Ken Rubin Photography: Blog en-us (C) Ken Rubin Photography (Ken Rubin Photography) Wed, 24 Jul 2013 03:05:00 GMT Wed, 24 Jul 2013 03:05:00 GMT Ken Rubin Photography: Blog 103 120 Custom White Balance (Part III) So in prior posts we have explored white balance settings, and their importance to capturing the appropriate "mood" of a given scene or situation.  So, if the automatic settings aren't doing there thing, what do I do about it, and how do I know if I need to intervene?

I should mention here that these techniques not only work for your specialty lighting situations, but also those times where there are a mixture  of light sources which often fool the camera.  For example, at an outdoor stadium event in very late afternoon or twilight, you often are faced with natural light from the sky, stadium lights corrected for television, and perimeter lights for the stands and access ways.  Each of these sources has a very different color temperature which could reek havoc with your pictures.

As an example, these two photos following were both taken moments apart, one with the automatic white balance, the other using a white balance preset sampling based upon the lighting conditions.  You'll notice that the second one has a lot more life and better skin tones, resulting in a more pleasing image.

Stadium Shot, Automatic White Balance Setting

Stadium Shot,  Manual White Balance Preset (based on light sample)











What to do? 

Let's take it step by step:


Step 1:  Review your photographs.  After you have taken a number of those "magic shots", take a look and see if they turned out as you expected.  Does that rich, late-afternoon sun appear to be white?  Does the "glow" in real life not "pop" in the photo?  Perhaps most importantly, do the intangibles of the photograph capture the mood of the scene where you are?

If the mood is there, and the intangibles are there, you might not need to do a thing.  If not, then let's move to Step 2.

Step 2:  Find A Neutral color source:  Find something in your viscinity that is "pure neutral".  What do I mean by that?  Neutral in color represents balance.  In general you are looking for a neutral gray or pure white color.  While something perfect is unlikely, find the closest you can.  A grey stone, for instance, can serve well.  Sometimes a concrete sidewalk, or a light blacktop surface will work.  The key here is to ensure that whatever source you choose is NOT tinted toward a particular color, like blue or yellow.   (We'll revisit this at the end, for those that want to add an item to their field kit).

Step 3:  Set your camera to a preset white balance:  Not every camera will have this as an option, but most middle-tier point-and-shoot, interchangeable lens reflex, and SLRs will.   Note that this is NOT one of the most commonly used features, so prepare and do your homework to know how to do this.  Every camera varies.  (By the way, most manufacturers offer their user guides on their website.  I have the guide for every camera on my smartphone, so I can get to it in a pinch).  

Setting a custom white balance generally requires two steps.  First, you put the camera into a special picture-taking mode to accept in what YOU are telling it is pure neutral, and then you take a "bogus" picture to register that into the camera.  For my Nikon, I am given a flashing "Good" message to indicate that the process succeeded.

Step 4:  Take a few test pictures.  At this stage, if all has gone well, you are shooting with your new white balance, and the shots you take in this special situation should improve and begin to capture the magic.  That said, there is clearly some trial-and-error in the process.  For example, that curb that you used as a neutral source may not have been quite as neutral as you thought.  If you go through these steps, and the picture of Aunt Mabel is making her look sickly green, you probably didn't choose a neutral enough source.  Just jump back to Step 2 and try again.  Once you have it right, you'll know it.

Step 5:  Shoot Away!  Once you are happy with the color results, shoot as you always have.  Once you get the photos back into your digital darkroom, you'll find that this process will save you HOURS of post-processing adjustment of color, and often will result in a better outcome than if you had tried to do it all with manipulation.1

Step 6:  VERY IMPORTANT!!!   Reset your white balance to normal.  I cannot tell you how many times I've done all of the above, only to toss the camera in the bag to notice hours into my next shoot that I was using a custom white balance from last time.  As such, I've gotten into the habit of reseting EVERYTHING on the camera to normal shooting positions upon completion of each shoot. That means white balance, exposure compensation, ISO setting, anything else that may have been done to accommodate conditions out-of-the-norm.   If you get into this practice, it will save you loads of grief down the road.  I promise!


