I’m all about streamlining these days. Shortcuts, cliff notes, convection ovens… ANYTHING to make my life more efficient. I was talking with Kevin at Calumet Photo the other day about my workflow (the process of downloading photos, editing and finally exporting the finished product). I shared my frustrations with the amount of time I was spending editing (color correct, contrast, exposure etc.) my photos. I thought with my new camera that my photos would be infinitely better straight out of the camera, apparently not so. The first thing he asked was how do I correct the white balance.
What is white balance? When you take photographs your eye can discern which parts that are “white” even in different lighting situations, your camera on the other hand can not. That is why if you don’t set your camera’s WB (white balance) settings to offset the color cast the lighting is causing you end up with pictures that are either too warm (yellow tones – indoors/low light) or too cool (blue tones/fluorescent lights).
Shooting with the correct white balance settings can eliminate the need to color correct in the post-process. What I also learned is that having your white balance customized to the incident light (the direct light that falls on the subject) not only helps to color correct it also helps with contrast allowing my photos to have greater detail which plays a huge part in shortening the editing process.
Ways to correct White Balance:
Before you shoot you can set the white balance to attempt to color correct your lighting conditions. Here is a sample of the WB options on the Canon 5D Mark II:
AWB (auto white balance) – uses a narrow range of possible white balance corrections
Sun (daylight) – adds warm tones
House (shade) – adds warm tones
Cloud (cloudy) – adds warm tones
Light-bulb (tungsten) – adds a cool (blue) tone
Tube (fluorescent) – adds a warm (red) tone
Bolt (strobe/flash) – adds warm tones
Custom WB icon (custom) – used with custom WB tools (such as gray card or expo-disc) setting remains for all photos that session
K (kelvin) – auto white balance setting with a range you can set wider than AWB
I often use my point n’ shoot Nikon CoolPix’s custom white balance feature. Its fast and easy to achieve the correct color balance. There is even a custom color setting to use when shooting FOOD pictures!
Nikon CoolPix Settings
There are several ways to counteract the negative effects of white balance in your photos. You can set your camera to AWB and hope for the best. What you’ll end up doing is having to color correct in the editing process and when you do this you lose Bit Depth, meaning you color information and that equates to loss in fidelity and quality of your image. The other option is to use a while balance tool like the one Kevin showed me, its called the Expo Disc.
the technical stuff: The acrylic filter is attached to the end of your lens (or held in front of the lens depending on what size disc.) The 77mm Expo Disc pictured above snaps on to my 24-105mm lens, when I use it on a smaller lens like my 90mm I just have to hold the filter while I fire a shot to set the white balance. The disc is composed of various gels and filters to achieve 18% light transmission and provides a more accurate neutral reading of the incident light (light falling on your subject.) rather than using a reflective gray card. Calibrating the white balance by holding an 18% gray card in front of your lens won’t render accurate results because what your camera is reading is the light reflected off the card versus light straight from the source (by pointing and shooting directly at the light) with the expo disc. Remember when light is reflected it bends causing distortion and misreads.
Here’s how it works: You turn on your camera and set the dial to M (Manual) take the filter and place it over the lens. Position yourself where your location of your shoot it and determine where the light source is coming from. Aim the camera directly at that light source, meaning flip the camera away from your subject and take a photo of the light source. TIP: turn auto-focus OFF – your camera will go crazy trying to focus with a grey opaque filter attached. You can set your exposure settings to AUTO (green box) or leave on manual. What you’ll see appear on your display screen might look like this:
Switch your camera to M (manual) mode and choose Custom WB from the settings menu.
The camera will pull up the gray image and ask if you want to use that image to calibrate your custom white balance. – Press OK. There is ONE MORE step, on the Top LCD Panel
you want to set the White Balance to Custom White Balance symbol.
You will be amazed at the results. I shoot a lot of food indoors using natural filtered light at various times during the day so the color cast is always different. Here are a few recent photos before/after using the expo disc. I could not be happier. It’s my new favorite photography tool!
BEFORE and AFTER with the Expo Disc
For more information about the Expo Disc and white balance you can watch their series on You Tube. They also talk about the advantage with shooting in RAW over JPEG. No we are not talking sushi. View more before and after shots here. You can find the Expo Disc in most photography stores or online. They also have demos you can buy at a discount (you save approx $30) quantiles are very limited.