Tuesday, February 15, 2011
White Balance Blues
Auto white balance may be convenient, but it won’t give you the best colors
You won’t get good color if you set your white balance on something that’s not in the same light as your subject.
You also can use a specific white balance to make the image look cooler. This can be an interesting option if the conditions are right. A photographer friend of mine loves to shoot with the Tungsten setting when he’s shooting during the day. He underexposes slightly to create a unique, cold look.
I’ll use Kelvin and custom white balance settings for certain conditions. Sometimes conditions don’t match any preset white balance setting on your camera. I’ve found that when shooting in the shade high in the mountains, for example, no setting will get rid of the blue. But I can quickly dial in a Kelvin setting to warm up the scene.
|The duller carrots photo was shot with AWB; the warmer photo with brighter colors was shot with Shade white balance. Notice how much duller the AWB colors are. Yet if you only saw the AWB photo, you might think the image was “okay.”|
Using Custom White Balance
With custom white balance, you can lock in a white balance setting based on the exact conditions you’re shooting. Every camera does this a little differently, so you’ll need to check your manual to see how to do it with yours. Basically, a custom setting uses a neutral tone, such as a sheet of white paper or a gray card, to allow the camera to make that neutral tone truly neutral.
Custom white balance helps when you have especially challenging lighting conditions, but be sure you’re checking the white balance of the light that’s hitting your subject. You won’t get good color if you set your white balance on something that’s not in the same light as your subject.
An exception to the rule is that I occasionally use Auto white balance when I’m shooting indoors under varied light sources or when I’m moving between indoor and outdoor conditions as I follow a subject. But mostly, I want better results than Auto white balance consistently will give, so my inclination is
to get in the habit of setting a specific white balance.
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