Sometimes white balance can make all the difference
Several days ago, I posted Image post-processing, a necessity or cheating? that elicited a very healthy and civil discussion on my blog. The best ever and it is fantastic. I love how people may not agree but can still express their opinions in a constructive way. One of my readers called out this particular photo that I posted in mostlyfotos and was wondering about how I post-processed it. So I took a look back on my Aperture 3 library to see what I did with the image.
Before I get into the particulars, a little background on the image. This Airstream trailer is located on South Congress Avenue (SoCo) which is a hip and trendy area south of downtown Austin. It’s in the same neighborhood as the Heritage Boot image that I used as an example in my above mentioned blog post, thought the trailer image above was taken one week earlier. Ever since I got into urban landscape photography, I’ve been captivated by the blue hour and its contrast to made-made lights. I like the warm yellow glow of the lights contrasting with the blue sky. The challenge is that, at least here in Texas, the “Blue Hour” last about 15 minutes. I talk more about blue hour and my experiences around it in two other blog posts which you can find here and here, if you are interested. I also love these bare lights that are strung around the trailer. I don’t know why but these kind of lights always seem to make me happy. Maybe a reminder of a distant pleasant experience that has imprinted on me but that I have long since forgotten.
The most noticeable post-processing change I made was with the white balance. The RAW image had a color temperature of 4810K (Kelvin), I shifted the white balance to 3736K. I also added a bit of red to the tint so that image would be a touch less green. I wasn’t concerned with the exact white balance values, rather I shifted the slider to what I like aesthetically. Keep in mind that I was not going for color accuracy here. If I did, I would have done a custom white balance or shot with a gray card. I wanted to create an image with a certain feel. I wanted my blue hour sky to be a rich blue but contrast with the warm yellow glow. Next, I added saturation to intensify the colors a bit and brightened the mid-tones somewhat by using levels. Finally, I added some sharpening and definition (micro contrast). While the Olympus E-PL1 generally has satisfactory noise levels up to ISO 800, depending on the exposure, I can get more noise than I want. In this image, the blue areas were more noisy and my manipulations increased the noise level somewhat, but not overly so. I used the Topaz DeNoise plug-in to clean up the digital noise. I used Apple’s Aperture 3 program to post-process everything else, in fact, I solely use Aperture for 95% of my non-HDR images. I fired up a copy of Photoshop Elements 8 so that I can use the Topaz plug-in. This may sound like a lot of post-processing but with Aperture, I can do this quickly. I post-process all my images and most take about 10 – 15 seconds to do. I’m guessing that this one may have taken a few minutes, with the bulk of the time used to launch Photoshop and run the denoise plug-in.
I hope you found this interesting. A bit more detail of the mechanics of what I changed compared to my first post-processing blog entry. The original un-processed image is below for your viewing pleasure. There are things that bug me about the composition. For example, it won’t be the ideal product photograph since the Hey Cupcake! name is blocked by the pole. But I really like the colors and I think it captures the warm glow that I was after. And even though there is nobody in line, rather than looking cold and lonely, I find that there is a warmth and cheerfulness to the image. At least that’s the way I see it. What do you think?
Make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image. Hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
Here is a sample of my work. I’ve posted them on my one-photo-per-day photo blog, mostlyfotos. There are a lot of images so click the << Previous Photo link to see more. You can also hover over the photos to see the exposure information.