Using Selective White Balance to Fix Problem Photos

I thought about going to Orlando Wetlands Park on Saturday before it closes for the winter (in mid-November), but the weather was quite bad. This morning, I wanted to get up early in search of a sunrise but instead had to deal with a migraine headache (I need to be much more careful about restaurant MSG). So anyway, no new shots to post this weekend.

Instead, let’s go over a technique that can be quite useful in certain situations. Normally I shoot in RAW format and use Lightroom to adjust color balance globally over the whole photograph. This works well in most situations, but sometimes a photograph can be improved substantially by correcting white balance selectively.

How do you do this? The way I do it is to open the photo in Photoshop, duplicate the image in a second layer, and adjust the white balance globally in each layer, but for different areas of the photo. So in layer 1 the sky may look good, but the ground may be off – while in layer two the opposite is true. Then I blend the two layers together using a layer mask, taking the best portions of each. If you don’t already use layers and layer masks in Photoshop, you should really learn about them. They provide a very useful tool in many situations and the ability to paint in (and erase) from one layer to the other gives you a great deal of flexibility and control over the results.

In this first example, I initially used a “day light” color balance and this brought out the sunset colors in the clouds, but the clear sky and terrain are a little too warm.

Neighborhood Sunset – before selective white balance adjustment

In Photoshop, I left the color balance as is in one layer, and in the second layer, I made it much more neutral. I then painted the clouds from the first into the second.

Neighborhood Sunset
Neighborhood Sunset – after selective white balance adjustment

This second example is even more dramatic than the first. The scene included both the pre-dawn sky and artificial lights along the far shore of the river. No matter what I did with the global white balance adjustment, I couldn’t get it to look right.

The pre-dawn Potomac River – initial white balance

Again, duplicating the image into a second layer and blending with layer masks allowed me to neutralize the color balance of the lighting on the far shore and still make the sky and water more natural looking.

The pre-dawn Potomac River, Georgetown,  and Washington DC from the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Rosslyn, Virgina
The pre-dawn Potomac River – after selective white balance adjustment

You owe it to yourself and your photography to try this technique. It some situations it can save a photo.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
©2011, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

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