Night photography can be very deceiving. The colors you’ll capture through your camera can sometimes be wildly different than those you’d expect to see in the real world. A lot of times, these altered colors are represented via a shifted white balance. Things can be much too warm or much too cool. The reason for this is that when a photo is taken under artificial lighting, a color cast can result. I’m sure you’ve seen photos like this. Photos that are way too orange and red or way too white and blue. While these images may look very cool (neat), effect-wise, they can be corrected quite easily if you’d like them to more accurately represent reality.
In today’s post, I’d like to use Adobe Camera Raw to work through correcting the white balance of a photo that was taken at night. As you’ll see below, the photo has an orange color cast that needs to be corrected. While this post will be brief, there is one critical tip that every photographer needs to know when making these types of corrections and I’ll cover that tip below.
This is the photo I’ll be using for this post. As you can clearly see, it’s too orange. At first glance, I thought it looked pretty awesome, but as I continued to explore the image, I decided that corrections and other enhancements can be made to make things look a lot better.
Opening in Camera Raw & Using the Upright Tool
Whenever I open a photo that contains buildings in it in Adobe Camera Raw, the first thing I do to it is make sure it’s not distorted in any way. Even if the image looks good to the eye, it’s a good idea to use Camera Raw’s Upright tool so see if it can be straightened any. To read posts I’ve previously written on this topic, please click through below.
Also, if you aren’t familiar with how to open an image from Adobe Bridge into Camera Raw, please take a look at these posts.
As it turns out, after I used the Upright tool on this photo, the buildings only shifted a small amount. I probably could have gotten away with not using the tool at all.
Correcting the White Balance of the Night Photo
Before I begin with this section, I’d like to point you in the direction (again) of another post I previously wrote. This time though, I wrote about white balance in general and since I’m discussing the same topic today, I think it’s a good idea you review the concepts behind things.
I cover a lot of material in that post, so it’s a good idea to give it a once over.
Okay, so I’m going to talk about three different methods for correcting white balance in this photo. The first method is to simply push the Temperature and Tint sliders back and forth inside of Camera Raw. Both of these sliders reside in the right column.
This actually isn’t a bad idea and I use it often. I do a lot of food photography and oftentimes all I need to do to correct the white balance of an image is nudge the Temperature slider to the left just a hair. Many food photographs end up being too yellow straight out of the camera, so this is a good correction to make. The Tint slider is more challenging to work with because it works in tandem with the Temperature slider. Pushing that one by hand isn’t the greatest idea.
The second and probably the most simple method for correcting white balance is to choose the Auto option in the White Balance drop-down box.
As you’ll notice, there are currently only three options in this drop-down. That’s because I’m working on a JPG file. If I were working on a RAW file, there would be many more. That’s not a concern right now, so forget about that part.
If I choose Auto from the drop-down, Camera Raw does a pretty good job at fixing things up. I’ll do that now. Let’s take a look at the photo.
I think that looks pretty good. Since I have no way of knowing the true color values of the objects inside of the photo, I’ll have to live with this. This is what the new values for Temperature and Tint look like though.
The new values are -41 and -25 respectively, so we know there is definitely something wrong with the original photo. Camera Raw just told us there is.
The third option I’ll discuss today is to take advantage of the White Balance Tool that’s found up in the top toolbar.
The way this tool works is simple. It’s shaped like a dropper, so in essence, it takes a sample of any area that you would click on with your mouse. That sample is compared to neutral gray and if it’s found to be different than that gray, Camera Raw will change it accordingly. For example, if a neutral image had an orange circle in it and you clicked on that circle with the dropper, you’d be telling Camera Raw that the circle should really be neutral. Camera Raw would correct this situation by adding blue to the image in an effort to balance out the over-orange. This is the same if you were to reverse the orange and blue. Also, if you were to click the gray that surrounds the circle with the dropper, nothing would happen because you’re essentially telling Camera Raw that the gray is supposed to be gray, which it already is.
Night photography is tricky to deal with because of artificial light, as I mentioned above. It’s tough to determine what type of object is truly neutral when it’s being flooded with orange light, as things are in this case. The trick is to find something that you know is really neutral gray, white or black. As long as there’s no color in the original object, it’s okay to click on it to use as a grounding point.
To get an idea what what I’m dealing with in this photo, I’m going to refer to the one I just posted above. The one that I used the Auto White Balance option on. In that photo, I see that the buildings do indeed contain some orange, so I wouldn’t want to click on any of them with the dropper. The sky has blue in it, so that’s out. The only things I can see that appear to be colorless are the two gray rooftops that are located at the bottom of the photo and the tall thin building at the center of the photo. I’ll go ahead and click on the left rooftop, where there isn’t that much orange light.
This is the output of the image and the red circle is where I clicked. Also, the new values of the Temperature and Tint sliders are -50 and -45 respectively.
I think this looks very good. When compared to the original, I can see how much more realistic the corrected image is. I’ll keep things like this and move on.
I do want to mention one more thing before I head into the next section. Be very careful when clicking on what you think is black with the dropper. Oftentimes, what looks like black, isn’t black. To test this out, just try clicking on “black” a few times in a sample image and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Black is never black, unless you 100% know it is. Like, if you’re using a color card or something comparable to that.
Making the Image Pop
Just for fun, I’m going to apply some of the principles I discussed in one of my old posts to bring out some color and contrast in this photo. If you’re curious about what I’m referring to, please click through the link below. I explain everything and what I wrote can truly help you with making your photographs look much better while using Adobe Camera Raw.
Let’s see what the final photo looks like.
Now that looks good!
If you’re curious about the sliders values I used, take a look below.
I also cranked up the Amount slider in the Sharpening panel to 150, which is full throttle. I did this because the image is so small and it’s only being used for the web. I would never normally sharpen so much.
I hope I clearly explained how to correct the white balance of an image that was taken during the night. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!