What White Balance is correct for the night sky?

Overview

Getting the right colours in your nigh time photographs is a core to any photograph. I would not recommend that you use the Auto White Balance default setting of your camera, as this will not create the desired effect of a “natural looking” photo. To compensate for the lack of colour you must change the white balance to between 3200k and 4800k.

The easiest way to change the setting from the default is to go into your white balance menu setting (if you do not know where this is then refer to your camera’s manual) and change it from AWB (Auto White Balance) to Tungsten (Tungsten is close to 3200k). This will generate a warmer photo with more colours in it.

This article will show you with examples why this must be done. This article will cover:
·         Kelvin Colour Scale,
·         Daylight setting,
·         Shaded Setting,
·         Cloudy/Hazy Setting,
·         Tungsten Setting,
·         fluorescent Setting and finally, and
·         White Balance Comparison image 

Kelvin Colour Scale

This section gives you a brief view around the different Kelvin colour codes which you camera uses to compensate for different light conditions.

The following image can be found on Learn Canon USA’s Website: https://www.learn.usa.canon.com/resources/articles/2013/kelvin_white_balance.htmlp
This image provides a nice visual interface showing the different Kelvin Colour scales. Thus everywhere where I talk about K then please refer to the Kelvin Colour Temperature Scale of Canon. 

Daylight Setting

The daylight setting is usually used to photograph normal day scenes. Due to the High Kelvin – 5200K the effect on Night Time photos is quite different. It imbues the photograph with a purplish/brownish colour which does not look natural for night time photos as our perception of night is Dark Blue or Black photos.

The following photo shows the effect daylight white balance setting on a photograph:
Setting
Value
Exposure Time
30 seconds
Aperture
f/18
ISO
6400
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D

 

Shaded Setting

The Shaded setting is usually used to photograph scenes where daylight photos require a warmer feel to it. Due to the extremely High Kelvin – 7000K the effect on Night Time photos is quite different. It imbues the photograph with a brownish colour which does not look natural for night time photos.

The following photo shows the effect shaded white balance setting on a photograph:
Setting
Value
Exposure Time
30 seconds
Aperture
f/18
ISO
6400
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D

 

Cloudy/Hazy Setting

The Cloudy/Hazy setting is usually used to photograph scenes where the sun is behind the clouds and you require a warmer feel to your photo. Due to the High Kelvin – 6000K the effect on Night Time photos is quite different. It imbues the photograph with a brownish/maroon colour which does not look natural for night time photos.

The following photo shows the effect cloudy/hazy white balance setting on a photograph:
Setting
Value
Exposure Time
30 seconds
Aperture
f/18
ISO
6400
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D

 

Tungsten Setting

The Tungsten setting is usually used to photograph scenes where there are artificial light in daytime. Tungsten imbues the photo with a yellowish/orange hue to create a natural look for your photo. Tungsten operates at the 3200K range which is ideal for Night Time photography, because it compensates for the lack of colour, and by imbuing more yellow/orange into the photo it actually looks normal: Dark Blue/Blackish.

The following photo shows the effect Tungsten white balance setting on a photograph:
Setting
Value
Exposure Time
30 seconds
Aperture
f/18
ISO
6400
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D

 

Florescent Setting

The Tungsten setting is usually used to photograph scenes where there are too much artificial light in daytime. Due to the mid-range Kelvin – 4000K the effect on Night Time photos is quite different. It imbues the photograph with a maroon/purplish colour which does not look natural for night time photos.

The following photo shows the effect florescent white balance setting on a photograph:
Setting
Value
Exposure Time
30 seconds
Aperture
f/18
ISO
6400
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D

 

White Balance Comparison:

The following Photo shows the difference between the different White Balance settings, taken with a Canon 760D. I’ve taken the different photos from Daylight, Shaded, Cloudy, Tungsten and Fluorescent White Balance settings and transposed it into one photo, so that you can make an easy comparison between the different White Balance Settings.

Conclusion

The Different white balance settings produces different effects on your photographs:
·         Daylight– 5200K – Photo imbued with purplish/brownish colour;
·         Shaded– 7000K Photo imbued with brownish colour;
·         Cloudy/Hazy– 6000K Photo imbued with brownish/maroon;
·         Tungsten– 3200K Photo imbued with yellow/orange – PERFECT for night time photography; and
·         Florescent– 4000K Photo imbued with maroon/purplish

Thus it is my recommendation that you use the Tungsten setting when you perform any kind of Night Time photos. There are a lot of scientific reasons which I can give you – but at the end of the day it just looks better and more pleasing to the eye!
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