Sometimes white balance can make all the difference

Sold Out - Hey Cupcake Trailer - Austin, Texas

Sold Out – Hey Cupcake Trailer – Austin, Texas

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.

Sold Out - Hey Cupcake Trailer - Austin, Texas (Unprocessed)

Sold Out – Hey Cupcake Trailer – Austin, Texas (Unprocessed)

22 thoughts on “Sometimes white balance can make all the difference

    1. wherethedaytakesme, I’m sure there are going to be people that like the unprocessed better. For me, I’m in this very colorful, bright mode (and mood). I find the unprocessed a bit dull for my taste but again it all depends on what you like.

  1. HDR = Soft Focus of years back. A little goes a long way. I like what your are doing with this image and with other images. What I see are tone enhancements which are pleasing. White balance adjustment is really helpful if any artificial light is picked up in the image. Most of the time I can get by with tweaking just the ” as shot” drop down in raw and picking one of the choices and tweaking it.

    1. Thanks Ed Head for your comment and visit. It will be interesting to see what happens to HDR in the future. Hopefully, the digital sensors will continue to improve and we will just get better dynamic range directly from the sensor.

  2. Ah, obsession. We all have one, maybe more. I like this picture and I think I see what you are trying to do. Nice. I’m obsessed with the sunlight filtering through foliage, paths through woods, and long shadows. Weirdly, my 15 year old granddaughter who is surprisingly talented shares these same obsessions.

    Photographic obsessions are great motivators. They keep forcing us to push our skill set, don’t you think? No matter how good the image that we get, it’s never perfect. Close maybe, but never quite “it.” We have some kind of mental picture that no photograph ever matches, but drives us forward in a quest to somehow grab that image … and in the process, some really terrific stuff results. I think you’ve produced quite a few of them. May your quest be productive.

  3. My eyes moved from the empty seats in the front to the empty seats in the rear. Really, it appeared as if nobody was around. The vintage trailer was there with its soft bulbous shape, reassuring as if possibly there was someone inside. My attention then went to the string of light bulbs that wrapped around the scene. The composition worked, leaving the viewer with some lingering questions… (Sold out. Why were the lights still on? Was someone in the trailer still? What time was it?)

    The photograph was good either with the intense colors or with the softer evening tones, depending on the viewer’s style and expectation. Thank you for revealing the pre, post processing images and techniques, to allow viewers to chose what they want!

  4. I like the processed version better. The blue is So Blue! Very keen observation on the lights and the feelings they evoke- I feel that way about music a lot. Thank you for a well written and informative article, Andy.

  5. I prefer the processed version over the original because of the way it brings out the shape and detail of the trailer to balance the lights. Plus it is a COLOR image. 🙂

    I use similar adjustments for RAW from my E-PL2 as I find Oly RAWs to be a bit flat but very easy to adjust. Do you prefer the way Topaz Denoise works in PS or am I hallucinating there is an Aperture version?

    1. Yes, there is much color. I must be going through my saturated color phase. I kind of like how the top half of the trailer is blue and the lower half is yellowish.

      I’m pretty sure there wasn’t an Aperture version of this plug-in.

  6. Personally I love the composition and ambiance ambiance of the image and your vision in the final image. It doesn’t matter that much to me how you got there. It would be interesting to see the same or similar shot in sunlight at noon, Gee, now I want a cupcake 😉

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