Color Me Blue: Change Your Camera’s White Balance for this Cool Effect

There we were, standing on our hotel’s rooftop, perfectly situated to get an awesome shot of the Blue Mosque, one of the world’s most famous religious buildings.

The angle was right, the setting sublime, and we had the view all to ourselves… but the light was flat, overcast, and dull.  Here’s what it looked like:

No matter how beautiful a subject, it’s hard to do it justice if the light’s not right.  Hard, but not impossible.

So what did we do? We used our cameras to turn the Blue Mosque... blue:

This not only gave us a slightly different interpretation of the often-photographed building, but it also complemented the structure’s grand, peaceful appearance (blue is associated with coolness, peacefulness, and serenity). The mosque looked cool both figuratively and literally.

How did we accomplish this magical feat of unparalleled daring and astounding proportions? We turned our cameras’ white balance setting to “tungsten,” or “incandescent” (depending on your camera brand). Look for the little light bulb icon.

This setting is designed to be applied to subjects that are illuminated by common light bulbs, like those found inside of a room, which usually create a yellowish cast. So the camera adds blue to compensate.

But in our case, since the subject is not illuminated by light bulbs, the setting makes everything look blue. And because we were shooting in RAW mode, we could always change the white balance settings afterwards in the computer.

Experimenting with your white balance settings in the field is a fun way to work a subject, especially if light conditions are less than ideal.

Extra Tip: For a foreboding look, try using the tungsten white balance when photographing large cityscapes with tall buildings at twilight, since a blue cast will make these subjects look cold and distant (think New York City at night). The setting also works when photographing nature in winter, like a frozen pond surrounded by snow-covered trees.

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