Saturday, September 13, 2014

Another Way to Set White Balance

White balance (WB).

One of those little "get it right in camera" things that separates the novice from the experienced.  And, I know, if you shoot RAW you can adjust it later (use the WB eyedropper to click on something neutral, preferably a grey card in your first frame if available).  But that can be a lot of work later, and, if you happen to have nothing neutral in the frame, can be persnickity, anyway.

I recently stumbled upon a new way to set white balance that I thought I'd share.  Like everything photography, I'm sure some of you already know this one, but I've never heard of anyone talking about it, so.....

If you choose to set your white balance while shooting (highly recommended), there are several ways to go about it.  Some rely on Auto White Balance (AWB).  Fine in a pinch, but often a bit unreliable, especially on a frame to frame basis.  Many cameras will give you presets for Sunlight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten light, and one or more fluorescent settings.

There are also usually options for custom white balance as well as setting the temperature by the Kelvin scale.  With custom white balance, you shoot something neutral (white or grey -- preferably a perfect 18% grey -- like a photographic grey card) in the ambient or flash light that will be visible in your upcoming shots.  Then you choose the picture you've just taken as the reference for the camera to set WB.  But what if you left the grey card elsewhere and nothing is neutral?  Or pop an Expodisk over your lens to get your reference.

All good ways that certainly work most of the time.  Kid tested, mother approved.

Lately I've been using the Kelvin scale.  I make an educated guess about the proper temperature to use or set it somewhere around 5000 and take a test shot.  Too warm, I crank it down.  Too cool, crank it up.  Take another test shot.  By this time I'm pretty close.  Rinse, repeat, etc until I've nailed it.

I just found a way to get to the proper number just a little bit quicker if your camera has an option for in-camera RAW processing. First, take a picture in the light you'll be working in, whether that be ambient or with flash, at or near the proper exposure for your scene.  Then, from your menu, find an option for Raw Image Processing -- that's what my Canon 6D calls it. Your last image will pop up -- hit "set". Now Raw editing tools come up.  Use the toggle to work down to the WB option. Scroll through to the Kelvin option and turn that dial until the image looks just right.  Now make a note as to that exact Kelvin number.  Say it's 3600.  

Now back out, go to the regular menu area for setting the WB.  Again select the Kelvin option.  Dial in that number that looked so great a moment ago (in our example 3600).  And voila!  You're ready to shoot until the lighting situation changes.

While this isn't as fast as an Expodisk or grey card, it's a terrific option if those items are unavailable or if they aren't quite getting you to the exact look you prefer (sometimes a TRUE white balancing can be less than appealing if you are in multi-colored lights, say at a concert, or sitting around a campfire, where a certain orange cast is necessary to evoke the correct mood.

I'd be very interested if any else out there is using this technique or if you have another method to set your WB that I didn't mention.

Eager to hear from you!   ~R

Addendum:  Based on discussions with other photographers, some variations came up.  First and foremost, when working in strictly ambient light, you can adjust K live and on the fly by going into livemode.  From there you should be able to access the K adjustment (exactly how/where depends on camera) and dial in a color while watching live how it affects the image.  For straight-up ambient, this is certainly the fastest and truest.

If using flash that overpowers ambient, simply set to the Flash color setting.  However if the flash mixes with ambient, gel the flash to match ambient, usually with 1/4 or 1/2 CTO (color temperature orange gel).  For this method several of the above methods will work, including the onboard RAW processing method.

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