White Balance for Blue Hour


Today’s Question: What should the white balance be set to in the camera for blue hour photography?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While you can simply leave the white balance setting to “Auto” if you are using a raw capture format, in general I recommend using a white balance setting of around 4,000 to 5,000 Kelvin for blue hour photography. This will generally correspond to the “Fluorescent” white balance preset on many cameras.

More Detail: If you use the Auto option for white balance the camera attempts to compensate for the color of light illuminating the scene you are photographing. This can lead to colors that are not as rich as they otherwise would be, such as a more neutral appearance in photos that are captured at blue hour.

If you are using your camera’s raw capture format, this effect of the Auto white balance setting isn’t a significant problem, since you can always refine the white balance value in post-processing. However, using a value that is closer to the final setting you’ll likely use will ensure a better image preview on the camera, and will also ensure more accurate color for non-raw captures.

The specific value for white balance that will produce ideal color will vary with the timing of your blue hour photography. For photos captured relatively soon after sunset, for example, the light will have a warmer tint, and so you’ll likely want a white balance setting closer to 5,000 Kelvin. Photos captured a little later during blue hour may benefit from a setting closer to 4,000 Kelvin.

In general, as noted above, using the Fluorescent preset for white balance will generally provide good results in terms of color. You can also dial in a custom white balance setting based on a Live View preview on your camera’s LCD display. And, of course, for raw captures you can always fine-tune as needed after the capture, with no penalty in terms of image quality.