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!
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!