Photo Tip #201: Get the Neon Look Without Post-Production

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If you’re a person who likes the neon look, then you should know the truth: you can use almost any colored light out there. The only thing you need to do is change your white balance. That’s it. You won’t need to do post-production. And you won’t need to retouch your wonderful model. All you need to do is wisen up and tweak a single setting for the neon look. If you look at lots of these images, you’ll realize they’re mostly around the same white balances. And trust us, it’s super easy to get this done.

So here’s all you need to do: set your white balance to either 3200K or 5500K. Why spend more time creating an image when you don’t need to? You can move onto another idea and be even more creative by spending more time behind the camera. 

Lots of folks use post-production as a crutch. If you’re spending more time in Lightroom, Photoshop, or Capture One than you did creating the image in-camera, you’re not a photographer, you’re a post-production artist. But if you’re reading this site, then you’re most likely a photographer. And with that said, you acknowledge that you’re the one who creates the images. Why not make your image creation even strong?

Here’s some extra insight. Try this. Look at the light you’re using and do this:

  • White light needs 5500K to look warmer and 3200K for the Blade Runner look.
  • Red needs 5500K to look super deep and 3200K for balance.
  • Orange needs 5500K to look super deep and 3200K for balance.
  • Yellow needs 5500K to look warmer and 3200K for a cooler look.
  • Green needs 5500K to look warmer and 3200K for a cooler look.
  • Blue needs 5500K to look more balanced and 3200K for a deeper blue.
  • Indigo needs 5500K to look more balanced and 3200K for a deeper embrace.
  • Violet gets its deepest embrace at 3200K and more balance at 5500K. 

Why am I so much against post-production? Well, I’m not. I believe that photography and post-production aren’t the same things. More importantly, I think we’re spending too much time behind computers and not enough time behind a camera and working with people. Obviously, we need to be safe due to a pandemic, but we should learn to do it all in-camera. Why? Photography is under attack. Specifically, photography as an art is under attack. The artistic side of it is done in-camera. Maybe I should explain it another way. 

If you’re getting paid $3,000, would you rather get paid for doing 30 minutes of work or eight hours of work? Obviously, it’s the former. And that applies whether you’re a professional or want to be a professional. But if you’re a hobbyist, it’s different. You’re telling the world that you need Photoshop to be a better photography. You’re telling the world that you need to do post-production and that people can’t look great the way they are. This can also apply to landscape photography. Why not use graduated ND filters? It’s surely possible to get great landscapes without a lot of post-production.

Think about this more carefully. Try it for yourself. I challenge you to do so. Commit to doing it for a month, or a year! See what you can do to become a better photographer (or actually a photographer). The neon look will become so much more understandable to you too.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.