Color Balance

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Preserve, New Mexico

I took this shot in New Mexico, at the Bosque del Apache wildlife preserve. The cranes were flying overhead as I set up my tripod – but by that time, I’d had my fill of photographing birds. I wanted to capture the beauty of the landscape as high winds and heavy clouds announced a coming storm. At times, I found it hard to stand still – gusts would almost push me off my feet. My eyes were stinging, and I had to hold onto my tripod to make sure it didn’t fall over… but the unusual autumn colors made it worth the trouble. I was drawn by the rich orange colors in the landscape – and the complimentary deep blue/grey of the sky. A bit of residual light made it through the clouds on the horizon to my right and behind me – and it provided a very soft, golden glow on the already colorful landscape.

I used a graduated neutral density filter to reduce the brightness of the sky, but I bracketed as well, since my histogram told me that the light areas in between the heavy clouds were still overexposing slightly. I blended the two images using our manual iHDR technique. Aside from the dynamic range problem with a shot like this one, color balance can be pretty difficult. Because the scene is so vast, the balance of light is often different from one area to another in a wide-angle image. In this case, the foreground needed one white balance, and the sky needed an entirely different one!

Take a look at the small image on the left below. The foreground color is just right (at least according to my memory of the scene) – but the sky is oddly white. This happens because light is being scattered and reflected differently in the sky than it is on the ground. When I set my color balance for the ground, the sky just looks wrong! So, I set the color balance in the RAW converter, saved a snapshot, and opened the file in Photoshop. And then I went back to the original RAW file and adjusted the color balance until the sky looked right (image on the right below)… ignoring the funky colors I created in the foreground… and then I opened the file again. Now I have two images open on my desktop and I can blend them with the help of some simple layers and masks.

Tip: I always save snapshots in the RAW converter as I’m working so that I can review or make changes later on. For this shot, I saved the two versions below.

The finished images is a better representation of the reality of the scene… and the color balance is no longer distracting. There are a lot of steps involved when it comes to capturing a wide-angle shot like this… I know! But it gets easier with practice. I promise! 🙂

The image on the left is balanced for the foreground, and the image on the right is balanced for the sky.

The image on the left is balanced for the foreground, and the image on the right is balanced for the sky.

Feel free to leave a comment! We always love to hear from you – and we’d love to see what you are doing, too. If you are struggling with white balance – or if you’ve mastered it – leave a link in your comment. Maybe we can all learn for YOU! 🙂

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.