Using temperature changes to add drama to your HDRs

Article Written by Jim Nix

I have a confession to make – I love the color blue.  I was somewhat aware of that in the past, but as I have gotten further and further into my photography, I find myself looking for blue in various scenes.  I love shooting anything that has to do with water – it’s often blue.  I love a nice blue sky, especially when it has puffy clouds.  I FREAKIN’ LOVE shooting at blue hour (morning or night) – in many cases I enjoy it more than the traditional sunrise/sunset light that others enjoy.

Scientific data proves that blue is a serene, calming color and as such it has a physical effect on most of us.  It makes us relax.  If you see a beautiful photo with dominant blues, you are likely to think “wow, that’s pretty” while mentally it makes you feel relaxed.  It’s peaceful, in other words.

But you know what I have also discovered?  People want to be WOWED when they see a photo, and since blue is a calming color, it doesn’t normally produce a WOW type of reaction.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful, people just have a calm reaction to it.  There are so many photos out there, and so much stimuli competing for everyone’s attention that it is hard to rise above the noise and get a little recognition.  I am not sure that blue is the way to get that done.  It doesn’t scream for attention.  It’s calm.  When you want to scream for attention, blue isn’t the color you need.

Guess which color produces more of a WOW reaction?  Yes, it’s red (and I am lumping in orange/yellow/gold into this category). Red is an exciting color, it’s very powerful, bright and stimulating, and it quickly grabs attention.  That likely explains why a lot of people love to shoot sunset.  You don’t get dramatic reds at blue hour – you get blue.  Red is at sunset – well, hopefully at least.  :-)

What does all this mean to us as photographers? It means changing the temperature of your HDR photos can produce some dramatic changes in how the photo is received.  It also depends on what you are trying to achieve, but I am making an assumption here that as a photographer, you like it when people comment on your work with WOW or something to that effect.  We all like that.  We’re human.

Now I am not one to completely swap out colors in an image – nothing wrong with it of course, it’s just something that I don’t do.  I work with what was there and what was captured by my RAW files.  But, I certainly enjoy accentuating certain colors that I find in a scene.  Saturation sliders are some of my best friends :-) and I am not shy about using them.

But a great way to accentuate warm tones is via the temperature adjustment slider.  It’s a global adjustment of course, but give it a try sometime BEFORE you start adjusting individual colors.  It can have a big impact on your final result, and can go a long way towards getting that WOW reaction you are looking for.  This is especially effective – in my opinion, that is – when you also have some of that cool blue in the scene.  The contrast of the warm, bright reds against the cool blues makes for a very interesting, dynamic and dramatic image.  It’s closer to WOW.  It’s also fabulous on stonework, so if there is a stone pathway in your shot, or some interesting architecture, give this a try.  It really helps.

Sprinkled throughout this article are some photos where I used the temperature adjustment to make a global impact on the photo.  Each of these started with more of a blue temperature, but once I increased the warmth that’s when I felt like I was really getting somewhere.

I use Aperture as my base editor, but Lightroom has the same thing.  I also use Color Efex Pro on every image, and within some of the filters you can make temperature adjustments there too.  Brilliance/Warmth and Glamour Glow are two filters I use regularly that can help here.  They are very powerful.

Just experiment and see what it does for you.  And I hope you get some WOWs!

Jim Nix is a photographer, traveler, HDR enthusiast, explorer, iPhone shooter, and tea drinker based in Austin, TX. He shares his photos and travel experiences on his blog at http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/

Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/NomadicPursuits

  • In2photos

    This is a great tip. Adjusting color temp is such an easy thing and can give amazing results, as you point out. I like to do it locally sometimes, instead of globally. It’s really easy to do in Lightroom 4 with the adjustment brush… it has a temperature slider where you can warm things up precisely and locally… or cool them down (to bring out those luscious serene blues) if that’s what’s called for.

    • http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/ Jim Nix

      thanks for the visit and comment, and glad you like to use this trick too!

  • http://www.stevehuskisson.com/ Steve Huskisson

    Great article and so very true. I’ve found that adjusting the temperature even a slight bit can yield great results! I agree with In2photos comment below using local adjustments at times. Sometimes just a little warmth on the clouds and reflections on the water (I shoot the beach in the morning) can leave the rest of the photo a cooler color. Try it!