Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pushing White's Balance

As everyone that has been reading the blog probably knows, I love taking pictures that include the sky.  Especially if I can incorporate the sky into a picture where  it's not the main subject.  Plus, the bluer, the better!  My favorite times to get pictures of the sky are late afternoon when its blue and preferably with some white puffy clouds.  But this is easy.  I just go outside with my circular polarizer and turn it until the sky is nice and blue. 

This technique does make great pictures but there is an even better time to make the sky even bluer, right after the sun has completely gone down.  You are also going to have street lights and store signs on to make the picture even more interesting.  There is a time known as twilight, that happens right as the sun sets and this is when the sky will light up with different colors and you get great soft and warm lighting for landscape pictures.  This is the best time to take a landscape picture that involves other lights, because you can get the sun light to match the output of the electric lights.  However I'm talking about the few precious minutes after that.  Where the sun is completely gone and the sky looks almost black.  There is still some great blue sky in there, you just have to know how to capture it. 

Here are a couple of examples of different white balance settings to change how the camera exposes the scene.  In the first picture I used a Kelvin setting of 10000.  This made the picture very warm and yellow.

This second picture was taken literally seconds after the first with a Kelvin setting of 2500.  It renders the picture extremely cool and blue.  

Both the first and second shots were taken at the extremes of the Kelvin scale just to show that you can set your white balance to change what the camera sees.  Remember, the camera is an instrument of creation similar to a paint brush or pile of clay.   However most people use them as copy machines to take mediocre snapshots of things they see.  They leave their camera in auto and just accept whatever it gives them.  Digital pictures are free take a million!  Push buttons and change settings to make your camera push its limits.  By just changing the white balance you can dramatically affect the outcome of a picture, as seen above. 

This third picture is what we are looking for.  Its set a Kelvin temperature in between the first two closer to the cooler side in order to keep the sky and water a deep blue.  Its somewhere in the neighborhood of 3030.  The sun is completely set and gone but the sky is still nice a blue.  By setting the cooler white balance the camera exaggerates the sky and water making them even more vivid.

This is another example of auto white balance versus a manual white balance.  The first picture is set to auto white balance.  Now its not a terrible picture but it could be better.  It just doesn't grab your attention.  If it doesn't grab yours its not going to grab anyone else's and they will skip right past it.  

Here all I did was change to a custom Kelvin white balance.  I took this picture at 3330.  Even at night the sky is still blue, we just have to tell the camera to pick it up.  Here we have a great blue sky with a complementary yellow street lamp.  To me this picture is much more interesting and makes me want to look at it.  The first picture is just dull and boring.  The second one is vivid and has life. 

Here are a few more examples of capturing the blue sky right after sunset.  Again, the camera is an instrument of expression.  Use it to show feeling and tell a story.  Don't just accept the manufacturers settings of what they think will look best for all pictures.  This is almost never right.  When lighting changes the camera needs to change.  Next time you are out shooting try changing your white balance to see the difference for yourself.  



  1. Very well written and thought out post, friend!

    Now if only I had a camera other than my iPhone... no on-the-fly white balance adjustment for me!

    you should do a post about cellphone cameras... you know, because "a real photographer can take quality pictures with anything" riiiight? ;-)

  2. you should sell your pictures to local magazines...your pictures rock!