Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Photograph: Setting Your White Balance

Manual or Not Manual, That is the Question to Be (Lit)
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
: 2008
Camera: Canon 40D, 17-85mm L f/4-5.6 lens
Settings: ISO 100, f/8.0, 1/320 second, 61 mm
Support: hand held

Details: This post is much less about the photographs (which I still think are nice) or techniques, but more about technology. Specifically, the White Balance setting. Most people are probably don't understand what White Balance is, so they just keep it on auto. Or, even worse, may use one specific setting for all occasions (very bad). Let me give you a bit of information on White Balance, some internet resources, and have encouragement to take it off the auto setting.

White Balance is the adjustment process your DSLR uses to process the colour of the scene the way it really looks. The reason it needs to do this is that different light sources (flash, sunny day, cloudy day, night, etc.) have different effects on objects that refract/absorb light. Unlike the human eye which is a master at intepreting the results, digital sensors and film do not adjust well under different conditions. Film would normally need special filters to compensate, while digital cameras have programs that adjust for you.

Auto White Balance is the setting which lets the camera program decide how to adjust the image based on it's light readings. While the programs are getting better, they still don't do a perfect job. Leaving your camera on AWB will usually result in less than optimal pictures.

Multiple White Balance settings are available on DSLRs and most point-and-shoot cameras. You should read your manaul to get an idea of what they do and become brave and try them.

Inital Adjustment of the White Balance is your best bet when getting ready for a photo shoot. Take a few shots with various WB settings and review them on your LCD. When you find one that looks best to you, start using that for that lighting condition. When the lighting conditions, location, etc changes, then start again. It only takes a few minutes and is worth it.

A word on Camera RAW. I have mentioned that I use this format (vs. JPG) in previous posts, and now you will know when. When you take photo with JPG, you are stuck with your white balance setting (unless you want to do a lot of Photoshop work). But with RAW format, it's the click on one button and voila!, it's changed. The reason is JPG is a photograph that was processed by your camera. RAW is an unprocessed image, and the RAW program let's you adjust the settings your camera would have used.

Internet Resources:
  • http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/white-balance.htm
  • http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/whitebalance.htm

The following photography was take with the camera's Auto White Balance setting.

This is the same photo, but with the Cloud White Balance setting. In my opinion, this looks much warmer than the auto setting. An excellent of how a minor setting can make such a large difference.

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