It is important to understand and read light as a photographer. For example, daylight never emits green or purple hues while fluorescent lights do. Daylight is also never consistent. In the winter, the temperature of the light is low on the kelvin scale. In the summer, the light temperature is high on the kelvin. Even the position of the sun affects how your camera sees light. Winter gives us longer shadows since the earth is tilted away, meaning the sun doesn’t appear as high in the sky as it does during the summer. And these winter shadows are bluer than summer shadows.
When you move your camera inside, sometimes you can experience extremes on both ends of the color temperature spectrum. Imagine you’re in a shop with warm amber lighting, but there is a window allowing blue light to appear in a photograph. How do you go about balancing the color temperature with the two extremes? Use the blue light to your advantage. There are different settings on each DSLR manufacturer, but for this exercise, we used a Nikon D810.
You are presented with a few different options in camera, including custom white balance (or WB), auto, and presets. Presets are essentially filters for situations like incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade. Some people like the presets, but they don’t always work. You are also given the option to tinker around with choosing a color temperature (in kelvins, see chart above), but it requires a genuine understanding of color temperature. Auto will try and make a neutral filter based on pixel colors, and it doesn’t always work well either. Yellow and green tints are mistakes that even auto can screw up. They are also the HARDEST tones to edit out, especially when dealing with human subjects (due to skin pigmentation) during post production. Fluorescent is typically the culprit of bad auto WB, so it’s best to use custom WB to avoid editing-based frustration.
For the visual demonstration below, I have a blue wall in the background and a cheap (and slightly orange/yellow) IKEA lightbulb. On auto, I can't reach a balanced color spectrum. In this scenario, it’s crucial to use manual/custom WB. Always have a white piece of paper, pop-up white balance card, or an ordinary white balance card on you. For the exercise, Lastolite by Manfrotto was kind enough to let me test out their 30 cm (12 in) 18% Grey/White Ezybalance WB pop up. Hold or place the WB object, such as the one I used on the subject and then get your camera ready.
On the D810, we have a button on the top left where you can hold down WB to change modes. Hold and flick through these modes (via the user facing scroll) until you hit ‘PRE’. If you haven’t used this setting before you will have slots open to take test shots with your WB card. After you scroll onto PRE, keep holding on D-1 until ‘D-1’ flashes on your top screen (you may have to lift your finger and then press and hold the button again until flashing). When it’s flashing, that means you are set up to take your test shot. Take your test shot with the WB card filling most of the viewfinder. Look at the top screen on your camera again, it should be flashing ‘Good’, therefore telling you that you’re ready to go.
If you don't have this model, you will find this in the menu area. For Nikon, go to Shooting, and then down to White Balance. Here, you will see the options listed. Select PRE (for preset manual) and then make your WB photo from their with the WB card. If you purchase the Lastolite by Manfrotto Ezybalance Grey/White popup, they provide further (and easy) instructions for users who are using point and shoot cameras.
After testing out this Lastolite by Manfrotto pop up WB card, I have to say I am very pleased with the quality of the product. It comes with a nice zip pouch for storage (see below). To put the popup back inside the small case, you'll need to twist it like a figure eight and then push it down into a circle. It sounds complex, but it's a smooth motion once you get your hands on one. Lastly, this WB card also doubles as a reflector if you need to utilize some of your light sources further to light up a product or subject's face more.
Below, you can see some before/after photos. The difference is vast, so WB might be something to take up! Getting color correct images is very important to many different types of users, from product photographers to bloggers.
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