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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Color Of Light

Master white balance for greater quality and control

Working With White Balance
Beyond getting your camera's settings right, an understanding of white balance will make you aware of the natural colorcasts that exist during the course of a day. If you want to create a moody image, you might choose to shoot early in the morning when the cool light produces a bluish colorcast. Take a portrait in the late afternoon when the light is warm, and you'll achieve a pleasing appearance for skin, a look that you'll repeatedly find in a famous sports magazine's yearly swimsuit issue.

Understanding white balance isn't just about avoiding colorcasts, but understanding when such colorcasts happen, when we want to avoid them and when we might want to use them to our photograph's benefit. For example, if I'm taking a picture of a model on a beach in the late-afternoon sun, I'll set my white balance for daylight. When the camera is set for daylight, its white-balance setting is fixed and it will capture the normal colorcasts. In the case of the model, a warm flattering light would illuminate her skin tone.

However, the auto white-balance setting of the camera might misinterpret that warmth of the late-afternoon shoot and assume that I'm shooting under a lighting situation that requires a different color temperature. This can result in a cooler image, as the camera attempts to correct for the warmth of the scene. By setting the white balance to the daylight preset, I eliminate this possibility.

Another benefit to setting the white balance manually is that I know everything I shoot during a session will be consistent in color because the white balance won't be influenced by the various colors in a scene. I don't have to worry that there will be variations of color with each frame as I change lenses, perspective and camera position. This is especially important when I want to apply batch enhancements to a selection of images. If the color is off in several images, I have to take the additional step of correcting those images individually-not a lot of fun.

The Benefits Of RAW
Many photographers who shoot in the RAW format boast that they don't have to worry about white balance since they can correct for it when they open their images in a RAW converter, such as Camera Raw found in Photoshop. This is because RAW allows you to make a variety of adjustments to your image, including its white balance, before the file is opened in image-editing software. Unlike files created and saved as JPEGs, RAW files offer the ability to correct or fine-tune white balance with little effect in image quality. It's a big advantage of shooting in RAW.




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