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White Balance And Color - Book Excerpt - Creative Lighting Tips And Techniques
The following excerpt is from a wonderful new digital photography book, Creative Lighting: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques by award-winning professional photographer Harold Davis. The book covers both natural light and studio lighting. However, it is not a cookbook covering studio lighting setups; nor is it a book that emphasizes the pixels over the overall visual impact that a photograph can make.
Each of the photos in Creative Lighting can be used to generate ideas for your own work — how you can use existing light, alter light, or create lighting to make spectacular photos of your own. The author includes the story behind each photo in the book, as well as full technical data about the captures.
White Balance and Color
I noted earlier that the color of light is an important part of our perception of light quality. The color of light is measured on the Kelvin scale as temperature. Perceptually warmer colors (those toward the red end of the spectrum) have a lower color temperature than perceptually cooler colors (those colors that are bluer) which have a higher color temperature. For more on the color of light, see pages 34–39.
It’s important for photographers to be able to differentiate between different colors on the spectrum, because the rendition of color has a huge impact on the final appearance of a photo. The color in your photo will primarily be rendered according to the color temperature of the lighting and the white balance settings applied to that lighting.
Most digital cameras have a built-in color spectrometer, which is what sets the color temperature when you leave White Balance on Auto. If you think you know better than your camera (which can often be the case) you can set the White Balance, either to a Preset such as Daylight or to a specific Kelvin temperature.
Of course, it is possible to accurately calibrate color temperature, particularly in situations where the lighting is controlled. However, accurate color calibration is not often really possible in the field. The light may be coming from various sources with different colors, and going by the “seat of your pants” is good enough. Put another way, for creative impact I care about the color rendition in the final image and the emotional response it elicits, not the degrees Kelvin at the time I took the photo.
Shooting in RAW means never having to say you are sorry. Your White Balance settings are not actually applied to a RAW file until you process it. (Actually, they are never applied directly to the original RAW file, which you should archive for safety.)
This means that the consequences of your in-camera White Balance settings with a RAW exposure are limited to how the capture looks in your LCD, and the default settings when you open the file to process it in a program such as Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) or Lightroom.
Since the White Balance setting can make a huge visual difference, the appearance in the LCD is important. I remember shooting a forest in radiant diffuse lighting, and seeing dull images on my LCD. It wasn’t until I adjusted the White Balance that I saw the scene on the LCD the way it looked to my eyes. As in this scenario, tuning White Balance can be significant to the feedback you are getting about your shooting—even though it is not irrevocably applied to the image.
34mm, 1/2 of a second at f/9 and ISO 100, tripod mounted
This image, taken at dawn of the tufas of Mono Lake, California, with snowy mountains in the background, has been cropped and adjusted for color as it was processed (see pages 104–105).
Processing a RAW file in a program such as ACR or Lightroom is the first—and best—place to adjust any issues with color temperature. You can use the color settings when you interpret the RAW file to improve the image, or to bring it more in line with the way the subject seemed to you when you shot the image. Essentially, this is a place for you to exercise your visual taste.
For example, I arrived at the shores of Mono Lake, California in the middle of the night in the freezing rain. Waking at dawn, I found a blue world around me, and I shot an image of the Mono Lake tufas with the snow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background (photo on page 103).
When I opened the image in ACR, by default it displayed the As Shot White Balance settings (Figure 1).
My impression of the scene at the time I took the photo was that everything was much more blue. To adjust the overall color values in the image towards the blue side, I pulled the Temperature slider to the left (towards lower numbers) as shown in Figure 2.
The blue adjustment helped, but the photo was still not quite where I wanted it to go—further adjustments would need to wait for Photoshop!
If I had wanted to remove blue from the image—a very valid aesthetic choice, by the way—I would have moved the slider in the opposite direction, to the right, as shown in Figure 3.
By the way, the controls in the White Balance block of the ACR window allow you to shift color along two axes: The Temperature slider changes color by making the color more yellow or blue, whereas the Tint slider changes color along a scale from green to magenta.