The Last Word --  While I do not intend to have this blog all about equipment, I would be remiss in pointing out really handy tools that are valuable additions to the camera bag.   For white balance, I rely upon ExpoDisc  (  Photographers of yore will remember carrying around "grey cards".  These printed cards are neutral in color, and are that neutral color source you need, always on hand and accurate when you are carrying on yourself.  Expodisc takes this to a new level.  It is a snap-in filter that does the same thing -- providing a pure white source for your camera to use when setting white balance.  I find it invaluable, and (although really overpriced) it is still worth the money, especially if this situation comes up with any regularity.  Probably overkill for the blue-moon photographer, but for anyone making a hobby of it, well worth the investment.

At some point further down the track, we'll explore custom color temperature settings, overall picture hue, and color saturation, but I think it is best to get into those topics when we discuss post-processing.

Best of luck trying these techniques out.  Please leave me your thoughts and feedback on how this has worked for you!!




]]> (Ken Rubin Photography) auto color correction kelvin preset temperature white balance Sat, 20 Jul 2013 20:06:38 GMT
Custom White Balance The previous post talked about the importance of white balance, and the impact that this not-so-well-known setting has on your pictures.  This time, we'll explore the use of "custom white balance" settings to adjust the mood to fit your specific shooting needs.

Most modern cameras do a fantastic job of auto-detecting white balance about 90 percent of the time.  This is often done via a little white translucent "window" on the face of the camera which "reads" what white is, and then adjusts the exposure and color temperature of your image accordingly.  (Without getting to much into the technicalities, each shade of light has a "temperature", measured using a Kelvin scale.  For instance an incandescent light is about 2500 K, while natural sunlight is 5000 K.  You don't need to know the numbers to apply the techniques we're talking about here, but I include the reference for completeness.  

So, when does this happen?

Have you ever been at a scene and snapping images, only to get home to find out that Aunt Mabel is a sickly green, or the lazer blue car you've been eyeing appears more like sea green in the pictures?  This is all a result of a misread color temperature, either direct from the "Auto" setting on the camera, or because a setting had not been adjusted to account for a change in lighting conditions.

When shooting people under fluorescent lights, unless you make corrections or have a camera particularly good at white balance, a greenish haze is very common.  Similarly, when shooting by parking-lot-light, a deep orange color is often the norm.  

The issue stems from the camera making an on-the-spot decision.  For example, it doesn't know that the orangish sulfur lights are supposed to be white, instead thinking that it is a sunset or the like that you are trying to capture.  As a result, the camera manufacturers "bet the odds" and expose based upon what is most likely to be occurring.  To be clear, they do a great job, and 90+ percent of the time they are right on.  The problem is that other 10 percent, and often it is those situations that are a little bit outside of the norm that are particularly important.

It is at these times that a custom white balance setting is in order.  In other words, when you are trying to capture that snapshot of your soon-to-be rockin' sportscar, you know that it is nighttime, and that the yellowish overhead lights are just that, and you want them to appear as white.  In other words, just as your eyes see past the yellowish haze and interpolate the right color of the car, we want the camera to do the same.  So, how do we do it?

(Above -- The magnificent Dom Berliner, Berlin, Germany, taken at night from riverside. The scene presents some very challenging mixed lighting.)


For point-and-shoot cameras, generally there is a custom setting allowing for you to pre-select from a small chosen set of light sources -- flash, fluorescent, incandescent or candlelight, and sun.  These are fixed points along the Kelvin color temperature spectrum, allowing you to "get in the ballpark".  Most SLR or Interchangeable Lens Reflex (ILR) cameras will allow you to adjust to a custom setting.  More on this in a moment.   I should note that white balance is one of those items that CAN be adjusted in your image processing software after the fact.  The reality is that many photographers make that part of their regular workflow (myself included).  That said, I am of the belief that you want to get things as right as possible at the point of the shoot, and then use your post-processing for minor adjustments.  I am not a fan of fixing everything afterwards.  It takes longer, and ultimately is NOT as accurate as getting it right the first time.  That said, let's explore how to get it right in these situations, or when there are mixed light sources.  More on this in my next post!


