If you’ve been following this blog, then you know how much we believe in nailing your images in camera so that you don’t have to spend hours and hours in Photoshop later. Once we learned how to manually expose our camera properly, we still felt like something was missing.
Our images looked better, but they still didn’t look how we wanted them to look — until a videographer friend of ours told us that our problem wasn’t our exposure, it was our white balance. White balance! What’s that? We had the same question, and answering it revolutionized our shooting style and saved us hours of time in post-processing.
We’ll try to break it down in the most non-geeky, non-techy was possible, so that a) it makes sense, and b) you’re convinced to make some big changes in your shooting style approach as soon as you’re done reading this post.
White balance is the color temperature of a photograph. It ranges from dark blue to dark orange, just like the temperature of a bunsen burner flame in high school chemistry. White balance is measured in a temperature metric called Kelvins. The scale ranges from about 1,000 (dark orange) to 15,000 (dark blue). It’s common to hear photographers use expressions like “Cool it down” when referring to making an image less orange and more blue, or even “Warm it up” when referring to making an image less blue and more orange.
Think of your photographs like a scale or seesaw. One side is blue. One side is orange. If you tilt too far in one direction, you’ll have more blue than orange, like the image on the right. If you tilt too far in the other direction, you’ll have more orange than blue, like the image on the left. So, the color you see will not be the colors the camera sees — and that’s a problem. Skin tones can make or break your photo.
Correct white balance makes ALL the difference in the quality of your final photograph. It is one of our top technical priorities, and when you compare this image with correct white balance to the ones above with incorrect white balance, we hope it will become one of yours too!
Most new photographers use the auto white balance feature on their cameras (and we did at first, too!). The camera will attempt to read the colors around it and level out the white balance scale/seesaw, but we’ve found that almost all the time the camera can’t quite figure it out, and it gives images an orange, blue, or even gray tint that takes a lot of time to correct in post-processing — if it can be corrected at all.
DSLR cameras are like miniature computers. If you let them think on their own, they’ll do an average job. If you tell them what to do, they’ll do an amazing job. For cameras to achieve perfect white balance and deliver perfect color, you have to tell them what to do.
One thing: 18% gray. That’s it. You have to literally show the camera what 18% gray looks like for the camera to be able to interpret all the other colors in the same area. For years, photographers used (and still use) something called a gray card. It’s a thick piece of paper/plastic that’s 18% gray. You hold it in front of your camera, take a picture, and then set a custom white balance instead of relying on auto white balance.
We use a product called the ExpoDisc Neutral White Balance Filter. For $49.95, it’s a no-brainer and changed our photography forever. Switching to shooting with a custom white balance was such a game changer for us.
We’re so proud of our shooting and editing course students all across the world! They’re shooting better, editing faster and serving their clients better than ever before!
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