Tips And Tricks

Perfect White Balance - Getting the Colour Perfect Every Shot

When do you need accurate colour and why is it important? To really appreciate why you would want to use a custom white balance you have to put yourself into a few scenarios. Firstly, most of us hate spending time editing images after we've shot them. Yes, there are tools for batch correcting images that make colour correcting relatively easy but if you spend 30 seconds before you press the shutter you can save yourself vast amounts of time later when editing, especially if your lighting does not change in a sequence of shots. Secondly, a custom white balance will ensure you get the perfect colour. This is very advantageous when you are trying to reproduce the colour of a product or scene exactly as it is without a colour shift due to the lighting it's being photographed under.

Brno Ba Lens Cap

Making it Happen:

Custom white balance is a multi step process that does require a tool to help you establish what the correct colour temperature is. Generally on every camera the steps to set a custom white balance are:

  1. Take a photo using a custom white balance tool to be used as a reference shot
  2. Tell the camera to use that image as the reference for the white balance
  3. Set the camera's white balance to the manual white balance preset

(Make sure to consult your instruction manual for the exact steps)

Although there are a number of different tools for custom white balance we're going to share with you two that have proven reliable in our tests at the School of Imaging. Also these are the smallest and lightest to carry with you.

The Brno BaLens Cap is one of the newest custom White Balance tools to come out and doubles as a lens cap too, which means you're likely to have it with you when you're shooting. The process is pretty simple to get the reference exposure. Put the BaLens on your lens, set the camera to manual focus and an automatic / semi automatic exposure mode with no exposure compensation and take a shot. Make sure you are pointing your camera towards the light source you are trying to balance to. Don't worry about which white balance setting you are using to take the reference shot.

Once you have your shot go into your camera's menu and find the menu item that allows you to tell the camera to use that image you just took as the reference for a custom white balance. Once that's done, make sure you set your white balance preset to manual and then start shooting. Repeat these steps when you are in a different lighting scenario with a different colour temperature of light. For example if you went from outside to an indoor situation or if you went from open sunlight to a shaded area.

Colour Balance Coach

The colour balance coach mini grey disc is another great tool for getting perfect white balance without having to carry around bulky tools. The colour balance coach is about 5-6" in diameter and when folded up like a reflector, it's only 2-3" which makes it really easy to have with you at all times. This mini grey card's surface is a non reflective 18% grey which makes it ideal for white balance but also for getting an exposure reading. A great dual purpose tool for sure.

To use the colour balance coach put your camera on a semi automatic / manual exposure with no exposure compensation, set your camera to manual focus, fill the frame with the disc making sure not to cast a shadow on the disc and take a picture. Once again, don't worry about what white balance setting you have enabled to take the reference shot. After you shoot the image, go into your menu and tell the camera to use this as the reference shot and then make sure to set your white balance to the custom preset. Just like the BaLens, you only need to do another custom setting if your lighting changes with regards to colour temperature.

Once you get familiar with the location of the menu option to set a custom white balance based on a reference shot, it shouldn't take you more than 15-20 seconds to go from reference shot to a custom white balance setting and be ready to shoot.

Shooting Tip: A great tip for using these tools is to leave your camera on the custom white balance preset all the time and before you are about to shoot a sequence of images under a constant colour temperature, take a reference shot and set it as the custom setting. Since your camera is already set to use the custom preset, you're all ready to start shooting.

White Balance - Custom and Auto

Things to Consider About Perfect White Balance:

Sometimes as with many aspects of photography you don't always want to be perfect. In a few select scenarios, perfect white balance will give you less than ideal results. Here are a few Examples:

  • Sunsets / Sunrises- Also known as the "golden times" for photography, these time periods in the day will naturally produce light that is more yellow (warm) than at mid-day. If you use a custom white balance in this scenario, you will find that the warmth will be stripped out of the shot leaving a picture that looks like it would have been shot at noon. In this case, try forcing your white balance preset to cloudy to really emphasize the morning light and daylight if cloudy is too yellow.
  • Urban Night Exposures - At night all of the different types of light in an urban setting give a wide variety of colour and sometimes you want to use your daylight preset to help keep those colours in the cityscape.
  • Creating a Mood - Sometimes leaving a colour tone works in an image. It can help convey a slightly different message. Don't be afraid to experiment. If you shoot RAW, experimenting is very easy and non destructive on the computer.

What About This Thing Called RAW?

Our next tip will go into how to approach white balance when shooting in the RAW format. RAW is a very powerful tool and with the right software, white balance can be adjusted non-destructively on the computer. Stay tuned and we'll go over how to make your white balance adjustments accurately on the computer.

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