How to take a WOW photo: Bringing out the color :: Digital Photo Secrets

How to take a WOW photo: Bringing out the color

by David Peterson 15 comments

Recently, I wrote a piece on how to create a photo that is so spectacular, you can only say "WOW". I couldn't have anticipated how popular that article was going to become, so I have decided to expand on some of the ideas I covered back then. In many ways, the single goal of any photographer such as yourself is to create photos that make people say "WOW". These are just a few more tools you can use to get to your goal. Ultimately, taking more photos and getting loads of experience under your belt is what will help you the most.

In the previous article, I discussed the importance of always searching for powerful and standout colors. Whenever you are trying to bring more color into a photo, you should always be thinking about finding the right kind of light. After all, photos are nothing but light reflecting off of things. If you use warm light that isn't as harsh as direct light, colors come out more, and your photo will have a powerful impact.

Consider alternate light sources

I said earlier that sunset and sunrise are the best times for lighting, and you should always be taking advantage of them, but i didn't talk about other light sources. Many WOW photos are actually taken with the use of flash equipment. The photographer doesn't shine the flash directly at the subject, but rather, bounces it off of a wall or an umbrella to create a more indirect and warm kind of lighting. This technique can be used at night during parties or even in the middle of the day when a part of your subject is in the shadows.

Also think about street lamps and other colored light sources. If you use a tripod and a very slow shutter speed, you can use those sources of light to take pictures of lush urban landscapes. Oftentimes, because the light is of a different color than direct sunlight, you are practically guaranteed to get very colorful photos. It isn't as easy to get a WOW photo at night, but they are extraordinary when you do get them.

How to color enhance your photos

Sometimes the difference between a WOW photo and ordinary one is a little extra work in Photoshop. Now I'm not saying great photographers are made while sitting in front of the computer, but if you have a way to make your photos more colorful, why not use it?

The following is a brief tutorial on how to play around with color enhancement in Photoshop. To start, open up the photo you want to enhance. Next, go to the image bar on the top and open up the "mode" menu. From the mode menu, pick "LAB color." The LAB color mode basically splits the photo into three layers that allow you to control warm tones, cool tones, and lightness.

Next, go to image, then adjustments, and then curves to open the curves menu. From curves, you can access the two different color channels "a" and "b." You should see that each has two sliders on the upper and lower corners. Bring both of the sliders in on the horizontal axis for both the a and b channels. You can also change the positions of the sliders by entering lower valued numbers in the bottom fields.

Play around with the sliders until you have made the photo more colorful without going overboard. As a starting guideline, I like to set the input and output boxes to +100 and -100. The more you move the sliders inward, the more colorful the image will be. The limit occurs when you can start seeing lines and pixely dots where two overly powerful colors collide.

The key to color enhancing, as it is with everything in photography, is subtlety. Do it just a little bit, and your photos will make people say WOW. Do it too much, and it will look like you're trying to put makeup on a monkey. You can expect more on this topic in articles to come. It's a very important skill to have these days, especially when almost everyone is using some kind of color enhancement on their photos.

When you are finished, you will want to go back to the original RGB color image mode. If you don’t, you won’t be able to save your new colorful photo in the file format you want. Just go to the image menu, then mode, and then RGB.

These two supplemental ideas should keep your creative juices flowing. Just remember, one of the keys to the WOW factor is color. Bump it up either while taking your photos or at the computer, and you will have some truly fantastic shots. And while you're at it, send me some shots so I can see your progress. I'd love to do a critique on this topic.

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  1. Joy Hudson says:

    I only have Lightroom, is there an equivalent process I can use?

  2. Dr Kenneth Turner says:

    Good article. General comment I always make to my digital photography students is "never overdo it, it won't look natural unless that is what you want".

  3. David Peterson says:


    You can increase the vibrancy or contrast of your images, but they won't give as fine-grained control as the Curves setting. For that, you'll need to upgrade.


  4. Belinda Herring says:

    I have Photoshop Elements 6 which does not have the "LAB colour" or "Curves" options. Please can you tell me if there is there any way I can enhance the colours with the version I have, ie achieve a similar effect without having to upgrade my software?

  5. duarte says:

    Very nice article.
    It lets you learn the foundamentals of color correction.
    I've tried with some photos and then I realised that if you use them in RGB mode, instead of Lab Mode, you can achieve even better results.

  6. nina says:

    great tips thank you

  7. gideon says:

    i would like to remark that very often the black/white photos with correct contrast are more "wow"

  8. Geo says:

    Great tutorials and advise

  9. Igor Lodyzhenskiy says:

    There is a wonderful book of Dan Margulis "Photoshop LAB Color."
    You're gonna find a full jar of absolutely amazing technics in it.
    Recommend it very much!
    The tip from above comes directly from there

  10. jim says:

    Sensible methods of achieving very good photos

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.