6.30.2016

Color control via custom white balancing in camera.


We were shooting in interesting light yesterday. And it was fun. We were using CooLED lights in soft boxes, and in shiny reflectors covered with diffusion "socks." There was ample sunlight coming through windows all around us, and in some spots there were little ceiling can lights --- but we turned those off. As a rule, when shooting in the mixed light of LEDs and indirect sunlight, we try to get our white balance on the money, in the camera for a couple of reasons. While it's true that we could probably arduously wend our way toward a pleasing white balance by shooting raw and spending hours and hours in post production; correcting file after file (no two of which would be exactly the same...), we prefer to get it right for a whole sequence of images and have the wonderful joy of opening up the files in Lightroom and not having to do any color correction for any of the files. And secondly we know that if we take the time to get the color balance right before shooting we are also able to get much more exacting exposure results as well. Why? Changing color balance in post also changes exposure values.

Yesterday we were photographing people and shooting for expressions. That's different than shooting landscapes or still life. You can't really bracket any of the portraits since the one you will like the most will almost always be the one that's too dark or too light. If you are working with non-professional talent you might need to shoot a lot of frames to catch a fleeting expression. You might also need to shoot a fair number of frames just to get the person in front of your camera used to the process. When you deal with even small groups of people, if you are thorough, your frame count goes up times the number of people in the group.

We came home with about 1,500 frames yesterday. We worked
in about 25 different set-ups, from exteriors to tiny offices with short ceilings, and everything in between. In each of the 25 set-ups it was my assistant's job to go to the exact spot where I would put my subjects and hold a Lastolite white balance target toward my camera position. I would go into my function menu and hit the WB setting, scroll down to custom set and make a custom white balance. It added fifteen or twenty seconds to each set up. If we had not done this it is possible that every single image may have required touching in post production to nudge it into an acceptable white balance. That's a lot of time sitting in front of a computer. Just correct the ones the client will eventually use? Are you living in a dream world? Most clients can't see through bad color or exposures that are off to see what's in the frame. You need to show them choices that don't create needless friction in the middle of the process. I'd correct only images that the clients might like if only I know which ones those were...

By making a custom white balance at the top of each new set-up we weren't just "in the ballpark" for good flesh tones; we nailed it. Now my job is just to narrow down choices and help out some rough skin tone from time to time as I make selections to include for an online gallery. 

The drudgery of custom white balancing is certainly not a sexy topic like Which current camera system has the best 400mm and 600mm high speed lenses? Or, "Which is sharper, the Canon 85mm f1.2, the Nikon 85mm f1.4, or the Sony G Master 85mm 1.4?"  But it sure is more typical of what we think about and practice each day as we go out to handle professional video and still photography assignments for commercial clients. And it does take precedence over small and subjective differences in high speed lens performance because it actually has an effect on the overall quality and acceptability of each job. 

We could argue till the end of time about which high speed lens best defines the sharp edges our super model's bikini but on real jobs we tend to work a couple stops down from wide open and, surprisingly (or not) we find very little difference in the overall quality of most good, expensive lenses once they are stopped down. Most of the stuff we photographers love to debate about don't even budge the interest needle on our clients' brains but show them color that's off and you've got a different sort of debate on your hands. 

This is my final suggestion that if you want your images to look better, before buying the next super camera body or the "ultimate" lens, take a little time to learn how to make custom white balances with the gear you have and sit back in amazement of how much better your work looks when compared to AWB. It's a miracle feature and it comes free on almost every camera I can think of...

Assistant with collapsible white/gray target in hand. Waiting patiently to jump in an conquer mixed lighting. A nest of lights on standby in the background.

These targets are great! Click on this link and buy one right now. You'll use it for years and forget to thank me for the suggestion but I don't care. You'll be happy. That's what matters!




8 comments:

Butch said...

This many stars: **********. A classic post. Profoundly useful. Hope to see it once a year. This is bedrock info for doing it right on any job. Now if I can just persuade the lighting folks at our school's annual mega theater production to keep the lights at one setting. But I jest. Thanks for this.

amolitor said...

The attached photos suggest a market for nice dressy white balance target shirts.

Kirk Tuck said...

Andrew, Interesting product concept. We'd need to find a source of white shirts that have not been treated with optical brighteners and UV brighteners; there are so many white materials that have been so treated that they fluoresce, have magnets casts, etc. Probably worse to use an unknown "white" source than just defaulting to AWB. When do we get together to launch the White Balance Shirts. Product extensions might include: White Balance Hats, White Balance Camera Bags, even White Balance Frisbees!!!? And I have often wondered if the Horizon Organic Half and Half I put in my coffee is color neutral...

Mike Rosiak said...

When I set white balance using a small target (about index card size) I get the camera really close so it's not reading other areas. What is your camera proximity using the Lastolite?

PStu said...

How about a camera bag where the lining of the top flap is an 18% neutral gray fabric? That might work for photographers who are moving more quickly and don't have an assistant to hold up the Lastolite AWB target?

Kirk Tuck said...

Mike, with the Sonys, in the white balance setting mode, there is a small, round spot target in the center the finder. You need only get that circle over the white target to take the reading. You could zoom in with a longer lens from across the room and still get only white target. No need to fill the entire frame. (+1 for Sony's method).

Merle Hall said...

Wearable is being done: http://www.cooph.com/about/news/detail/article/dont-sweat-it-its-a-gray-chart-you-can-wear.html

...if you like hats. Maybe they have other articles of gray chart clothing, I didn't look.

Merle

Gordon R. Brown said...

The hat with the 18-percent gray interior is only 39 Euros. That's a bit over $43 in U.S. dollars. I didn't go further to look at the shipping charges.

If the hat had a red Leica dot, the hat would be even pricier. And yes, I do use a Leica; and no, I didn't purchase it new.