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Managing White Balance

Managing White Balance

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Published by Scribme_too
White balance is not a new concept at all, but
one that photographers have been
dealing with, in one way or another,
since the invention of colour film.
White balance is not a new concept at all, but
one that photographers have been
dealing with, in one way or another,
since the invention of colour film.

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Scribme_too on Jan 06, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Photography and Text©2008 Michael Lustbader
Ihave to chuckle when I read onepundit or another hold forth on the“new” concept of “
White Balance inDigital Photography”
.White balance is,of course, not a new concept at all, butone that photographers have beendealing with, in one way or another,since the invention of color film.Whenever you placed a UV,1A, or 81series filter in front of your lens, youweredealing with white balance.When you loaded a roll of tungstenfilm in your camera instead of daylightfilm because you planned to shootindoors without a flash, you weredealing with white balance. When youput an FD-Lfilter on your lens tophotograph under fluorescent lights,you were dealing with white balance.So, what does it all mean?Light, as well as Benetton, comes indifferent colors. It can appear blue, likethe fog of an overcast morning on theOregon coast, red, like sunset reflectedoff Navajo sandstone, or bright white,like noon at the beach. Without goinginto a full-fledged physics lesson, thecolor of light is measured in degreesKelvin (written as K, not °K). Think of 
Not a racial concept...
ABOVE:In this photograph of a crab spider on datura, thereare three different whites. All three have different casts, but wanted them to be as neutral as possible, neither particularlywarm nor cold.UPPERRIGHT: Green tree frog taking refuge in iris. A“cool-toned” image.
it as relating to the color of iron as it is heated, starting fromdull red and ranging to white. (Think of “white-hot” ratherthan ice to describe “white”, and you’ll be OK).Ambient light (the natural, available light of yoursurroundings) influences the apparent color of the objectupon which it falls, adding a color cast as it is reflected.(Remember, we “see” things by the light that they reflect).Why then, when we take our yellow beach ball inside, does itappear to be the same color yellow that it did in the bright,glaring light at the beach? Our eyes contain light-sensitivereceptors called “cones” that receive and transmit colorsignals from the eye to the brain. We possess three types of color receptors, red, green, and blue. (As in RGB. Isn’t that acoincidence?) In our brains, color signals are interpreted inthe context of experience, and color casts are essentiallyneutralized. This process allows our eyes to adapt to theparticular color of the light in which we view our subject.Our brain, in a sense, lies to us and tells us that white iswhite, gray is gray, black is black, and flesh tones are“appropriate” regardless of the color temperature of theambient light. The yellow ball appears to be the same shadeof yellow, whether we see it in our living room or at the beach, because our eyes and brain work together fool us intothinking that it is so. Your camera, however, has no suchadaptive mechanism. It simply records what it sees. If youtake a photograph (an “objective” recording) of a scene,person, or object in different lighting, that subject will reflectthe actual color of light with which it is lit.
Approximate ColorTemperature for CommonLighting Situations:
2000KSunrise25003000KIncandescent(indoor)tungstenlighting3300KPhotofloods4000KFluorescentlighting50005600KDaylight,Electronic flash6000KBright sunlight7000KSlightlyovercast skies9000KBright shade10,000KHeavyovercastAsleepy butterfly photographed in warm sunriselight in the Texas hill country.The image on the left is howthe butterfly truly appeared;the right hand image is moreneutral, rendered by thecamera’s AUTO setting. WhenI brought over the file in AdobeCamera Raw, I made sure touse the ASSHOT setting, notthe AUTO setting in theWHITE BALANCE dialogbox.
Hence, Aunt Martha’s face photographed at sunset, instead of appearing pale and rathersickly white, as you and I know it truly is, will appear ruddy orange. Under fluorescentlighting, she may very well have a greenish tinge. Since Aunt Martha is known to be veryvain and quite capable of holding a grudge for 30 years (just ask Uncle Fred), we must makesure that, if the color cast cannot be not downright flattering, it is at least accurate. Then wecan fall back on, “well, you know that the camera doesn’t lie…” and hope to be off the hook and not cut out of the will. How do we accomplish this? Well, we used to do it with filtersand different types of film. In the digital age, we spin the wheels, push the buttons, andfollow the blinking lights until we find the “WHITE BALANCE” menu.The greatest advantage of digital capture over traditional film-based photography in almostall aspects is the increase in process control. Instead of placing more slabs of glass over thelens and between the subject and the recording medium (and theoretically degradingresolution with each…), we can make adjustments to eliminate many color casts right in-camera. In fact, we must do so to avoid color aberrations, which may be quite unpleasant.(Think of Aunt Martha’s green face).These are self-explanatory and work fairly well at least 85% of the time. Simply judge thetype of light in which you are working and change the settings accordingly. “Well”, you say,“What if the sky is cloudy-bright? What if it is very dark, (because I like to photographtornados)? What if I am photographing underwater?” What if…?You’re absolutely correct. The generic settings cannot cover all contingencies. But don’t panicyet. Your camera manufacturer has not abandoned you, and you still have other options.
Generally, most digital cameras will give you a menu of choices for White Balance, usually including:DAYLIGHTCLOUDFLASHSHADETUNGSTENFLUORESCENAUTOCUSTOMAmixture of cool and warmtones, this leaf on a lichen-clad rock was photographed asa RAW image, and convertedin Camera Raw, using the ASSHOT setting. I then used aSelective Color adjustmentlayer to give a little boost tothe reds and yellows, withouteffecting the cooler tones.

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