Quick Tip #14: Fixing that fugly red light in a show with split toning

One of the biggest complaints a concert photographer can have is the quality of light.  Low light, contrasty light or my personal hate … the dreaded red wash.  What is red wash?  Basically a red light (sometimes other colours) that sets a great mood for the fans but totally destroys the details in the lighter areas of a photo – mainly in the artist faces.  No better way than to show an example from a recent Queens of the Stone Age show here in Montreal

This is the image pretty much straight out of the camera.

queens of the stone age red wash

The quick and easy fix is to convert your image to black and white.  Sure, this works, but black and white should be used on images that make a good black and white, not to fix bad colours.  You can sometimes drop the saturation just a tad to make the face of the artist a little more natural looking, but this can only go so far.

Here is the above image where I adjusted the White Balance and desaturated slightly.  It is better than the original, but still has a weird red hue to it.


I’ve been experimenting for a little while with how to better an image that has red wash in Adobe Lightroom (my main editing software).  There is a section that I pretty much only use for red wash at shows and it’s called Split Toning.   I consider Split Toning a more advanced way of controlling White Balance.  Kind of.  In a way.  It allows you to control the tones in the highlights and in the shadows.  You can use it to create cross processing, a dual tone black and white… and to fix red wash!

Using Split Toning for a show is very image dependant, so there is no magical formula.  Here is the result of playing around with the split toning on the QOTSA image and right below, the Split Toning values used



A way more natural looking skin tone (although still a weee bit orange).  But easier on the eyes than with the giant red wash lights in the first image.

No magical formula?  I still have some basics of how I use the feature

  1. Up the Saturation of both highlights and shadows to somewhere in the 60-70 range
  2. Start adjusting the hue of the highlights.  Going slowly, watching the image, until you get a result that is close to natural
  3. Adjust the hue of the shadows, as you did the highlights
  4. Play with the Saturation and Balance some to see if it has an impact.


The drawbacks

  • Getting the right mix can be time consuming.  So if you are in a rush, you might not be able to get all images done
  • It doesn’t work on all images.  I have found some images where the wash was way too strong, nothing could save it
  • It’s not journalistic.  You are changing the colours of the lights of the show.  It doesn’t represent what the show was and what the lighting designer had in mind.  It’s an artistic tool.  Could be fine for you, but not for everyone.


There are a thousand ways to get things done in today’s digital world.  This is one i have found works for me.  There are probably others.  Maybe this post will help you find another way 🙂

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