Every photographer, at one point or another, has had to deal with white balance issues. There are four distinct camps of dealing with WB: 1) fix it in post processing, 2) use the camera’s built-in WB settings, and 3) do a custom white balance, and 4) shoot exclusively in B&W… (kidding…sort of…), a combination of #1, #2, and #3. For the most part, I’ve been in the #1 and #2 camp; more so in the #1 camp. As anyone else who is in the same camp as me will attest to how incredibly frustrating and time consuming it is to fix white balance issues in post processing even with excellent software such as Adobe Lightroom2. So what do I do to combat this? Come inside and read more.
And no matter how much post processing you do, it’s never quite right; fix the skin tones and everything else just doesn’t quite look right. Those of us who shoot RAW have a little bit more control in fixing white balance because all the data is recorded, but even then there are still problems such as finding something white to mark as the reference. And those who shoot in JPEG, it becomes increasingly difficult to correct as you have even less file data to work with.
So instead of all this headache, why not do it right the first time? Regardless if you shoot RAW or JPEG, getting it correct at the time of the shot not only saves you hours of banging your head on your desk, but you’ll be amazed at how much more your colors actually pop! That’s right, if you nail your white balance at the time of exposure, you’ll find that you won’t have to dial even one notch of saturation in post processing to get those vivid and vibrant colors.
How To Get The Proper White Balance
To get the proper white balance, you need to know how to do it. For the most part, you’ll need to buy something. I’m not trying to sell you something, it’s just the fact of the matter of getting the proper white balance. There are a million white balance products on the market and each has it’s pluses and minuses and supporters. Some of the popular white balance products are the Lastolite EzyBalance, Balance Smarter, WhiBal, Phoxle, and Expodisc. The one I went with is the Lastolite EzyBalance because it fits perfectly into my photographing work flow. It’s not cheap, but it’s not expensive either, but if you take into account the cost savings of me not spending hours to try to fix white balance issues, you’ll find the product more than pays for itself. Try it, after the first photo shoot you do with it, you’ll wonder why you’ve been wasting so much time before fixing problems in post production when it only takes less than 3 minutes to setup and use before a photo shoot.
How To Use the Lastolite EzyBalance
It’s very easy to use the Lastolite EzyBalance. Here is what I do to get excellent results every time:
- Setup. Figure out where your model will stand and how you’ll light him or her with ambient or flash lighting.
- Use a light meter (I use a Sekonic L-358 with the radio transmitter module so I can trigger my PocketWizards) to get the perfect exposure reading. It’s very important to get very accurate exposure to ensure perfect white balance.
- I then set my camera to manual and dial in my aperture and shutter speed. I have the model hold the Lastolite EzyBalance (gray side with target) up to her face touching her nose.
- With my camera set to AWB (auto white balance), I make sure the EzyBalance fills my frame (or as much as possible, it doesn’t have to be 100%, the more the better) and I take a shot. I then registered that image as my custom white balance. You may need to consult your manufacture’s instruction manual to see how to set custom white balance.
- Once the custom white balance is set, I put the EzyBalance away and begin shooting.
- If the lighting changes, or you move to another location, you must repeat steps 1-5. Everytime the lighting conditions change, you have to do this again to ensure the most accurate white balance.
See, not very difficult. It takes less than 3 minutes and can quicker once this becomes routine for you. If you do this correctly, you’ll find in 99.9% of the time, you will not have to do any white balance corrections and/or exposure corrections for that matter if you use a light meter.
The reason I went with the Lastolite over any of the other brands is because it’s portable, bendable, and one of two white balance products where you do not need to set you camera to manual focus to get a white balance reference shot. The reason being for the last point is because there is a nice white cross hair painted on it that allows the camera to auto focus. One of the other reasons I selected the EzyBalance is because the other side is white which brings me to the next point.
For whatever reason, a certain select group of SLRs do not white balance well when using “18%” gray as the white balance reference. These cameras include the Canon EOS 5D, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Nikon D100, and so forth. If you use the gray side with those cameras, you’ll find your white balance will be off, but if you use the white side, it’ll be perfect. Odd, but true. So unless you own any of those cameras, you’ll be using the gray side with the crosshairs.
Why Can’t I Just Use A White Sheet Of Paper…
…and get a black marker and draw a cross hair on it. You could, but you won’t be getting a very accurate custom white balance because white paper contains dye that makes it look white. The really white paper have blue dye added to it to make it appear a bright white, while your eyes can’t easily detect it, your camera can. Also a black marker isn’t really black either, it’s purple. Try measuring these things with a spectrophotometer and you’ll be in a for a surprise. No two white paper is also a like either. White paper for an inkjet printer can be vastly different than white paper for a copy machine. That’s why you can’t depend on using white paper if you are trying to get perfect custom white balance.
- To get perfect white balance, you need to have perfect exposure and the correct tools.
- It takes less than 3 minutes to do it right the first time rather than hours to correct in post production.
- You need to repeat the steps each time your lighting conditions changes to ensure perfect custom white balance each time.
- Don’t be cheap and use white paper because white paper isn’t really white.
- You can purchase various sizes from B&H Photo Video here.
Photography, like everything else in life is a learning process. To achieve excellence, you have to always be willing to challenge yourself and learn new things. The person who opened my eyes to all this was Will Crockett at one of his wonderful seminars sponsored by Bogen Cafe. If you ever have the chance to attend one of his seminars, I highly suggest you do, it is very insightful and entertaining.