Intelligent White Balance

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Rainbow Falls, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

We all know that sometimes it’s necessary to bracket the exposure in the camera to capture the entire dynamic range seen by the human eye. What is not so well known is the fact that white balance also needs to be bracketed in order to get a natural looking image.

Take a look at this shot of Rainbow Falls in Hawaii. My objective was to capture this gorgeous rainbow and process it so that the final result preserved what I saw with my own eyes. For this to happen, I had to bracket the image for exposure – and also for white balance in post processing – and then combine the final image using Photoshop Layers and Masks.

  • Rainbow Falls, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

    Exposed for foreground – cloudy white balance

  • Rainbow Falls, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

    Exposed for mid-ground – cloudy white balance

  • Rainbow Falls, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

    Exposed for sky – daylight white balance

The image to the left was processed for the foreground. At first I tried to use a shady white balance because the foreground was in deep shade. However, this made the image look too warm so I returned to a cloudy white balance. For the mid-ground (middle image), I started off with daylight color balance. My reasoning was, because it was lit by the sun, a sunny white balance would do the trick. However, using the sunny white balance resulted in very cool color tones. I had to adjust the white balance towards cloudy to warm it up to match the foreground.

As you can see, I started out with the most logical choices of white balance for different areas but quickly discovered that these choices produced very unnatural results. I had to rely on my own memory of the scene to adjust the white balance. I then intelligently blended the images together using Photoshop layers and masks.

Selecting your white balance is not always easy… it’s an art. As a photographer, you must rely on your own memory of the scene to create a natural looking image.

And yes… this image required a lot of cloning to remove the water drops. 😉


About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams

  • Stephen Ellis

    Jay, was also hoping to see how you blended the images.

    • We used to blend the image and offer our Webinar Recording for sale few years ago. But now we partner with other photographer to give you end-to-end look at our images. We produce video course that concentrate of field work….and our partners concentrate on post processing. This way you get end-to-end look at how to capture and process the image.

  • patrick

    It is almost a coincident to see this article Jay !! About a weeks ago, I had a single image that I processed 2 different ways. The main difference between the 2 was the white balance. I was stuck on which image I liked for myself best, one was a slightly cooler than daylight and the other was a cloudy warm image. I decided to try something different for myself and opened both in PS after my LR adjustments and stacked them. Since my cool image was more vibrant in the sky, I made a mask and blended the warm foreground into it but the warmth seemed so strong that I reduced the opacity and it had a very natural feel with the 2 white balance. After that, I opened up some older bracketed images and did the same thing. The results were amazing, and now to see this article just shows me it can definitely be done and look great! Thanks for sharing

    • You are welcome….Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Kevin

    Call me crazy, but since I shoot raw I don’t worry about this in the field. I shoot for detail retention in my highlight and shadows and since/if I’m combining exposures in post anyways (usually double processing my single raw file for the sky vs land) I just worry about it then.

    I suppose if you’re shooting jpg then yeah… worry about it. But if you’re shooting raw I feel that this is unnecessary and cumbersome.

    • It was not my intention to suggest that you shoot with different white balance in the field….but rather shoot RAW and post process it with different white balance. I will make it clear in the article. Thanks for the comment.

  • John

    or shoot raw…