Filters for correction

You can use some gels (colour filters) for correction, Here’s an example.

Take this: I am lit pretty much OK by my flash, and with the camera set to FLASH white balance,, but the background is a tungsten light, so it looks red. I happen to like that, but what if I want that background to look normal, white, the way it looks to me?

Well…  can I not just set the white balance to Tungsten?

No, because then, while the background would look good, the parts lit by the flash would look all blue, like this:

Part 1 of the solution: make the light on me come from a tungsten light source too, so we both look red. We do this by adding a CTO (colour Temperature Orange) to the flash.

Part 2 of the solution: Now you can set the white balance on your camera to “Tungsten”, and both I and the background will look neutral:

Done. Now we both look normal.

So, in summary:  when you are dealing with a colour-cast ambient light, gel your flash to that same colour cast, and then adjust your white balance setting to that colour cast.

You can learn all about this, and much, much more, from my e-books. Now available from — the checklist book even as a printed manual now,

White Balance Tip

Why, I was asked yesterday, do I need to set my white balance to “Flash” when shooting studio-type pictures like the one of friend Liz below? Isn’t “Auto” enough?

Well, in a sense Auto is OK, since you can always correct later—assuming you are shooting in RAW format. (If shooting JPG, you must set the white balance accurately when shooting). But while you can shoot with the wrong balance, why not get it right? Your previews will look great, and there’s less work later.

So why is Auto wrong in this case?

The key phrase is “studio type” shooting. That is distinguished from speedlight shooting in one major way: namely, that you connect to the flash via either a cable or a radio trigger such as a Pocketwizard.

And that means the camera does not actually know you are using flash! So it does not set its white balance to Flash for you. And Auto is wrong, because you cannot measure flash white balance automatically. Why not? Because that measuring is done before the picture is taken, and before the picture is taken there is no flash! So the camera will base its white balance on the lightbulbs in the studio rather than on the flashes. And that’s wrong.

So now you know yet another little thing about flash!


If you are in the Oakville, Ontario area: I have one spot open for Sunday’s Advanced Flash workshop. be quick and be part of this!

Also, of course, there’s the e-books: go check out what people are saying. The books and courses work very well together.

And finally, I have that 50mm f/1.2 lens for sale. Check that out too: and remember, $125 off for readers of this blog.


White Balance

Since you presumably shoot RAW, the White Balance (WB) setting (and I do wish they had called it “Colour Balance”) is unimportant: you can set it later in Lightroom or your software of choice, for one image or for an entire group, with no penalty.

Yes, but, as you have heard me say here before, you might as well feel good about yourself. Say you shoot indoors on a sunny day, and the “Auto” setting produces this, as it did for me yesterday agt my exhibit:

Looking at the back of your camera, you wil not feel great about your shots. So why not, jst to make yourself feel better, set the WB setting to “Shade”? You will get something more like this:

Looks better to me – more like what I was actually seeing. And if I do manage to get it right in the camera, there is less work to do later.

So what do I normally do? My strategy is to leave it on AUTO unless I have extra time; then my strategy is to get it right.

I can also

  • Use K settings – Degrees Kelvin;
  • Or take a shot of a gray card and use that as my “custom” reference. By definition, this gives me perfect white balance.

One time-saving note: if I do neither of those and leave White balance on AUTO, I do try to take one picture of a neutral gray object – like a gray card – in each lighting situation. That way I can quickly grab each ;lighting situation with the dropper in Lightroom and get the colours exactly right instantly in post-production.

As you see, there are many possible strategies. choose the one that best matches you and the particular shoot you are doing, and it will be one thing less to worry about. So that you can concentrate on your compositions!


Set it yourself

Each light type has its own colour temperature (the redness or blueness of the light, where redder is “warmer”, and more blue is “colder”, in photographers’ terms). This colour is expressed as a temperature, which is measured in degrees Kelvin (after Lord Kelvin). Physicists and engineers know this.

Our cameras need to adjust to the light’s colour temperature. In the film days we used to do this by selecting the right film, which is sensitive to match the colour temperature of the light used (Tungsten film for incandecsent light bulbs, daylight film for daylight).

On digital cameras we use the White Balance setting. Set it to “Tungsten”, “Fluorescent”, and so on. Or we can set it ourselves, and that is today’s tip of the day.

On many cameras you have a “K” setting. You can now adjust the white balance by setting it to the colour temperature of the light used:

  • Blue sky: 10,000K
  • Shade from blue sky: 7,500K
  • Daylight shade: 6,600K
  • Summer daylight: 5,500K
  • Flash: 5,500K
  • Mid afternoon daylight: 4,500
  • Evening sunlight: 3,500K
  • Tungsten light: 3,200K
  • Sunset 2,500K
  • Candle light: 1,600K

So setting those white balances makes light look white. Is that what you want? Then set that white balance to match the light. That is the simple method: to get white to look white, select the colour temperature of the light illuminating your subject. And by using the Kelvin scale, you can make this pretty exact. So if a light is too red for you, adjust K until you are happy.

But there is another method: If you do not want white, then set the white balance to a different value from the value of the light hitting your subject. I.e. you can shift white balance. So if I set my white balance to 5,500 on a sunset evening, I get not white, but red  – which presumably is exactly what I want for a sunset.

Yes, you can do this on your computer if you shoot RAW, but I still recommend getting it right in camera.

And that was today’s tip!


Confusion reigns…

…but I am here to help you sort it out.

I hear a lot of beginning (and some advanced) students who confuse white balance with exposure.

This confusion is not surprising, since both have something to do with “this picture of a white wall, say, is not white enough”, and they both occur together very often.

