You look outside and see the flakes gently floating down, and the drifts are gathering in the yard. Your kids are eager to get bundled up to head out for some play time and you grab your camera as you head out the door. You snap away, watching to make sure you expose for the highlights, keeping all the lovely detail. Then you head in, load your card while you sip hot chocolate and as the images appear, you realize the snow isn’t white, it is BLUE! What????
White Balance can become a bit tricky when dealing with snow. While we see it as pristinely white, snow tends to have a very cool color temperature. It may sometimes be possible to avoid this temperature issue by using warmer WB settings in camera, such as Cloudy, Shade or Flash, but often these settings can introduce other color casts which affect the overall image tone, making post-processing difficult. Sure, using a grey card to help set a Custom White Balance would have been ideal in this situation, but if you are a busy mom like me trying to grab a few shots of your kids playing in a winter wonderland, a grey card is often left behind.
Here is how you can correct your WB issues in a few simple steps using Adobe Photoshop. For this image I used Daylight White Balance in camera, which tends to be a bit more neutral than most of the other WB settings, but with slight warmth. I used Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to correct a slight overexposure and recover some highlights before beginning my White Balance correction.
As you can see, the color of the overall image is a bit cool, especially in the shadow areas.
Step 1: I used a Color Balance layer to change the overall color temperature of the image. I usually add equal points of yellow and red to start to help neutralize the blue undertones. I have found that in my experience, the key to making snow appear white is to add RED. While this may not seem to the most intuitive way to balance a cool white, snow often has a cyan temperature, rather than a more pure blue. By adding both red and yellow, we are addressing both of the cooler color spectrums at the same time. I also added one point of green, just to neutralize the red ever-so-slightly. As well as dealing with balancing the snow, we have made the overall image and skin tones warmer and more natural.
Step 2: While the above step creates a more well-balanced image color overall, I still feel like the snow could use even more warmth. I created another Color Balance layer, and after setting the sliders to add even more red and yellow, I inverted the layer mask [Command or Ctrl+I] and used a soft, white brush at around 30% to apply the adjustment only over the snow areas.
Step 3: The next step for me is to darken the outer edges of the frame, to draw the eye toward my subjects at the center, using a Curves layer with a mask to apply a specific adjustment. I dragged the midtones down so that the image was underexposed before inverting the layer mask. Again I used a soft, white brush at around 30% opacity to add some depth to the shadows around the edges. The reason that I focused on the midtones of the Curves layer rather than the highlights is because often you will end up with matte, flat, gray whites if you try to “darken” the highlights.
Step 4: Next, I increased the shadows to add some contrast to the whole image by creating a new Curves layer and then using the arrow to drag the shadows in slightly towards the middle.
My color balancing is now complete. I finished the image by softening the bags under their eyes using the Patch Tool and using the Clone Tool to remove a distracting dark patch on the right side of the frame.
Now head out into the snow with your family and click away, knowing that you can make that gorgeous white snow truly WHITE with the help of Photoshop!
Mandy Blake, owner of Mandy Blake Photography and Flow for Photographers, is a natural light family and children’s photographer, as well as a Photoshop Action designer, Photoshop mentor and Photo Editor. She is the mother of two sassy, stubborn girls, wife to an amazingly supportive husband, and slobber-covered-ball thrower for her faithful Lab-Hound mix. You can also find her on Facebook.
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