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What is Color Banding and How Can I Prevent It?

Posted by Jacob Hawthorne on

What is Color Banding and How Can I Prevent It?

Ideally, the colors in a photo should gradually transition from one shade to another instead of making a sudden jump. But this does not always occur. Sometimes you get color banding which appears as distinct bands that can curve or show up as straight lines.

Color banding is more likely to happen in photos where one shade dominates. For example, if you are looking at a blue sky, you may see lighter and darker shades of blue that appear as bands in your photo. You may not see them at first, but they can show up later when you are editing your shot.

This article will explore the issue of color banding and provide advice on how to fix it.

Why Does Color Banding Occur?

Color banding usually occurs because there is not enough tonal range in the photo to create a gradual transition from color to color. It is also more likely to happen in a compressed file as the compression may remove some of the digital information. This causes the technology not to recognize slight tonal variations, so they are not processed correctly.

It can also happen during photo editing if you push one color setting to the extreme. For example, you may push saturation, vibrance or dehaze up too high so it is out of range for the correct exposure.

How to Avoid Color Banding

Now we know why color banding happens. The question is, how can we avoid it? Here are a few suggestions.

Shoot and Edit in Uncompressed Formats: JPEGS are compressed while RAW is not. If you shoot in RAW, you will maintain your digital information, so the images are processed correctly.

Get the Right Exposure: If you push your photo edits too far, your image will not be exposed properly. You can ensure your photo is well exposed by turning on your camera’s ‘blinkies’ or zebra stripes which will warn you if your image is under or over exposed.

You can also use a histogram which is a graph that maps the light in your photo. Ensure the peaks are not pushed to far to the right or left. If they are, adjust accordingly.

How to Fix Color Banding

If you see color banding in your photo, there are a few ways to fix it. These are as follows:

Check Your Monitor: It’s possible that color banding is happening in your monitor and is not actually in the picture. Therefore, you should start by opening the photo in a different program to see if the banding disappears.

Increase File Information: Color banding may occur if there is not enough digital information. You can’t add information to the file if you didn’t capture it in the first place, but there are some features you can use in Photoshop that maximize the information available while you edit.

For example, you can change your image mode from 8 bits to 16 bits. This will open up your color combination possibilities.

Make Subtle Edits: Color banding is likely to occur if you make extreme edits to your photo. It’s advisable to make changes little by little to keep it from happening.

Disguise Color Banding: You can disguise color banding by adding blur or by adding noise and a layer mask.

Color banding can destroy the look of your photo. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent it and work around it. Which of these methods will you be using to ensure color banding doesn’t occur?

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