Warming things up
Most people prefer shots to be ‘warmer’ rather than ‘colder’. Indeed, landscapes and portraits often benefit from a little extra warmth rather than being rendered with technically ‘correct’ colors. There are a number of ways of achieving this. One is to deliberately choose a mis-matched white balance setting designed for cooler-toned lighting. For example, to warm up a sunset, try setting the white balance to ‘Cloudy’ or ‘Shade’. This fools the camera into warming up the color balance.
You could also use a warm-up filter attached to the lens, but make sure you choose a manual white balance setting – if you leave it set to auto, the camera may simply attempt to compensate for the filter, leaving you back where you started. You can also warm up images once they’re on your computer. The easiest way to do this is by adjusting the color balance. In Photoshop, for example, try adding red and reducing blue in roughly equal quantities.
Sunsets can prove disappointing if you leave your camera’s white balance set to auto. The camera may attempt to correct for what it sees as an excessively ‘warm’ color balance, leaving you with a rather dead and colorless image.
Getting creative with white balance in photography
You can add more extreme color shifts in Photoshop to great creative effect. For example, to simulate moonlight, first darken the image to give a night-time effect, then shift the color balance drastically towards blue. (Incidentally, moonlight isn’t actually blue. It’s as blue as daylight, but the artificial effect we apply here creates the impression of moonlight we’ve all absorbed from countless Hollywood films.) Sunsets can often prove disappointing, largely due to the camera’s attempts to neutralize the colors.
One way of restoring a sunset effect is to apply a colored gradient to your image. You can do this on another layer, using Multiply mode or Color mode so that the gradient overlays the image below rather than covering it up. Why not experiment at the time of shooting, by choosing white balance settings which are completely ‘wrong’ for the conditions? We’ve mentioned the idea of shooting sunsets with the ‘Cloudy/Shade’ setting, but try shooting daylight portraits with your camera’s ‘Tungsten’ setting for an eerie, cold blue tone.
By switching the white balance to the Cloudy setting (even though it’s not actually cloudy), you’re telling the camera to ‘warm up’ the colors (as if it is cloudy). This intensifies the yellows, oranges and red colors of sunsets very effectively.