Saturday, February 5, 2011

White Balance Blues

If you had asked me a few years ago if I could tell the difference between a photo shot with Auto white balance and one with a specific setting.
Text & Photography By Rob Sheppard Published in Shooting
White Balance Blues
You won’t get good color if you set your white balance on something that’s not in the same light as your subject.

I have to caution you on the latter. Some cameras simply don’t give the best color when Cloudy is used for sunny days. You have to try it out. You also may find that using the Electronic Flash setting will just give a slight bit of warmth to sunny days, which can enhance your results, too.

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.”

If your camera has a Live View setting for the LCD, using the Kelvin setting is easy. Simply look at the LCD as you change the setting and watch as your scene gets cooler or warmer until it looks good. In fact, you can use Live View for any change of white balance just to confirm that the colors are appropriate for your needs and the subject.

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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