Deke’s Techniques: Correcting an underwater photograph

Published by | Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

A side effect of shooting underwater is that colors are filtered away by the water between your lens and the subject. A flash can help, but there will still be some color loss. You can bring back the full-color glory of sea life, though, by using the tools in Photoshop. In this movie, Deke McClelland shows you how.

To get the best results from this technique, you need to make sure you have enough color information in your image. But you can’t gauge this with the naked eye. Instead, go to the Channels panel in Photoshop and isolate the Red channel. If the channel appears too dark, this technique probably won’t work, but if your image detail is still clear, you can proceed.

FIgure 1


1. Before you begin, convert the image to a Smart Object to make sure all your edits are applied nondestructively. Right-click in the image window and choose Convert to Smart Object.

2. Choose Window > Histogram to open the Histogram panel and see what kind of corrections you need to make. Choose All Channels from the panel flyout menu to review the levels in your image. In the case of the sea turtle image, we need to introduce shadows to the Green and Blue channels and highlights to the Reds. Close the Histogram panel.

Figure 2


3. Alt- or Option-click the New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Levels. Name the layer restore color and click OK. When the Properties panel appears, press and hold the Alt or Option key and click the Auto button to open the Auto Color Correction Options menu.

Experiment with the different correction algorithms to find the one that works best with your image. In this sea turtle’s case, it’s Enhance Per Channel Contrast. This is usually the best algorithm for images with a highly-pronounced color cast. Then turn on Snap Neutral Midtones and click OK.

Figure 3


4. Go to the Properties panel to make more precise adjustments to the highlights, shadows, and midtones. Here’s what the sea turtle required.

  • Switch to the Green channel. Click the Gamma (midtone) input field and press Shift+Down Arrow to slightly darken the midtones.
  • Change to the Red channel. Increase the midtones to 1.23
  • Return to RGB and change the black point, or shadows, to 10 and take the midtones to 0.9.

5. The Levels adjustment might oversaturate your image. To reduce it, Alt- or Option-click the New Adjustment Layer icon and choose Vibrance. Name the layer downsat and click OK. Then go to the Properties panel and reduce Vibrance to -20.

Figure 4


That’s how to bring detail and vibrancy back to your underwater photographs. Just don’t forget to bring a flash to get the raw material. Check out the video for more information on cropping and rotating your photos.

Members can watch the followup movie in the library to learn how to add a glossy, smooth finish to the turtle. And everyone should return next week for a new free movie on reducing noise with Camera Raw.

Check back for more free movies each week in Deke’s Techniques.

Interested in more?

• Start your 7-day free trial to today
• The entire Deke’s Techniques collection

Adobe and Photoshop are registered trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated.

Share this:Share on Facebook12Tweet about this on Twitter6Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest15Share on LinkedIn5 - start learning today

Tags: , , , , ,

One Response to “Deke’s Techniques: Correcting an underwater photograph”

  1. Christian says:


    Wow wonderful results! Great tutorial! Will try it in 3 weeks after my holidays and’ll report the results :-)



Leave a Reply