White Balance Impact on Sunset Images

Photographing sunsets is something that most photographers enjoy. Some folks who choose to shoot in jpeg sometimes find it a challenge to get their sunset images to look dramatic. The is especially true if they do not make any adjustments in post. This article shows some simple examples of how changing white balance and adjusting exposure compensation can impact sunset images.

To demonstrate these impacts, all of the images in this article are out-of-camera jpegs with no other adjustments done to them.

It should be noted that how a photographer chooses to shoot an image involves a lot of creative latitude. What one photographer likes, another may not.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160, Auto WB

The image above is the first in the series and was taken using Auto White Balance. Now let’s see what happens when white balance is changed to Incandescent.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160, Incandescent White Balance
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160, Incandescent WB

As you can see the image has taken on a very strong blue cast, perhaps resembling a sunrise rather than a sunset. Now we’ll have a look at how setting the white balance to Fluorescent impacts the image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160, Fluorescent White Balance
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160, Fluorescent WB

Now we see more of a purple cast to the image when Fluorescent white balance is used. Let’s try the Sunlight white balance setting next.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160, Sunlight White Balance
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160, Sunlight WB

Using a Sunlight white balance setting produced an image very similar to the first photograph where an Auto white balance setting was used. ┬áNow, let’s look at a Cloudy white balance version of the image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160, Cloudy White Balance
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160, Cloudy WB

We can see that the blues in the sky are not as vibrant and the orange/red cast is extending a bit further up in the clouds. Let’s try the white balance set to Shade.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160, Shade WB

In the image above we see that the blues in the sky are even more muted and the orange/red cast is now extending almost up to the top of the image.

None of these white balance adjustments is better or worse than another, they are just different. What you choose to use really comes down to your creative vision as a photographer.

Let’s take this one step further by using -1 EV exposure compensation with each of the white balance settings that we just viewed.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Auto WB
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Auto WB

Using -1 EV may be a bit aggressive for some photographers and many folks could find that they may like using -0.3 EV or -0.7 EV better. Now let’s look at the remaining white balance settings all at -1 EV.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Incandescent WB
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Incandescent WB
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Fluorescent WB
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Fluorescent WB
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Sunlight WB
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Sunlight WB
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Cloudy WB
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Cloudy WB
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Shade WB
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, -1 step, 1/640, ISO-160, Shade WB

If you want to be a bit more creative when you photograph sunset images try adjusting your white balance and/or use some exposure compensation.

Technical Note:
All images were captured using a Nikon 1 J5 and a 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 VR zoom lens. A Benro A48FD monopod with Manfrotto 391RC2 head were used. All images in the article are out-of-camera jpegs with no adjustments of any kind made to them.

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6 thoughts on “White Balance Impact on Sunset Images”

  1. Hi Tom – as always, good information. I always learn something from you! Here is a question – you mentioned your work flow includes DxO Optics Pro 11, LR, and Nik. Would you be willing to post an article about your work flow? I use DxO myself, based on your suggestions, and have been far more please with it than LR alone. Thanks, Naomi

    1. Hi Naomi,

      Glad you enjoyed the article and found it useful!

      I do use OpticsPro 11, CS6 and Nik with most of my RAW files, but other than using the programs in that order I really don’t have a standardized process in terms of settings etc. as things vary from image to image. As a result I’m not really sure what an article about my ‘workflow’ would entail…other than to tell folks “Here’s the three programs I use and this is the order in which I use them”.

      Tom

        1. Hi Naomi,
          In general, I do more work (and I’m often more aggressive) with highlight, shadow, black, and white sliders in CS6 with my Nikon 1 files than I did when shooting with larger sensor cameras like a D800. That’s about the only ‘common’ thing I do.
          Tom

    1. Hi Joni,
      Always great to hear from you! Yes, I like the improved image quality of the 20.8MP BSI sensor in the J5. I now use the J5s for landscape, street photography, flowers and macro type images. My trio of Nikon 1 V2s are still my primary cameras for client video work, and for birds-in-flight.
      Tom

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