White balance in a blue hour skyline shot from Cologne, Germany

Hey there everyone,

Total photography beginner here. This photo is the result of my first attempt at blue hour long exposures. It shows the skyline of central Cologne featuring the Cathedral, as viewed from across the river Rhein.

This is a jpg with WB set to 5800:


DSC_3473 Cologne Skyline with Cathedral.jpg.out.pp3 (18.8 KB)

The positioning is questionable, with the Colonius radio tower being partially hidden instead of either fully hidden or fully included in the skyline. The lights from the buildings to the left are blown out, etc etc. It’s not perfect by any means but I like it.

But what I’m really struggling with, as I’m trying to apply what little I’ve learned of RT from fiddling around over the last few months, is finding fully satisfying white balance and color settings for this particular image. (Besides those few settings, I’m always applying the dehazing tool to this image, just as I apply it to most images. I find it much cleaner, the image becomes much more structured.)

Somehow, as I’m cycling through all possible WB settings and playing around with color-related settings, I’ve found that all settings either err on the side of giving the image too much general hue (mostly red or blue, depending on the color temperature), or making the image almost too realistic-looking, so that it appears to “fall apart” and becomes totally boring.

The small finishing cleanup I intend on doing is cropping a bit off the left, and then in GIMP just removing all of the faint stars, the long exposure trails of Venus and maybe the brightest couple of stars, plus removing those contrails in the upper right corner.

But I’m open to any suggestions and really looking forward to see what you can do with the white balance and colors.

DSC_3473.NEF (26.0 MB)
DSC_3473.NEF.pp3 (18.8 KB)

This file is licensed Creative Commons, By-Attribution, Share-Alike.

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I’m not on my PC at the moment, but I think you’ve done a splendid job with both the taking and processing of this image. To, me, it’s spot on on.

WB is always tricky (I think) to get ‘correct’ in this kind of scene as there isn’t any one correct setting given all the different light sources, but to me that’s all to the good in terms of atmosphere. Oh, and IMO there’s nothing wrong with blowing out small areas of highlights. Looks quite natural to me.

I’ll have a play later anyway… :smiley:

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Thank you for your kind words! Yes it’s probably true that I’ll just have to learn to trust my instincts. Maybe I’ve just stared at this one image for too long over the last few days since I took it.

Really looking forward to what you can do with it :slight_smile:

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Did you try Adobe .dcp profiles for your camera as documented in RawPedia? I know I keep mentioning this but for my Nikon D610 and Z6 these profiles helped a lot at getting good colors. And tonal range as a bonus.

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I will down load and play with the raw file in darktable. However, when I photograph during the blue hour I personally set my white balance to daylight. This brings out the beautiful blue of the sky in contrast with the warm lights of the city.

Here is my DT attempt. Since you asked about white balance that is all I touched in the edit. I see in DT that your camera is not supported yet with white balance options such as daylight, tungsten, cloudy etc. So I selected camera reference (a DT only option) and then the color calibration module which I used to set the color balance via the eyedropper and the Cat 16 option. This is all DT centric adjustments. I might switch computers and look at image in Rawtherapee since that is the program you use. BTW, the blue hour is very short and I am not sure if you have really captured the image during the true blue hour as I would expect much deeper blues in the sky, but I am willing to stand corrected on this.


DSC_3473.NEF.xmp (7.4 KB)

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Thanks for sharing, and welcome @Ogven!

My interpretation:
DSC_3473.NEF.xmp (6.3 KB)
darktable master 4.3.0+2509~g1c48a1fe3

I struggled a bit with out-of-gamut on some of the brightly-illuminated building facades, and on the Rheinbruecke, even after highlight reconstruction.

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Welcome @Ogven .

Thank you for sharing this beautiful image.
My version…

DSC_3473.NEF.xmp (18.4 KB)

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Here’s my try. In darktable, as that’s what I’m familiar with. Quite straightforward processing, but used tone eq to slightly lower the highlights and lift the midtones a smidgeon, and colour balance rgb to warm the highlights while cooling the midtones slightly.

I think I’ll try in RT next… :smiley: but I’m not nearly as familiar with it.


DSC_3473.NEF.xmp (11.3 KB)
I only noticed afterwards when I compared it to yours that I’ve gone for a cooler white balance - 4435K as it happens.

Edit: And my try in RT. Not quite happy with this one, it took me longer as I don’t know my way around! I like RT, just for some reason don’t use it often.
DSC_3473.NEF.pp3 (17.9 KB)

Edit no.2: slight tweaks in HSV equalizer


DSC_3473.NEF.pp3 (18.6 KB)

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DSC_3473.NEF.xmp (13.1 KB)

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DSC_3473.NEF.xmp (10,2 Ko)

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A very beautiful image! As to white balance, as others have said, I think it should be whatever creates the right effect for you.

I cannot improve on your original, but it gave me an excuse to play with my GIMP plug-in - Saturation H M L.

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Rawtherapee 5.8 + Gimp 2.10.30

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My try in dt 4.2.1. You can take this image almost anywhere, so it’s just a possible interpretation.


DSC_3473_01.NEF.xmp (6.3 KB)

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Which imho is probably not a terrible thing in and of itself, but it makes it all too easy to lose all perspective and even the ability to neutrally compare two or more versions after staring at the image for too long.

I think after taking in all your great contributions, I’ll just need to step back from this particular image for a while and regain some healthy distance, then edit it with a very specific purpose in mind (e.g. to be displayed on big or small screen, or to be printed as a photo or as a larger poster).

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I had yet another color version done, but then I decided to add a monochrome conversion to the thread. As others have already pointed out, the image is really flexible when it comes to treatment. Nice capture!

Ogven_DSC_3473.NEF.xmp (109.1 KB)

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Thanks for posting
darktable 4.2.1


DSC_3473_03.NEF.xmp (16.7 KB)

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I downloaded the Adobe app and fetched the dcp for my camera, thank you for the pointer. I’m gonna play around wirh it this weekend :slight_smile:

Wow that looks amazing! On my phone right now, I’m gonna look at the tools and settings you used after work.

Thank you! I like the panoramic edits I see here very much, and the picture looks so “at home in itself” in B&W. I had thought about doing a panoramic crop later after I’m happy with the WB, but now I think it may actually be useful with a flexible image to test out different crops first, since different crops may profit from different processing.

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Looks really nice, the Altstadt and Dom in particular. Would like to see the Hohenzollern Brücke too.

Shame about the cranes, but that just gives you an excuse to go again.

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