Intelligent White Balance

Rainbow Falls, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

We all know that sometimes it’s necessary to bracket the exposure in the camera to capture the entire dynamic range seen by the human eye. What is not so well known is the fact that white balance also needs to be bracketed in order to get a natural looking image.

Take a look at this shot of Rainbow Falls in Hawaii. My objective was to capture this gorgeous rainbow and process it so that the final result preserved what I saw with my own eyes. For this to happen, I had to bracket the image for exposure – and also for white balance – and then combine the final image using Photoshop Layers and Masks.

  • Rainbow Falls, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

    Exposed for foreground – cloudy white balance

  • Rainbow Falls, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

    Exposed for mid-ground – cloudy white balance

  • Rainbow Falls, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

    Exposed for sky – daylight white balance

The image to the left was processed for the foreground. At first I tried to use a shady white balance because the foreground was in deep shade. However, this made the image look too warm so I returned to a cloudy white balance. For the mid-ground (middle image), I started off with daylight color balance. My reasoning was, because it was lit by the sun, a sunny white balance would do the trick. However, using the sunny white balance resulted in very cool color tones. I had to adjust the white balance towards cloudy to warm it up to match the foreground.

As you can see, I started out with the most logical choices of white balance for different areas but quickly discovered that these choices produced very unnatural results. I had to rely on my own memory of the scene to adjust the white balance. I then intelligently blended the images together using Photoshop layers and masks.

Selecting your white balance is not always easy… it’s an art. As a photographer, you must rely on your own memory of the scene to create a natural looking image.

And yes… this image required a lot of cloning to remove the water drops. ;)