Using the Capture One Advanced Color Editor

by Sep 7, 2021Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Using the Capture One Advanced Color Editor

In this article, we are looking at the Capture One Advanced Color Editor and how to use it. I’m also going to be explaining why this is so important for landscape photography.

[I should mention that I am from the UK so when I write about colour, I spell it with a ‘u’. This is different from much of the software which uses the American spelling, omitting the u, as in Advanced Color Editor. This means you will see both spellings for colour used in this article.]

Why the Advanced Color Editor is Important

As a landscape photographer in today’s digital world, it’s easy to forget about the role of colour. We somehow allow our cameras to determine the colours in a photo without questioning it. Often the only adjustments we make are to the Temperature and Tint.

This is a big mistake and a trap that’s easy to fall into. I recently found this out the hard way when I switched from using a Fuji XT3 to a Panasonic G9 as my main camera. I did this for a couple of months before switching back to the Fuji XT3.

At first, I hated the colours produced by the Panasonic. I tried all manner of tweaks to correct the problem, mostly relating to changing the camera profile. I found that I didn’t like the Panasonic profiles and that the Olympus and Fuji profiles used with the Panasonic RAW files were better; but they still didn’t feel right. What I was suffering from is trying to make the Panasonic images look like my Fuji images and I couldn’t.

If you don’t think profiles can make such a difference, find your “Base Characteristics” panel; it’s usually in the Color tab of the Capture One tools. There you can select the ICC Profiles for different cameras. It’s worth trying a few. They didn’t call this panel “Base characteristics” for nothing.

Dominant Colours

After a couple of months frustration with the Panasonic G9 I became somewhat used to the colours. But after switching back to my Fuji XT3, I quickly became colour frustrated again. The difference this time was that I was frustrated by both cameras, and it wasn’t something I could fix by switching profile or using the Temp and Tint sliders. It went much deeper and was related to subtle shifts in the colour. It was also how the dominant colours in the image related to each other. Here’s an example.

Dominant colours example with Panasonic G9

This is a RAW file from the Panasonic G9 where the only change made was to increase the colour temperature. The dominant colours in the image are those which you immediately pick and which I’ve highlighted here with numbers.

Looking at this image on my Mac, there seems to be a few problems:

  1. The colours themselves are slightly adrift of what I remember and expected to capture. For example, the blue of the sky appears too Cyan.
  2. The yellow in the sky and the trees seem particularly under saturated.
  3. The interrelationship between the dominant colours doesn’t seem harmonious so they don’t quite work together.

Whilst we can’t fix these problems using the Temp and Tint sliders, we can correct them using the Capture One Advanced Color Editor. But before we look at how it works you need to understand the HSL colour model. It’s the key to unlocking the power of the Advanced Color Editor tool.

The HSL Colour Model

The HSL model breaks down colour into three components which are Hue (what most people call colour), Saturation and Lightness. These components can then be represented using a three-dimensional cylinder.

HSL and HSV Model

Model source Wikimedia.

I’ve also included the HSV colour model here as it helps in understanding the Hue component. If you were to look down on top of the cylinder, you would see a colour wheel showing the different colours or rather hue’s blending into each other.

Next there is the saturation component of the colour. Towards the centre of the cylinder the colours are low in saturation. But as you move out towards the edge of the cylinder, the colours become increasingly more saturated.

The final dimension is the Lightness of the colour. At the bottom of the cylinder the colours are very dark, but they become progressively lighter as you move up the cylinder. When you reach the top the colours as so light, they appear white.

You can use the HSL model to represent any colour and you’ll find it implemented in many editing tools including the Capture One Advanced Color Editor. Let’s take a closer look at how.

The Capture One Advanced Color Editor

You’ll find the Advanced Color Editor in the Color tab of Capture One. You can see this indicated by number 1 in the screenshot below.

Locating the Capture One Advanced Color Editor

The Advanced Color Editor is in the “Color Editor” panel which then has three editors. There is the Basic colour editor, Skin Tone editor and then the Advanced Color Editor. You can access this by clicking the “Advanced” (number 2) title in the editor.

Once selected, before we can use the Advanced Color Editor we first need to sample a colour in the image to adjust. We do this by clicking the colour sampling tool (number 3) and then clicking on the point in the image to sample. You will then see this appear as a triangle in the editor’s colour wheel.

Capture One Advanced Color Editor with a colour selected

Having selected a colour, you will see the circle in the Advanced Colour Editor becomes coloured. This represents the different colour Hues in the HSL model. Then inside this is a small triangle we can change the size and shape of. This represents the range of colours that we’ve selected and the small dot inside the triangle is the actual colour that was sampled using the picker tool.

If you would like to see the areas selected on the image, you can click the “View selected colour range” option. When clicked the image will turn black and white except for the selection which remains in colour. This can be a useful visual check to help you refine your selection.

Adjusting Colours with the Editor

After selecting a colour, you will see it appear in a list in the Advanced Color Editor, just below the adjustment controls. Then below this, at the bottom of the editor are two colour swatches. The swatch on the left is the colour we sampled whilst the swatch on the right shows the effect of our adjustments.

Making colour adjustments in the Advanced Color editor

With a selection in place, we can adjust the Hue, Saturation and Lightness controls to produce a new colour. When we do this the image responds to reflect the changes.

Possibly the most difficult of these three controls to understand is the Hue slider. What might help is looking at the colours on the outside of the colour wheel whilst deciding which way to move the slider. When you move the Hue slider to the left, you shift the selected colour clockwise on the colour wheel. In this example the orange/purple moves towards blue/purple. Move it to the right and you shift the colours anticlockwise moving them towards red.

You can see more of the process of colour editing using the Capture One Advanced Color Editor in this YouTube video.

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Why Edit Colours in This Way?

To answer this, let’s go back to the problems we identified earlier with the dominant colours in our image. I wasn’t happy with the relationship between these or the actual colours, so I decided to run the image through Adobe Color to analyse them.

Starting image analysed in Adobe Color

Looking at the colour wheel in the centre I can see the relationship between the dominant colours. In colour theory terms it’s not quite a Complimentary relationship as the colours don’t fall opposite each other (at 180 degrees). The colours could form an Analogous relationship, but the levels of saturation are wrong with yellow being too weak.

Now let’s check the image following the adjustments I made using the Capture One Advanced Color Editor.

Analysis of the image after adjustment using Adobe Color

We now have an Analogous relationship between the colours, although they are quite widely spread. Of course, I’m not trying to create a perfect colour relationship because this is nature after all. The changes have however improved the colour harmony in the image.

Here’s a before an after shot of the RAW file using only the tools in the Capture One Advanced Color Editor.

Before and after comparison of the image following colour adjustment in capture one

The changes I’ve made were individually quite small but together they have a substantial impact on the feel of the image.

Summary of Using the Capture One Color Editor

As I hope you’ve seen in this article, the Capture One Advanced Color Editor is an extremely powerful tool. Using this, you can adjust the individual colours in your image to improve their appearance. Just as importantly, if not more so, you can fine tune the relationship between different colours. If you aren’t already using the Advanced Color Editor in your RAW processing, I would recommend you test it out with your own images. You can download a trial version of the software from the Capture One website.

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