Today's Photo Minute

Changing the color of your sunset/sunrise photos with white balance

The Concept:

Have you ever taken a photo of a beautiful sunrise or sunset with all those warm hues that we love (like oranges, yellows, reds, etc.) only to find that your resulting image was lackluster at best. Or maybe, you might want to make your average sunset photo look more warm and pleasing? Either way, one of most rewarding concepts, in my opinion, for sunrise/sunset photography is the difference that changing your white balance can make in the camera.

In essence, the mistake most photographers make is to leave their cameras in Auto WB all the time including at the beginning and the end of the day. The problem is that Auto WB allows the camera to adjust the color reproduction and when the scene you are shooting has lots of warm tones in it, the camera thinks that it should make the warmness turn cooler and adds blue back in, often ruining the effect you were going for. Therefore, if you did nothing else, you could use your Daylight/Direct Sun WB setting instead of Auto WB and likely will get a result truer to what you see. However, if this does not reproduce the scene accurately, or if you are like me and you would like to accentuate the effect of the warmth, you have some other options. In terms of using the preset (the WB “modes”) on the camera, going to Cloudy/Overcast adds some warmth and going to Shade adds even more. Or if you would rather use the Kelvin WB control on your camera, the higher you go on your Kelvin temperature, the warmer the image will be. The warmest you can do on most cameras is 10,000 degrees Kelvin. Below you can see examples of all the different WB options I tried on a photo of the sun about 20 mins before sunset last night as well as an image of the color the way it actually was.

Shot at 5500K WB, this is how the sunset actually looked to my eyes
Shot at Auto WB notice how much of the warmth has been removed by the camera.
Shot Direct Sunlight/Daylight WB (5200K) this is not a bad result at least compared to using Auto WB
Shot at Cloudy/Overcast WB, this is a slightly warmer image than the actual color and I tend to prefer this
Shot at Shade WB, this is definitely a warmer effect but still a great option
Shot at 10,000 Kelvin WB this is as warm as I can make it given the WB options on my camera

The Assignment:

Get up early or go out late and try a variety of different white balance settings on your camera of the sunrise or sunset. It is a ton of fun to not only know which setting records it accurately, but to make it into whatever “look” you favor all in the camera.