Adjusting White Balance for Night Photos of City Skylines

San Diego Skyline | Tungsten White Balance
Tungsten White Balance

Last week after shooting at Shelter Island (and not getting quite what we were looking for) Les & I headed to Harbor Island to take a few night shots of the city. Once the sun went down the haze seemed to clear and we had a great view of downtown and the Coronado Bridge.

My hubbie, who also enjoys photography was getting a little frustrated with the orange color of his photographs so I suggested changing the white balance setting.

Its hard to know which setting to use, especially at night when you are likely looking at a lot of different types of light. There might be some residual light left from the sun (so would you use the shade setting?) or perhaps the city lights are making everything glow…but are they tungsten? florescent?

Short of setting custom white balance (you’ll need a neutral gray card or a white balance lens cap for that) the best way is to try a couple of settings and see which one gives the mood you are looking for. The color of light, and how your camera interprets it, can make a drastic difference in the look and feel of a photo.

The image below was captured with the “daylight” white balance setting. Notice the warm golden glow.

San Diego Skyline | Daytime White Balance

Daylight White Balance

The next image was captured using the “tungsten” white balance setting (In case you were wondering – the tungsten white balance setting refers to plain ol’ lightbulbs. Tugsten is the name of the element with which the filament of a lightbulb is made). Notice the stronger cool blue tones. I think this one looks more natural and is close to what my eyes saw that night.

San Diego Skyline | Tungsten White Balance

Tungsten White Balance

My goal when I’m shooting, regardless of the subject is to try to get it right (or close to right) in the camera. However, I always shoot RAW so I can make adjustments in post-processing.

Which of these images do you prefer? If you have any questions about white balance (or any other setting on your camera) let me know in the comments.

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