Balancing your whites

April 05, 2010

Eyes are remarkable. When you go outside and look at something green, it’s green. When you come back into your office and park up in your little cubicle and look at something green, it’s quite remarkably still green.

Even though you don’t know it, there is a ton of work going on behind your eyeballs to compensate and correct the light and colors you are looking at to make those two greens stay green.

Camera’s have amazing brains, but nothing as amazing as the human brain. When your camera see’s a green thing in sunlight, it’s not really *green*. It’s sunlight lit green. When you come back in your office, it’s now tungsten or fluorescent lit green. None of which is really, truly, green.

Fortunately, to help camera’s along, there are white balance functions built into many bodies these days. They have some ballpark adjustments to remove the tungsten cast, or the sunlight cast from your colors. They work, and if you have a cheaper camera that shoots in JPG mode only, or are using your DSLR in JPG modes, you should make sure you have the right white balance for your environment. If you shoot in RAW formats – ignore the white balance, you can change it in your post processing software later!

This is all very well and good, and makes everything sound easy, but what happens when you have a more complex environment, like I co-incidentally had at the Shimmies photoshoot?

At Shimmies, I wanted to use my speedlight flash (a Canon 580 EXII) – which emits it’s own color cast. But we were shooting in a heavily tungsten lit environment (seriously, I think the *walls* were tungsten colored!). This meant I couldn’t just hit “tungsten” as my white balance setting, nor could I hit “flash”, because the environment was *both*.

So I cheated. Using something called a gel, which in reality is a thin piece of colored plastic that you place in front of your flash head, I was able to change the color of the light from the flash from “flash” to “tungsten”. A piece of orangey plastic turned the color of the light to match, closely enough anyway, the same color light as the overhead tungsten lights. To be specific, I used Rosco gels, a full CTO gel, and it was sitting inside a GelHolder mount (from http://www.gelholder.com).

This meant that all the light that was available to me, both the light in the room and the light from my flash were now the same color. They matched pretty much perfectly. So, later on when I was adjusting my images and setting a default white balance for the whole shoot, I could quickly, easily and simply pick “Tungsten” from the Aperture menu’s.

Job done. Nice and easy.

So, that flimsy piece of orange plastic saved me countless hours of white balancing once I was editing the photos down, and both me and my blood pressure were very thankful of it!



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