So here’s the summary:

  • White balance is about the colour (it ought to perhaps be called “colour balance”).
  • Exposure is about the brightness.

So ask yourself what you mean when you say “that white surface is not white enough”!

  • If it looks too yellow, say, then it is white balance you need to adjust (the WB setting on your camera).
  • If it looks too dark, it is exposure (the +/- setting, “exposure compensation”).

And of course since they occur together,you may well have to do both. Get the colour right first, then the exposure.

Confusion lessened?

Yellow balance

Just a quick note today, since I am travelling to Montreal and Quebec City.

White balance is the process your camera uses to make white white.

But you can also use it to distort an image’s colours to your liking.

To turn white yellow, for instance. This shot is Tungsten light, but shot with the camera’s white balance set to flash:

White or orange?

White or orange?

You can, and should, experiment with white balance! Turn images blue or orange. Play a little!

Of course if you are only using one light source and you shoot RAW, this makes no actual difference, but it is still worth setting, if only (as I have pointed out here before) because you save timelater – and becasue you get to see an idea of what the image will look like in the end.

Autumn tip

A quick tip for those of you who, like me, are in the part of the world where autumn is coming.

If you want beautiful fall colours, you need to keep two things in mind:

  1. Brightness. Expose properly, and when vegetation is concerned that means expose less than your meter wants. Foliage is dark and you need to tell your camera that. So use exposure compensation as needed – minus 1 stop is not uncommon.
  2. Colour. Be sure to set your camera to the correct white balance. This usually means “daylight” or “cloudy”: the default “auto” (AWB) setting may get rid of the beautiful radiant colours.

And the colours are starting. Here, a couple of shots I shot while on my way to Drumbo this past weekend, to shoot the Drumbo Country Fair. Those colours are on their way:

Fall is coming: Drumbo, Ontario, Sep 2010

Fall is coming: Drumbo, Ontario, Sep 2010

Of course I could not possibly have been shooting this handheld while driving: that would not be allowed in Ontario. Right?

Fall is coming: Drumbo, Ontario, Sep 2010

Fall is coming: Drumbo, Ontario, Sep 2010

And here’s a snap from what I was shooting:

Drumbo, Queen of the Furrow

Drumbo, Queen of the Furrow

One more tip: for best fall colours, either shoot late in the day (the “golden hour”), or early in the morning (if you can get up, early morning light is just as beautiful, plus there is little wind). And know where the sun is!

White Balance is/is not important

You know your camera’s White Balance setting. It should of course be called “colour balance”, but what with engineers doing the naming, science will trump understandability.

So this setting sets your colours properly for the available light. Is it important to set it? For instance, while taking portfolio pics like this, at Saturday’s workshop, do I set White Balance to anything, or do I leave it on Auto?

Biker chick, by Michael Willems

Biker chick - model Lindsay Biernat, 14 August 2010

Can you see how important the flash is, by the way? The edge light

Back to White Balance: is this important?

One possible (and valid) answer: If you shoot JPG pictures, yes, you should get the White Balance right in camera. But if you shoot RAW, no. White balance is set afterward, on your computer in Lightroom or whatever you use. It makes no difference what you set on your camera. Save yourself the time.

Another (equally valid) answer: Yes! Setting white balance is important when shooting JPG, but when shooting RAW you should set it too, because:

  • You get a much better impression while shooting of how the colours will eventually look. That saves you from many mistakes. It also makes you feel better about yourself and your abilities.
  • You save time afterward, because Lightroom will start off with your in-camera setting and you will have to correct less, and less often.

So when shooting with flash, set your white balance to “flash”. Especially if you use gels, avoid “auto” white balance.

So my answer: if the shoot is important and if you have a second, set it. If using flash, always set it (to flash).

Oakville Sunset

Friday evening, this was the sunset as I was almost home:

Oakville Sunset, photo by Michael Willems

Oakville Sunset, photo by Michael Willems

That colour is not photoshopped: it was real.

For sunset pictures, remember this:

  1. Set your white balance to “daylight” (on the camera or, if shooting RAW, in Lightroom later).
  2. Expose right (if using evaluative metering, then use -1 stop Exposure Compensation). This saturates the colours.

I prefer to set the WB on the camera even when shooting RAW. That way, I can see on the LCD roughly what I may be getting.

Why set White Balance when you shoot RAW?

When you shoot RAW (as you probably should if your pictures are important t0 you) then your in-camera image processing settings are not important. Setting like colour space (AdobeRGB or sRGB), sharpening, noise reduction, colour saturation, saturation, white balance, and more.

They are not applied, just attached to the sensor information as “suggestions”. You can always set, or change, them later in Lightroom, Photoshop, or whatever you use.

So why set Light Balance in the camera anyway? It is time-consuming, and if those settings are not permanent, why bother?

First, if you shoot RAW, you should turn off all image settings that make the preview look very different from the RAW image. Set your camera to “normal” picture style and disable auto lighting optimization, lens correction, extra contrast, and so on. I have written about that before on this blog.

Then, white balance. Why you might want to set it:

  1. Your images will look more like the finished product. You will get a better idea of “what you are getting”
  2. You know whether to correct anything.
  3. They will also look better, so you will feel better about your skills
  4. Most software will take the White Balance setting at least as a suggestion, so you can start off in Lightroom, say, with colours already almost right.

    Against this: it takes time. So what I DO IS THIS:

    • Not worry about it
    • If shooting in a studio, and I have time, I set it to Flash
    • If shooting a sunset, or late day light, or snow on a sunny day, and I have time, I set to daylight
    • If shooting in Tungsten light, and I have time, I set to Tungsten
    • But when in a hurry and at all other times than those above, set it to auto.

    That’s simple, no?