The latest digital cameras have such an impressive signal-to-noise ratio that night photography is becoming a true joy. Yet I hear from many participants in my workshops and through my blog that they struggle to get the right color look to their night images during processing. Here are some tips that may help to improve the look of your night photography.
During the capture stage, make sure you are shooting in RAW mode. This will allow for a much broader bit depth, which in turn, will allow you more options when processing. I shoot all my night images in AWB and set my Color Temperature in the RAW processor. I tend to cool most of my night images in a range of 3000 – 4000 degrees Kelvin. This cooler setting makes the image look more like night.
On a recent shoot in Big Sur, my new Canon 5DMKIII picked up some nice warm hues from nearby Carmel. I liked the look but did not want the entire sky to take on this warm look – I just wanted it over the hills. I previsualized the majority of the sky and the fog to take on a cooler look. Here is where the power of Photoshop’s Blend Modes comes to the rescue.
As you can see by the RAW image (left), my camera in AWB captured these warm tones, yet I lost them when I cooled my image (middle). My solution was to make two color corrections of the RAW file. I color corrected a second version of the RAW file (right) to bring out the warmer hues above the hills (close to what the camera captured).
Now, in Photoshop, I simply copied a version of the cool image and pasted it onto the warm image. In the Blend Mode drop-down box located in my Layers palette, I set the blend to Overlay and it retained the warm hues on the horizon but graduated to the rich blue hues of the fog and sky – the best of both worlds!
NOTE – at this stage, you can also opt to change the Opacity setting to get the blend just the way you like, and you could also add a mask to Layer 1 and using the brush tool and Opacity slider, simply brush in the warmer tones from the Background layer. The key is you have plenty of options and it’s fun to experiment.