Correct colour in your low sun images
Remove unwanted colour bias for a more balanced image
While sunset and sunrise are the two most popular times to photograph landscapes, with the beautiful warm lighting that characteristically floods a scene shot at these times of day (the reason we favour these hours), there are also a number of colour-capturing challenges that present themselves. There are some very steep colour gradients when the sun is low in the sky, meaning that the colour temperature falls off rapidly as you move away from the light source. Shadow areas are especially susceptible to cool casts of blue and cyan which, if left unchecked, can detract from the atmosphere of the image. Here is how you can quickly remove such problematic colour shifts in Photoshop.
Open your image in Photoshop and call up the Colour Balance dialogue
Head up the the Tones menu at the top of the dialogue and select Shadows. This will restrict any colour correction to the darker areas of the image only, which is where the majority of the unsightly blue cast is seen.
Remove the blues. Drag the Blue/Yellow Slider to the left to balance the blue bias and introduce some warmer yellow to the shadow area in the foreground. Since the sun is not hitting these foreground rocks they don’t benefit from the desired sunset warmth, while the rock surface also reflects the cool hue of the sky. Therefore the cast is significant, creating the need to tweak the Magenta and Red balance too. Be careful not to over-do the effect and produce an unnatural appearance.
Repeat for the midtones – in order to create a truly natural and balanced look, we’ll also have to work on the midtone areas to bridge the colour contrast between the shadows and highlights. While necessity may vary between images, on this shot, only a slight injection of yellow was needed.
Tip: Preserve Luminosity
Keep the Preserve Luminosity box checked to maintain apparent colour brightness when making colour adjustments
Although the majority of the blue cast has been corrected, we can introduce a natural ‘wash’ of warm colour by using a Photo Filter. This will recreate a realistic ambient colour temperature. Go Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter and choose Warming Filter (85) from the drop-down. Ensure Filter is toggled and choose a density to suit your image. Something in the region of 25% should be enough for most photos. We only want the effect to apply to the shadows so we can mask out the sky by painting over it using a large, soft, black brush on a white mask, to blend the warm foreground naturally into the cool sky blue.
To further colour depth, create a new Colour Balance Layer and add some additional Red, Yellow and Magenta to the Highlights.
As an optional extra, click on the Gradient tool (or tap G), create a new layer, choose a colour a fraction darker than the sky colour as your foreground colour and drag down a gradient across your sky to add more colour contrast with the warm horizon.
A final step may be to lift the shadows and make some other minor contrast adjustments. For this image a simple Shadows/Highlights application was enough to reveal some much needed shadow detail.