Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Hello again everyone! It’s Beckie here today :) I’m super excited with today’s topic, as it’s the first thing in a long time that has made a truly dramatic improvement in the quality of my photos! And I know it can help you, too :) So….let’s get started!
Let’s start with a very basic discussion of white balance. White balance is the adjustment applied to remove color casts from your photos. Every different lighting situation we face presents a different lighting color. Candle light and light bulbs are warm (yellow-ish), cloud coverage and shade are cool (blue-ish). Our own eyes have a fantastic ability to see beyond the color casts present in light; that is, we don’t usually perceive the color differences from one light situation to another. Your camera, however, needs a little help! Your photos will look their best when your camera is set to compensate for the color cast of the lighting situation. We do this with the white balance setting on the camera.
Nearly all cameras, including basic point-and-shoot cameras, have several white balance settings to choose from. These typically include “Auto”, “Cloudy”, “Daylight”, “Fluorescent”, and “Tungsten”. Chances are, your camera is set to “Auto” (sometimes written as “AWB” for Auto White Balance). This is a setting that effectively puts the responsibility for detecting and removing color cast to your camera. The camera does an OK job, but typically only gets white balance accurate in relatively “neutral” lighting – flash and daylight. But in all other conditions, your camera most likely doesn’t do a great job – leaving a color cast to your images.
One other drawback to using AWB on your camera is this: your camera will re-evaluate the lighting with every shot taken. This means it will potentially apply diffferent corrective adjustments to every photo you take. Consider this: the presence of white/gray/neutral content in your photo increases the chance of your camera making an accurate assessment in AWB mode. So what if one shot is of a neighbor in a white shirt in the shade, but the very next shot is of a small child wearing purple (also in the shade)? It’s likely that your camera will assess the two situations differently. Neither shot is likely to be really great, but the image of the person in the white shirt will likely have truer color than that of the child in purple. Later, when you upload the images to your computer and you want to edit your photos, each image will need it’s own custom color adjustments! The same adjustment that warmed up the purple shirt photo and made it “just right” is likely to be too warm for the white shirt, which likely had a warmer value to start with. In essence, using AWB makes batch editing photos nearly impossible. I recommend using the RIGHT white balance modes for each situation for two reasons:
- more accurate representation of color for all situations if set properly
- bulk editing photos (through PS, Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom, etc) is possible – dramatically reducing your photo editing time
Now…for those of you who have dSLRs – you have even MORE options. At least one more, to be specific – and it’s called Kelvin.
I’m going to be straight up here and say that I don’t understand the details, nor do I care, about the physics and science behind Kelvin, but it’s basically a scale that measures the warmth of light. The good news? You’ll get CRAZY good photos if you take advantage of what your camera has to offer here. Here’s a reference of how common lighting situations translate to their corresponding Kelvin values:
So – all you have to do is set your white balance to “K” for Kelvin (see your user’s manual for instructions on how to do this). Once you do this, you’ll see a number pop up. The default value is typically in the daylight range above (5000-6500) and varies by manufacturer. The default value doesn’t really matter anyway, as you should set it to the value that is correct for the current conditions in which you’re shooting. 5800 is a great place to start for normal daylight, just to get a starting point. Some photographers prefer “warmer” images and shoot at around 6200 in normal lighting conditions. Think of the number as the amount of light you’re adding to the photo - that’s the easiest way for me to remember that low Kelvin numbers are already warm and don’t need much warmth added (like candle light). Shade, on the other hand, is cooler and needs more warmth added – so the number will be bigger.
I took my camera out one evening and practiced setting/changing values. It just takes a few clicks on my Canon 7d to change the K value – it’s super easy! I set the value, then take a test shot, and view it through the screen. If it looks “true to life” to me, I leave it, otherwise I adjust up or down accordingly (remember, making the number bigger adds more warmth to the image). After just one evening of shooting with Kelvin, I’ll never use any other white balance mode again. Seriously. My white balance modes have always been consistently cooler than what is “true to life”, something I’ve heard photographers with Nikon cameras say as well. By using Kelvin, you spend a few extra seconds setting the value to exactly what you need for true to life images. Just remember that as lighting changes, you’ll want to adjust your Kelvin values accordingly. I typically increase the K value by a few clicks at a time throughout the evening, just as reference :)
I find that now I rarely adjust the white balance of my photos, and if I do have to make edits, it’s a VERY minor adjustment. Refer to this post for tips on how to edit white balance and exposure :) If you shoot RAW, you can either use the color sliders in ACR or LR, or you can change to a different WB mode (like daylight, cloudy, etc) after the fact. If you use JPG, you will have to use the yellow/blue color slider to adjust WB accordingly in your editing program.
This photo is nothing special…except that it was one of the very first images I shot using Kelvin white balance. It is completely SOOC (straight out of camera) except for a small amount of cropping. I immediately noticed a HUGE improvement in the color!! I had it set to around 9000 as it was late in the afternoon and the whole front yard was in shade. Don’t be afraid to increase the value! Skin should be warm, not cool and “pasty”!
Getting the white balance right “in camera” (as the photo is taken) produces more accurate representations of color than anything I achieve using other WB modes. I’m just not an expert at photo processing/editing – nor do I want to be. So I am so thrilled I spent an evening learning to shoot Kelvin to produce better, more accurate colors than what I’ve had before. :)
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s detour into White Balance! I’d love to hear about your experiences below in the comments section :) I also feel the need to remind everyone that I’m NOT a pro, just a mom with a camera…on a mission to capture great photos :)
Thanks for stopping by the blog today! We’ll be back tomorrow with some COLOR inspiration!