the temperature and tint sliders to deal with color - but before I tell you what I do, I'll tell you what I don't do and why, though you may want to play with this (especially if you don't have photoshop).
Add a good amount of red/warmth and see what happens! Depending on what body of water you shoot in, your image might look ok (in a light pool, your background will likely go white at this point, but skin tones start to look more correct). I love deep, vibrant blues so this rarely works for me.
Some people use a radial filter to add warmth around the subject. I don't because I don't like the warm halo it creates in the water around the person.
Other people use adjustment brushes, again I don't because I don't find them very accurate in Lightroom, so I rather use photoshop.
So here is what I actually do -
first I adjust the image to get the best blue I can, without worrying about the color of the subject (they're usually looking very smurfy), and go to edit in PS.
Then, still in Lightroom, I make a virtual copy of the raw file, and now I adjust color for the subject, and go to edit that in photoshop too. If it's an under/over, I may make another copy and adjust for the "over" portion.
Then, once in photoshop, I bring the images into the same file and via layer masks merge the photos together - voila! Now you know my big secret ;-)
I do usually make additional adjustments - I've made myself some presets to further help the image pop, and sometimes I play with the curves in photoshop as well.
I always bring the photo back into Lightroom, where I may fine tune it before cropping and exporting (I may play with the saturation/luminance sliders in the blue/aqua tones, or add one more slight tone curve).
I'll get working on a more detailed post with some screen shots, but for now, hope this helps a bit and feel free to ask if you have any questions! Meanwhile, Amy's video is a great resource for detailed editing with layer masks in photoshop, so if you like check it out through the link below -
See you in the water,