White Balance 101 continued…

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We started this conversation on White Balance and now it’s time to pick it back up.  Here’s where we left off – I shared this photo that has a series of photos at difference White Balances:

whitebalanceexampleNow a couple of you very observant readers pointed out that my custom white balance was a little on the yellow side.  You can give yourself a gold star for the day, go out to lunch, pat yourself on the back.  While custom white balance is a wonderful thing it will be deciding what WHITE is.  Lets think about that a little more.  If you tell your camera that the color Yellow is the new White then any object that is white will end up looking more yellow.   Makes sense right?  Someone else pointed out that taking a white balance off your hand would only work if the person was deathly pale.  Lucky for me, I am :-) .  Usually I take it off of the ceiling as most often it is white.  

So here’s a tip for you – lets say that you’re photographing your children in your house 80% of the time.  Think about what you could take a white balance off of in the rooms of your house.  Make a little mental list.  In the bathroom I take it off the bathtub, in the living room I take it off the wall, in the kitchen it’s the ceiling, in my bedroom I take it off the sheets.  Remember that White Balance is all about light and that your subject should be in the same light as your white balance target.  So if you’re taking the white balance off the sheets and you’re putting your baby on the sheets then you’re in good shape.  If you’re taking the white balance off the sheets and then you’re going in the corner of your bedroom with a stack of books your white balance will be off because the lighting in the corner is likely different then the light on your bed.  Again, it makes sense right?

So lets take a look at two photos side by side.


So the photo on the left is the Custom White Balance that I took off of the mellow yellow walls in my kitchen.  The skin tone is a little on the yellow side – it’s creamy golden sunshine yellow. I like it from a “I can feel the rays of the sun” standpoint – but from a good white balance standpoint it’s clear that it’s not right.  Now, the photo on the right is a custom white balance taken off of the ceiling which is white.  So the skin coloration is “true”.  

Most cameras have an Auto White Balance setting and for a lot of people the results end up being good enough that they never venture outside auto. AWB (auto white balance) does vary from camera to camera and as I’ve been reviewing the different cameras I’ve been testing this – I haven’t seen a marked difference.  My personal opinion is that if you’re in a single type of light your AWB does the trick.  What do I mean by single type of light?  If you’re in a room that has florescent lighting only, or outside with direct sun, or in a room with regular light bulbs lighting the whole room then that is a single type of light.  When you get into a mixed light situation where you have light bulbs on in the room in addition to some natural light then it gets tricky and a custom white balance is the way to go.   The most difficult lighting that I’ve found was in a hotel conference room with big picture windows - florescent overhead lighting + natural light = crazy white balance issues.  

Another place that Auto White Balance struggles is when you have a lot of a single color.  A long time ago I went on a trip with my Mom to Reno and Lake Tahoe – it was incredible and I loved all the photo opportunities like this shot:


When I say that this shot doesn’t even begin to capture the view from this vantage point it is a huge understatement.  I still like the shot, but it’s not as great as it could have been.  Now I know that a custom white balance might have helped my shot here – but back then I was just an Auto White Balance girl.  Keep this in mind when you’re shooting a scene with a lot of a single color – at least try the Custom White Balance and report back to me via our Flickr Pool

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  • http://photographsnchops.blogspot.com/ Utharian

    “Usually I take it off of the ceiling as most often it is white. ” “So if you’re taking the white balance off the sheets and you’re putting your baby on the sheets then you’re in good shape. “

    So… you throw the baby at the ceiling for the other shots? ;)

    RAW is fine if you have the room to spare, or the time to to complete the workflow to the end and archive the larger files.

    Playing with blogging/white balance/Photoshop myself. http://photographsnchops.blogspot.com/2010/03/c