5.20.2010

Getting it right before you go to post processing!

I'm as guilty as anyone of putting a camera in RAW mode, setting the white balance to AWB and flailing away with the idea that I can fix it all in post.  And from a purely scientific point of view I am sure you can fix color in post given enough time and a discriminating eye.  But since the eye is a great comparator and a lousy rememberer wouldn't it be better if that was one of the things that we figured out up front?  Makes for one less step in post production and it's a step (in post)  that can adversely effect exposure settings, contrast settings and more.

I started to take this seriously when I sat through one of Will Crockett's workshops and heard him talk about his Jpeg centered process of "Kill it and Bill it." His philosophy is that careful incident exposure metering, coupled with nailing white balance at the outset means that you can use images right out of camera.

I didn't go jpeg but I put the time savings of correct, upfront, white balance to the test yesterday on a commercial shoot.  My friend, Lane, hired me to take photos of doctors and clinicians for a local sports medicine practice.  I wanted to make sure my flesh tones were consistent from set up to set up and I wanted to spend less time doing corrections before putting up web galleries for selection ( you can tell people til you are blue in the face that the uncorrected galleries are just thumbnails and will be color corrected but you will prevent much friction and second guessing if you just get the color and exposure on the money before you make the jpegs for the galleries.....) so I could efficiently spend time with the finals instead.

I used a Lastolite collapsible gray target to set my white balance for each set up.  I like to use the gray because the white requires you to really nail the exposure for the most accurate color.  Cameras seem to nail gray better....... My Lastolite is custom made for Will Crockett and has a focus target in the middle so I don't have to set my camera to manual focus or let it hunt.  The regular ones don't have the target but you could add your own with a Sharpie.

Long story all summed up.  Using an incident light meter let me know that there was a half stop difference between what I saw on the back of the camera on the LCD and what the actual exposure was.  The calibration out of the box was one half stop dark which made my files half a stop too light.  The gray card custom white balance setting meant that every single frame matched and required NO tweaking.  Interesting how a sensible shooting workflow can save hours on the back end.  Very nice.
I'd gotten lazy.  I'll fix that.  We're getting busy again so it's time to figure out all the ways to be more productive in a fixed time frame.  Ahhhhhh.

16 comments:

The Photophile said...

But I like to mess around in post...

kirk tuck said...

But this will give you more time to mess around with all the fun controls instead of the stuff that's pretty straightforward.....

John Krumm said...

Kirk, using your gray target, do you take a shot, pull it into a computer, figure out the WB, set the camera to that temperature, and then shoot? Or is there a simpler way? Can you do it in camera, like with a white target?

Robert said...

White and grey should be the same as long as its a neutral gray which your 18% grey card should be unless you left it in the sun or spilled coffee on it.

kirk tuck said...

Robert. Not true. Will Crockett tested many, many cameras with both white targets and gray targets and found that some cameras were better with some and vice versa. In fact, if you carefully read the owner's manual for the Canon 5D mk2 it states that using a gray card, as opposed to white, will give you better results. It's also easier to get a quick exposure reading that's dead accurate with the gray instead of having to dial in a stop or two of plus compensation.

kirk tuck said...

John, the best way to handle it is to put the gray target in the frame, select custom white balance (different for each brand), shoot the target frame and use that as your custom white balance. Then the preferred WB is resident in every frame and each individual file. And will give you a nicer image on the LCD as wll.

John Krumm said...

Thanks, I'll give it a try. I've never liked the custom White balance results using my e620 and a white sheet of paper, so perhaps a gray card will be better. With my wife's Lx3 the white works very well.

Craig said...

My objection to the idea of shooting a gray target or some other sort of ideal white balance target is that doing so assumes that the goal is to make everything look as if it were illuminated by pure white light. In some studio situations this is probably reasonable, but I generally work under available light and I want the color of the light to be visible in the final image. The human eye/brain tends to partially (not fully) balance color, so I try to find a pleasant compromise between the reality of what the camera saw and what the "real colors" were, such that the scene looks more or less as I remember it. A gray target is pretty useless for this, so I just leave the camera in Auto WB and adjust it later while processing the raw file.

kirk tuck said...

Craig, sounds right. My client was looking for very natural looking color and consistency. Good to know the goal and act accordingly.

Douglas Urner said...

Craig, even if you don't want a "pure white light" look, using a consistent white balance will make the work in post much easier. Once you dial in the WB setting you want to use you'll be able to apply it to all of your images because you'll be starting from a consistent place. If you're running AWB then the actual white balance the camera uses in each shot will be potluck (obviously the camera will be trying to get it right -- e.g. figure out its idea of "pure white light" in the scene -- but small variations in the frame may get you slightly different AWB values in each frame. That generally doesn't make for a simple workflow in post.

David Bateman said...

Kirk, I thought you were the king of Jpeg? You know, shoot and don't look back, set the PEN to square format and off you go. Why now with the Canon are you shooting Raw only?

For what is worth I have been doing the same but different recently. I have Olympus E3, I bought three cards (White, Black, grey) in the "Digital Grey Kard" set. These are the size of a Visa card. I always keep them in my wallet. At a shoot I hold them out in front of my camera, arms length seems to work for almost all my lenses (50-200 the exception) with grey in the middle snap custom white balance shot and take a shot for reference. Then shooting Raw+Jpeg shoot away. Then when finished shoot one more shot of the cards, incase something charged over the shot period. This is very fast and If I remeber to do it get perfect results out of E3 under any light condition.

kirk tuck said...

Coulda shot jpeg. Breaking in a new camera with a client I always want to stick my big toe in the water a bit slow. Back in the days of easy money I probably would take more chances but in an where finding people who pay for photography is like finding the right grain of sand on a beach......

Rick Moore said...

I dislike raw and all the work it entails. Every time I shoot raw+jpg I end up submitting the jpgs, throwing out the raws, and have never had the client complain. Get the color right in the camera and spend the saved post production time enjoying your life.

Robert said...

thx Kirk

roteague said...

Amazon simply calls this Grey/White. I wonder how close this is to 18%, or is it 18%? Makes a difference for me, since I only shoot transparency film - for people I like Fuji Astia.

Thanks,

Nathan said...

I do similar - I learned the value of a custom WB when doing sports and would start off in perfect daylight and end up in horribly stadium lighting. 2 or 3 custom WB settings during the game was normal for me. I did it shooting through a white coffee filter and using the E3's "one touch" feature. Faster and easier than pulling out the grey card and gives nearly identical results. Try it out - it is basically free.

The horrible part is when shooting at 1/320 or faster and the lights flicker so badly that the WB and exposure changes between 3 consecutive shots in under a second.