White Balancing Your Photos.
We’re all use to setting our cameras on Auto White Balance and taking the photo. Most of the time the colour looks fine and we continue taking photos on the Auto White Balance (AWB) mode. The reason why it works most of the time is because there is usually one light source and the camera can cope with that scenario very well. AWB works remarkably well in mixed light sources as well and is, arguably, the best way to get it close.
Over the 12 years I’ve been shooting digital there have been various methods of helping your camera perform a white balance. These range from performing a white balance in camera and others while processing the image through Photoshop or Lightroom. Here are a few of my favourite methods and the tools to help the camera do a better job.
1. Is the traditional Kodak 18% grey card. This grey card reflects exactly 1/2 of the light falling on it and also is the middle grey in Ansell Adams famous Zone System. These were originally used to determine a light meter reading from a hand-held light meter way, way back in the film days. (Remember that quaint technology from last century….film?). This card was able to give the photographer a consistent reading of reflectance under any lighting condition and the photographer could set up an exposure based on that reading. Later it was adopted by the digital world to include in the first photo of a shoot to give a consistent colour reference for post processing. My first digital SLR had a custom white balance setting where I could photograph the card and set the camera’s white balance against that image in camera. Once again for consistent results you used the same card. I still have my original Grey Cards from before I had Digital cameras.
2. Is a variation of the grey card, I found this white/grey/black card in the back of a Photoshop/Photography book by Scott Kelby. As you can see the grey in the center is lighter than the grey card but it is still neutral in colour. What this combo is used for is to include the card in the image and during post production in Photoshop you would use the Black, White & Grey eye dropper in Levels or Curves to set these points. The theory was that once the Black Point and White points were set the Grey Point will remove any colour cast. This was again done for consistency but only worked in post processing not in camera.
3. Is a white lens cap that is placed over the lens and you take a photo, using AWB while facing towards the light source. This produced an image somewhere between light and dark grey but may have a colour cast. The image produced here is used to set a Custom White Balance (CWB) in camera removing the colour cast. This setting can only be used while under the same lighting conditions. If the sun goes behind the cloud then the balance was out and you had to go again. When the sun came back out you had to do it again or use the first white balance image.
4. These are a set of White/Grey & Black cards approx 5.5cm x 8.5cm. Small enough to carry everywhere and come with a lanyard to go around your neck. With these you can place them into a photo either held by your subject or by holding them up in front of your lens. Or you can take a photo of the grey card and use the CWB setting in the camera to set the white balance in camera. If you use them to set the CWB in camera AND include them in the first photo of the shoot you can be doubly sure of having the correct white balance.
Each one of these tools is under $30.00 to buy from most camera stores and they work, but only if you use them. There are many more tools out there ranging from $20 to over $200 and they all set your white balance to a measurably consistent result. Spend as much or as little as you like, but if you want to take that next step in controlling your camera’s functions, you’ll need to buy one. Which one? Well that’s the question, isn’t it? I find the white cap and the mini cards work for me. You need to work out which one will work for you.