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?