Master White Balance For Better Color
Auto white balance is an effective tool, but you often can do better with other, more controlled settings
Below: One problem with auto white balance is inconsistency. Even shots taken within minutes of each other, with the same composition and subject, may exhibit color differences, as the camera reestablishes white balance with every exposure. To ensure consistency, shoot in a preset mode, not auto.
You can go far beyond this, however, and choose a white-balance setting for a specific effect. Try a preset that isn't exactly matched to the scene in order to make that scene look warmer or cooler. For example, most photographers find that the best-looking sunrises or sunsets come from the Cloudy or Shady presets. Many cameras give a nice added warmth to a scene, even in sunlight, if they're always left on the Cloudy or Flash setting when shooting outdoors (but you have to check this; every camera interprets these things slightly differently, and you may or may not like the results at a given setting).
For more creative effects, you can try totally unmatched presets. Try the Tungsten indoor setting outdoors for a very blue, cool effect. That can be spectacular. Shoot backlight and underexpose slightly with the Tungsten setting to get a night look. This is sort of what Hollywood does to shoot night scenes during the day-avoid the sky, though, because it will be too bright.
You might also use the Daylight setting indoors to give the scene a very warm look. This can be ugly in the wrong situation, but when it works, it can give a room a great feeling that a more realistic color won't provide. The realistic color can actually look dull.
Another option is custom or manual white balance. This can be helpful in getting truly neutral tones in an image. In this option, you tell the camera to make a specific color neutral. The basics are like this: Put something that should be neutral in front of your camera and in the same light as your subject. This can be a white paper, a gray card, white fabric or, for more precision, specially made white-balance cards (such as WhiBal) and lens attachments, then tell the camera to make this neutral.
Camera manufacturers haven't created a standard procedure, so I can't give specific details on how to do this; you have to check your manual. Most manuals I've read tell you that your white-balancing target has to be in focus—it doesn't (unless your camera won't work without the focus). The real key is that you target the same light as your subject, and it needs to fill all or nearly all of the image area.
You also may find it useful to go beyond the pure neutral function of custom white balance. You can white balance your camera on any color and the camera will try to make it neutral, removing that color. This can lead to some creative effects; for example, you can warm up a scene quite nicely by white balancing on a pale blue piece of paper. This can do some great things for skin tones. Just pick up some blue paint swatches from your local paint store. They work great, and you can try other colors for different effects.
White balance is an essential control for our cameras, just like setting shutter speed and ƒ-stop. It gives photographers the chance to better control our craft so that colors work for our purposes. Check it out and experiment. You might find it's just what you need to give your workflow and your /images a boost.
| TECH TRICK: WhiBal |
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