Figure 2: Mono Lake Tufas with color adjusted towards the blue side.
Figure 3: Blue has been removed, and yellow added to the image.
In another example, I shot a plate of peaches using daylight to bring out the luscious color of these locally grown peaches. The lighting setup was very simple, with only a white fill card to cut down on shadows.
Opening the image in ACR (Figure 4) I found the As Shot White Balance settings had lost some of the appeal of the peaches.
Moving the Temperature slider to the left added some blue and made things worse (Figure 5).
However, sliding Temperature to the right boosted the intensity of yellows (Figure 6), and gave the peaches the appearance I wanted. Note that I didn’t want the background quite as yellow as the peaches, so I applied two separate adjustments: one for the plate of peaches, and one for the background.
Figure 4, top: Peaches, using the As Shot White Balance settings.
Figure 5, middle: Peaches, with blue added by moving the Temperature slider to the left.
Figure 6, bottom: Peaches, adjusted to add yellow to the color temperature.
50mm macro, 1/20 of a second at f/11 and ISO 100, tripod mounted
I photographed these peaches using natural daylight, shown here cropped and with the White Balance adjusted (see page 106). With simple images that don’t have a great many visual elements, color rendition set via White Balance can make or break the visual appeal of your final photo.
Here are the links to the other free excerpts:
• Understanding Exposure
• Overexposure And Underexposure
• Using A Histogram In Photoshop
• All About Aperture
• Working With Shutter Speeds
• Working With The ISO
• Using Exposure Controls with Lighting
• Pre-Visualizing the Impact of Lighting
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Adobe Deals & Special Coupon Offers
Visit the Adobe Coupons & Special Offers Page to see the latest deals from Adobe. Find upgrade options at the Adobe Store. Get up to 80% off at the Adobe Education Store. Find out about monthly or annual subscriptions. You can also download a free 30 day trial of any Adobe CS5 product.
onOne Photoshop Plugins Sale - Plus Exclusive 10% Discount
onOne has launched a big sale that has reduced the prices of every one of their plugins. Visit onOne for full product descriptions. And if you decide to purchase one of their plugins, use our exclusive discount code - PSSPPT06 - for an additional 10% discount. Here's a list of the sale prices (before our 10% discount is applied):
Perfect Photo Suite $299.95 / $149.95 (upgrade)
Perfect Photo Suite 5.5 includes all of the onOne Software products and works with Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Five of the products in the Suite even work as stand-alone applications now.
Perfect Resize 7 $199.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
The next generation of Genuine Fractals is still the industry standard for image enlargement. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
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Perfect Layers is the fast and easy way to bring a layered workflow to Lightroom and Aperture. Perfect Layers works with Lightroom and Aperture or as a standalone application.
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Getting great color in your images is not as hard as you think. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
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For removing unwanted backgrounds, Mask Pro is the Photoshop plugin recommended by Advanced Photoshop magazine. Works as a plug-in for Photoshop.
PhotoTools $99.95 / $69.95 (upgrade)
Instantly give your photos the professional look. Works as a Photoshop plug-in.
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Add the perfect finishing touch to your photos or create an album layout design. Works with Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, and Aperture or as a stand-alone application.
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Nik Software The Complete Collection (Plugins Bundle)
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Color Efex Pro 3.0
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PhotoTools 2.5 Free Edition - Add a professional look to your photos with the PhotoTools 2.5 Free Edition plug-in for Photoshop. Includes 26 professional-grade actions and photographic effects to make your images stand out from the crowd.
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Perfect Presets for LightRoom - Designed to provide a streamlined workflow and make you more creative, these presets for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom were designed to help you get the most out of Lightroom.
Perfect Presets for Aperture - Designed to provide a streamlined workflow and make you more creative, these presets for Aperture 3 were designed to help you get the most out of Aperture.
Perfect Presets for Camera Raw - Designed to provide a streamlined workflow and make you more creative, these presets for Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) were designed to help you get the most out of your Raw images in Adobe Photoshop.
Free Photoshop Templates - Album templates, layouts, backgrounds and edges to save you time in Photoshop.
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