How to edit underwater images using Adobe Lightroom – part 1 colours

Another one of those questions which I am often asked as an underwater photographer is “What do you do to the photos in Adobe Lightroom?” I usually give a simple answer saying that I just change the colours a little, add a bit more contrast and remove any spots. This usually satisfies my customer, but sometimes there are those people who want all the details.

So I have decided that as I just released my PDF Adobe Lightroom Course, I would explain those three elements in more detail. This blog will focus on the first; the colours. 


Understanding The Colours

If you are a diver you will understand that we loose colour as we go deeper into the water column. Red is the first to be lost at around 5 meters. Then followed by the rest of the spectrum until we finally loose blue at about 70 meters. As an underwater photographer this is something which is going to greatly affect your work. 

There are a couple of ways to counteract this; using external underwater lights, using the on camera white balance and of course Adobe Lightroom. (If you would like to learn more about underwater lighting or your cameras white balance please Contact me to discuss course options) 

Before I go into detail on how to change these colours in Lightroom, I need to emphasis that Lightroom can only work with the colours which are captured in the file. Therefore it is a good idea to work use either external lights or your cameras white balance in conjunction with the methods I am about to show you. Personally I use external lights to in deeper water ensure I have the reds in my picture. However if I am in water less than 5 meters I will sometimes just rely on the Lightroom tools.  


Example 1


Before and After of Shark Image

This is the before and after of a shark image which I took in about 3 meters of water on a bright sunny day. I didn’t use any external lights and my camera’s white balance was set to Auto. You can see that the before image is rather green. 

To change this I did one very simple thing. Under the Basic tab there are some white balance controls:

White Balance tool tab

The eyedropper tool can be used to select a white area of a photo. This tells the program that those pixels should be white and it will automatically adjust them. All the other pixels are also adjusted the same amount, therefore changing the colours across the photo. 

To finish editing this image I made small changes to the shadows, highlights, exposure, and contrast. There was also a few small particles floating in the water which I removed. These techniques will be explained in later blogs. 

Baby White Tip Reef Shark


Example 2

Before and After of Wreck with barrel sponge and divers

This image was taken from a depth of 20 meters. I used two Inon z240 strobes to light up the foreground of the image. You can see in the before image that the barrel sponge has some red showing but it is still a bit too blue. 

I started by using the white balance eye dropper to select a white area of the foreground. 

white balance eye dropper

This brought back some more colour, but it is now a little too red. 

White Balance tool tab

I drag both the temp and tint sliders to the left a little bit to reduce the reds and yellows and add in some more blues and greens. 

I finished the image by reducing the highlights and removing the spot in the top left corner. 

Wreck and divers


Example 3

Before and After of Indian Ocean Walkman

This image was shot in about 3 meters of water with 2 iron z240 strobes. 

Again I started the editing using the white balance eye dropper. 

eye dropper

This was too red so I used the tint slider to reduce the red. 

- tint slider

The subjects are not correctly coloured but there is still some blue and green around the edges. 

To adjust this I went to the HSL/color/B&W tab. 


I selected colour and then green. Here I moved the saturation slider to the left. 

I repeated this with aqua as well. 

The colour cast from the edge of the image was removed. 

Green and aqua saturation

I finished the image by creating a closer crop to the subjects, and making minor adjustments to the exposure and highlights. 

Indian Ocean Walkman

What’s Next

In my next blog I will explain how I change the exposure and contrast. 

If you would like to learn more about Adobe Lightroom please download my PDF Lightroom course.

Related posts

Leave a Comment