Color banding is a frustrating and common issue that many photographers face. Imagine, you’ve captured the perfect image and started to make edits in Lightroom, only to find these weird lines that show up across the photo. No matter how much you adjust exposure and saturation, you can’t seem to get rid of them. So, how do you fix it?
Color banding happens when the bit depth of an image is too low to support the number of tones required to allow for a smooth transition between colors. This can be adjusted in editing programs like Lightroom by adjusting the bit mode.
If you have color bands showing up in your photos, don’t toss them quite yet. Keep reading for an easy guide on how to fix color banding in Lightroom and how to prevent it from happening in the future.
The camera records as much data as it can in the image’s pixels when a photo is taken.
When an image’s bit depth is insufficient to support the necessary number of tones for a seamless transition between colors, color banding occurs.
Bit depth refers to the amount of tonal variation found in an image:
- 8-bit image: 256 colors
- 16-bit images: 65,536 colors
- 32-bit images: 16,777,215 colors
Essentially, it is how much information each color channel can store in each pixel.
Though the best way to handle color banding is to avoid it altogether by shooting in RAW, this can also be easily fixed in post-processing using Lightroom.
One of the best things about Lightroom is that it has the ability to open RAW and JPEG files. However, this also means that it’s easy to miss color banding when editing many photos at one time, especially if the photos were captured at different times.
For example, one photo could be a RAW image of a field of flowers, with a high enough bit depth that no banding happens at all. However, the next photo in your batch could have been taken as a compressed JPEG. You want to apply a present that you created from the edits of the last photo, but something doesn’t quite look right.
Here’s what you can do about it.
Before you can fix your color banding, you need to find it. Oftentimes, banding can be so subtle that it’s easy to miss until you see the printed result.
Banding often shows up in areas where there is little detail, but a lot of variations of the same color. For example, an open sky or a portrait against a solid colored wall. If there isn’t enough of a range to represent each tone, you’ll get banding instead of a smooth transition.
When you open up your image in Lightroom, the first thing you’ll want to do is check the image mode.
To do this:
- Open the Preferences dialog window from the Edit menu
- At the top, you should see the bit depth setting along with the color space
- If the bit depth is set to 8 bits/component, you’ll want to increase the bit depth size to 16
This isn’t going to fix the banding issue right away. Instead, it gives your image the possibility of more tonal range, allowing future edits to be made.
Next, try applying a graduated filter after changing the image mode. The graduated filter is an adjustment tool that is great for blurring backgrounds in a photo. By creating a blur in the photo, this will smooth out any banding that is present.
Grab the graduated filter, and click and drag on the area that you want to blur. In this case, it would be any space that you find color banding.
With all that said and done, the easiest way to deal with color banding is to avoid it from the start.
Here are a few tips to help keep banding at bay:
- Always shoot in a RAW file format
- Avoid strong adjustments to contrast or saturation on 8-bit images
- Open files with in 16 bit image mode
- Reduce the image resolution
- Avoid strong lighting changes against solid backgrounds
Remember that you want your image to retain as much information as possible if you are going to be applying edits. Many of these things should be taken into consideration before taking a photo so that it isn’t a problem to begin with.
Color banding can quickly take a photo from a masterpiece to an eyesore. Hopefully, this quick guide gave you the tools you need to fix any color banding issues you run into in Lightroom.