Fixing Color Banding in Photos and Video

One of the things you'll have noticed if you're a photographer, videographer or motion graphics designer, is color banding artifacts when converting your work to 8bit web formats. This happens because each color of an 8bit image only has a color range of 256 values. So say you have a sunset that's orange and shifts into a purple or black. Between those two colors there might not be a large enough range in color to create a smooth transition between the two shades.

This is why you often don't notice these things in Lightroom but when you export to JPEG or H264 for the web, these things appear. There are a few ways to fix this. 

Fixing Color Banding in Photos and Video

– Often in photography it happens when you apply too much noise reduction. Noise can have a lot of variation of color that will add extra information outside the single shades 256 range. So if you notice banding a simple fix might be to dial back your grain reduction. 

– This leads to the next trick. You can add grain back in. This usually is what I do. Adding grain helps break up the color so it's not so smooth at the areas of the banding. 

– The last trick I'll use involves adding a very light gradient of a different color. This introduces extra colors to that single colors 256 range increasing the possible values of color the image can now have. It's really easy to do on a sunset. In Lightroom you can just apply the Gradient Filter. In after effects or Photoshop there are several different ways to add color gradients. You can use a four point gradient set to 2-5%. Or even a simple ramp set to a very low value. Just remember set the value as low as you can until the banding goes away. 

I learned this gradient trick from the Greyscalegorilla who is an awesome designer that posts a lot of tutorials for Cinema 4D and After Effects. You can check out his video here:

Also check out my Digital Photography Tips page for more tutorials which I am always adding to. 

Clear Skies In Malibu

This was taken at Matador Beach in Malibu California. Shot with the 5Dmkii and the 24-70mm f2.8L USM. One thing I've learned when shooting at beaches like this (since I've been doing it a lot). The longer you have your lens out the more haze covers the glass from the salty air. I noticed this one night when I was shooting with my 40mm f2.8. After about 45 minutes of using this lens, my images were getting more bloomy from the film that was forming on the UV filter. It actually created a rather nice effect. It happened slightly in the image below. To avoid it, you really have to constantly clean your glass. 

Malibu Beach Clear Skies HDR


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