Creative Color Effects with Your Digital Camera

Color in our photographs carries a lot of the emotion and mood of the picture. If the light available to you does not have the color you want for your subject, you can use your camera's White Balance control to change it.

Usually you select the White Balance control to fix the color of the light so it is not distracting. But you can also intentionally use the wrong White Balance setting to add color to a scene.

Read more....

To do this effectively, you need to know what color each White Balance setting is adding to your image. Here's a quick summary:
  • Cloudy and Shade add orange. (Shade adds more than cloudy.)
  • Tungsten adds Blue.
  • Fluorescent adds Purple.
Daylight and Flash add no color; use these if you want to record the color of the light as it is.

This sunrise through smoke in Glacier National Park, Montana, did not record very orange on the Daylight White Balance setting. So I changed to the Cloudy setting to add more warmth to the image.

There was very little color in the sunset sky near Harper's Lake in Montana, so I used the Tungsten (sometimes called Incandescent) White Balance setting to turn everything blue, making it look like deep twilight.

If your camera has a K (for Kelvin temperature) White Balance choice, you can experiment with this setting. Daylight (no color added) is between 5000K and 5500K. Lower K numbers add blue; higher K numbers add orange.

With the Shade White Balance setting, I was still not getting the intense orange of a sunset in my cloudless sky. So I used the Kelvin (K) White Balance setting at 8000K to add more warmth than was possible with the preset.

If you are photographing a scene with both natural and artificial light sources, try different White Balance settings for different effects. This is especially helpful for night shots of cityscapes. The Daylight White Balance setting records the colors that are there from street lights, office windows and neon signs. But you  may not like the appearance of the sky which often reflects quite a bit of orange light. Experimenting with different White Balance settings gives you a choice of color effects to choose from.

In these shots of the Las Vegas, Nevada, skyline at dusk, you can see the orange glow recorded with the Daylight White Balance setting. Automatic White Balance removes this cast but is not very appealing to me. Tungsten removes too much of the color from the lights on the casinos. I prefer the Fluorescent choice, even though it's not technically accurate. (Auto is probably the most "correct" color.)

If you are shooting raw files, you can make these White Balance changes during post-processing. But it is easy to try these out while you are shooting to get more photos with the colors you like.

You can add other colors to your images by switching the camera's picture style (or picture control) to Monochrome for black and white images. This makes the Toning choices for color overlays available through the settings or parameters menu. (See your camera's manual for details.)

Monochrome Toning Colors, clockwise from top left
Sepia, Blue, Green,

Most cameras have a sepia (brown) setting along with neutral (no toning). Some, like this Canon 5D, also have blue, purple and green tones (colors). With raw files, you can use the Split Toning option in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw to create these colors.

So if your pictures lack the mood or feeling you were trying to achieve, consider playing with the colors available through White Balance and Monochrome Toning to liven up your images.