The Digital Photo Guy

Finding Neutral Gray

by on Jan.29, 2010, under Monday Morning Tips

Precisely Identify Neutral Gray When Adjusting Color

A number of people who attended the free Photoshop Elements webinar a few weeks ago asked me to explain in more detail how I identified an area of neutral gray when adjusting levels. I posted a video a few days ago but then realized it might be of general interest. I first learned this tip at Photoshop World. If you’re thinking of attending, it will be worth your while. I try to attend every other year.

To recap, when adjusting levels and color balance, it’s important to identify the white, black and gray points in a photo. White and black are simple (if you forgot, see my YouTube video) but 50% gray (neutral gray) is a bit trickier. This technique isn’t something you use on every photo but, when it’s important to get it right, this will usually do the trick. I say usually because you might run across a photo that doesn’t have a neutral gray area.

Of course, the easiest way to set neutral gray is to include a Gretag-Macbeth Color Checker or a gray card in the scene but that’s not always practical. Can you imagine a soccer mom running onto the field yelling, “Time out! I need my kid to hold this gray card!” On second thought, skip that, I can imagine it happening.

I used the color checker in this shot to be sure I got the color of her blouse as well as her skin tone correct in post processing.

Anza-Borrego Spring Wildflower Photoshoot Workshop

Things are looking really good for a great spring wildflower season. I have scheduled 2 one-day sessions on March 20 and 21. Each session is limited to just 4 students so you have my full attention. I’ll be there on Friday, 3/19 to scout the area. You’re welcome to tag along to see what I’m doing but there’s no instruction that day. Heck, you’re even welcome to tag along on Monday, 3/22 if I decide to stay another day. Students are welcome to try my lenses and gear but those registered for both days have first dibs.

Below are some shots from last year which looked promising but fizzled at the last moment.


The best deal is to register for both days to concentrate on macro photography the 2nd day (Sunday). The first day is all about gorgeous desert wildflower landscapes and vistas. Of course, if you just register for the second day and want a repeat of the first day, we can accommodate that as well.

Click HERE for more details or send me an e-mail.

Add a Dual Monitor to Improve Your Efficiency

Adding a second monitor to your PC is the fastest, easiest ways to speed up your workflow. Unfortunately, even a low end LCD monitor costs ~US$150 so, unless you’re a pro, it’s hard to justify spending more money, especially in these economic times.

The good news is at many people have an old laptop or desktop PC lying around gathering dust. For US$39.95, you can connect that spare PC to your primary PC and use it as a second monitor. It’s amazingly fast and has several different modes so you can even run different jobs on the second PC while continuing to use the second monitor as an extension of your primary monitor.

This is probably the most useful program I’ve purchased in the last 10 years. Click the ad below for full details.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • lauralee Humes

    Hi Lee,

    I’ve been viewing/listening/absorbing (well, trying to)your various videos from your archives. What a plethora of information. I’m like a little kid in a candy store. Your PDF files are especially helpful since I can print the articles for easy reference. After watching one of your Topaz Remask videos I’ve now got a Wacom tablet on my wish list. Do you have a video on how to replace the background with another color, or different sky. What about adding a bird to a lonely fence?

    • Lee

      Hi Lauralee,
      Your enthusiasm is infectious so, before you get wrapped around the axle, I suggest you prioritize your goals. For example, learning to use a tablet can take time. A Wacom tablet is one of the best investments a digital photographer can make but you need to make a concerted effort to get the hang of it. It’s not as natural or intuitive as you might think.

      I know you’re trying to learn PS CS4 ad PSE so throwing Topaz ReMask into the mix will make your learning curve even even steeper. I demo a sky replacement technique in my Photoshoot Workshops where I teach PSE between the morning and afternoon shoots. Adding an object is very similar to changing the sky so you should be able to adapt a sky tutorial to do that. The internet is full of sky replacement tutorials, just do a quick Google search. HTH (hope that helps)


      Bottom line, don’t take on so much that you’re overwhelmed. Decide what’s most important and work on that first.

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