]]> (Ken Rubin Photography) balance color correction custom kelvin temperature white Tue, 25 Jun 2013 14:00:00 GMT
Image Adjustment and "White Balance" Welcome to my Blog!

This is the first of what I plan to be a recurring series of photography tips, shooting guides, equipment advice, and general opinions and ideas that over the years have helped me, and which I hope will help you as well.  Along the way we'll illustrate with images that are both winners (and losers) to help make the point.

For my first post, I'd like to spend a moment focusing on "sense of place."  My view of photography is that it is a medium to capture the magic of a moment -- you have a frame to try to convey what it was like to be there.  Whether it is a fantastic landscape (such as this one), a special event (such as a graduation or birthday), or simply a special time of day, the camera is your tool to convey to people that weren't there what it was like.

I am often asked about Photoshop and what I do after the image was taken.  Let me start by saying that these guidelines are my own, and I'm not making judgments on others or the way they choose to process their images.  I do very limited "post processing" (e.g., the term for "fixing" photos after they are taken).  There are a set of adjustments which are considered the digital equivalent of darkroom processing that used to be done in film days -- sharpening, color correction, "dodging" and "burning" (e.g., lightening dark areas and vice-versa), and so on.  Dust removal fits into this category too.  I certainly do all of the above, and it is generally accepted practice by even the most stringent of organizations.  In fact, while I have not formally joined, I ascribe to the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) code of ethics -- the rules widely followed by news organizations to ensure photographic integrity.

As such, I'm not really a believer in adding elements that weren't there.  For example, photoshopping in Uncle Jim whom wasn't able to make the reunion, or adding a moon to a sky for effect.  Again, I'm not making judgments on those who do, but it isn't for me.  Either you have the shot or you don't.

That said, where there are minor adjustments, such as color or cropping (adjusting the borders of a picture to focus on the parts of interest), or overall tonal adjustment to bring out the "feeling" you had when you shot something, those are fair game in my book.  In the "old days", this was done largely via filters.  Today, much of that is often done in "Post" (the shortened term for Post-Processing, or digital adjustments after shooting).

As an example, let's take the scene above.  It was a gorgeous landscape taken a bit late morning after sunrise.  This particular landscape is in Shimla, India, in the Himilayan Foothills.  The scene as shot didn't match what my eyes saw, in particular because the auto "white balance" read the scene differently than I saw it.

"White Balance" is something that most novice photographers pay little attention to, but which is a constant cause for concern for the experienced and the pros.  This is just a fancy term for "what does white look like" for the shot.  Why do we need this?  The way we perceive white changes.  Our eyes make those adjustments automatically, but the camera "sees" this differently.  If it didn't people taken under fluorescent lights would look a sickly green, and the same people in incadescent light would look a burnt orange.  As a result, our cameras "read white" and make adjustments accordingly.

The problem is that sometimes they don't get it right.

In the scene above, for instance, the beautiful yellow of the morning was over-compensated by the built-in meter, making it more neutral than what I was seeing.  In other words, to relate this to my philosophy, the image wasn't capturing "the moment."

To solve this particular dilemma, I went to the filter box for help.  See the adjusted image below.


This was a bit strong, but conveyed the sense of place for that morning sunrise.  You'll see that the two images have a fundamentally different "feel" to them.  The real sense of that morning is somewhere in between.

I include these contrasting images to make a point -- the small details matter, and while today's cameras generally do an outstanding job of managing the technicalities for you, ultimately photographic is an artistic expression.  Your images need to capture what YOU see and what YOU experience.  That is why this is an art form and not a science.

While the above adjustments were made with filters, the same can be done in-camera or after shooting using the white balance adjustment settings.  I encourage you to pick a few shots and give this a try.  Next time we'll talk about a really handy tool that makes this work like magic, especially in difficult lighting situations.  Until then, keep shooting!


]]> (Ken Rubin Photography) adjustment image photo tips photography post processing tips white balance Mon, 20 May 2013 14:00:00 GMT