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Archive 2013 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?
  
 
lsquare
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


I have a WhiBal and I just want to make sure that I'm using it correctly and getting the optimum result.

Does it matter how far away the gray card is from the subject and or its size in the frame of the image? Let's say I'm taking a landscape shot from the edge of a cliff. I'll most likely be using a wired remote. If I were to just hold the WhiBal card about a feet or so from the lens, is that usually enough regardless of what I'm photographing? Should the WhiBal card be closer to the subject or cover 10-25% of the frame?

I have the pocket size version of the WhiBal card.



Aug 02, 2013 at 09:08 AM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


The main thing is, learning to deal with mixed or imperfect white balance. In this case, you'll want to try to position the card to catch the same light (location and angle) as the subject.

It doesn't really need to cover a large portion of the frame to be effective. Just don't rely on that kind of stuff, you can use it as a guide, but if you have any doubt, shoot raw and do the white balance in post ( using a reference photo with the card, or something similar).



Aug 02, 2013 at 09:50 AM
JimboCin
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


How are you using the WhiBal card? Are you using it to set an in-camera custom white balance or using it to set white balance in post-processing?


Aug 02, 2013 at 09:51 AM
Photon
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


JimboCin wrote:
How are you using the WhiBal card? Are you using it to set an in-camera custom white balance or using it to set white balance in post-processing?

That's the main thing. If you shoot raw, just place the WhiBal in a spot where it has the same light source as the important parts of your scene. Then click-balance in raw conversion. If you shoot jpeg and want a custom WB in camera, you should fill the central portion of the view with the card. In your "standing on a cliff" scenario, there's no reason you couldn't hold the card right in front of the camera, unless the camera is in total shade and the distant scene is in sunlight.



Aug 02, 2013 at 05:07 PM
Ed Peters
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


Photon wrote:
That's the main thing. If you shoot raw, just place the WhiBal in a spot where it has the same light source as the important parts of your scene. Then click-balance in raw conversion. If you shoot jpeg and want a custom WB in camera, you should fill the central portion of the view with the card. In your "standing on a cliff" scenario, there's no reason you couldn't hold the card right in front of the camera, unless the camera is in total shade and the distant scene is in sunlight.

+1



Aug 02, 2013 at 06:31 PM
gdanmitchell
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


A warning to those using a gray card for landscape shooting... it isn't quite that simple.

We do have to deal with unusual color casts quite a bit, and you soon learn that shadows are blue and much more. However, we also depend on these colorations quite frequently for the interesting qualities they lend to the scene. While color quite frequently needs some "fine tuning," it is rare in landscape photography to want to make it "accurate."

Consider a lovely golden hour landscape photograph. One key factor in the beauty of that light is, in fact, the "unbalanced" warmth of the early or late day light. You want that effect. Yet, if you make a photograph of your gray card in this light and then adjust so that the gray card is really gray... you will adjust the beautiful warmth right out of your scene!

Other examples abound. The beautiful light underneath a canopy of leaves may be slightly green toned, or if it is autumn this beautiful effect comes from a shift toward the yellow or red of the fall foliage. The bluish tones of shade light can create an interesting cold effect, as can shooting in the "blue hour" light after sunset.

In reality, it is a rare thing to go with the gray card based adjustment to color balance in landscape photography... unless your goal is to erase all of those wonderful qualities of light that you captured in your photograph. There are a few key points to consider:

1. Don't try to eliminate the coloration that made the light and the scene so beautiful!

2. While it is often the case that these color casts appear more strongly in a photo than "in the flesh" (how many of us discovered that snow is actually blue by looking at photographs of it?), what you most often want to do is move things toward a more neutral coloration, but not all the way there. (You might use a curve layer to get your gray card-based flat coloration, and then adjust the opacity of the curve layer to modulate the effect.)

3. Scenes are often too complicated to adjust with a single white balance change. For example, if your scene contains sunlit peaks, large snow fields, and shaded forest in the foreground... you might find that you need one adjustment to tone down the blue on the snow and another one to deal with the shadows of your forest. The post-processing stage is often the best place to deal with these things.

4. Finally, although we often wish we had an automated solution to these things, almost every landscape photographer I know - and I know a good number - takes a much more intuitive approach to adjusting the color in the final image. A very common approach goes something like this: "I use a curve layer and the gray eyedropper [or some equivalent technique] and click on things that I think should be neutral until I find a balance that I like." That's right. Judgment. It is a good thing!

Take care,

Dan



Aug 02, 2013 at 06:52 PM
Photon
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


Dan, that is an excellent and quite comprehensive answer. My hasty one would mostly apply to my principal reason for using a grey reference - portraits, where I want to have accurate skin tones as a reference, even though I may intentionally allow some or all of a color cast to give an appropriate mood.

In practice, although I almost always have a WhiBal or other reference with me, I rarely use it for landscape shooting. I love the local control over WB in Adobe Lightroom, which for me has reduced my use of Photoshop curves layer click adjustments and masks, although that is still a very powerful tool to have in the box.



Aug 02, 2013 at 07:06 PM
skibum5
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


gdanmitchell wrote:
A warning to those using a gray card for landscape shooting... it isn't quite that simple.

We do have to deal with unusual color casts quite a bit, and you soon learn that shadows are blue and much more. However, we also depend on these colorations quite frequently for the interesting qualities they lend to the scene. While color quite frequently needs some "fine tuning," it is rare in landscape photography to want to make it "accurate."

Consider a lovely golden hour landscape photograph. One key factor in the beauty of that light is, in fact, the "unbalanced" warmth of the early
...Show more

+1 this is the tricky thing, especially for landscape shooters, but certainly not only wouldn't to turn a golden lit portrait into plain white or colored club lighting into white or who knows what, etc.

it would be nice if there was an automatic way to match exactly as seen, but using WB card is not the trick as it just converts everything, even your golden hour lighting, or cold blue winter evening lighting, to like bright very lightly overcast outdoor noon!

Probably adjusting in the field with some display that is calibrated to match what you see on hand is the only way at this point to really get a true match, otherwise you just have to play around later. Sometimes it could still help to shoot a many colored target to make a custom profile for that light though at least, but to get a solid profile you really need a lot more, LOT more colored squares of a much greater variety and type than on most of those cards.



Aug 02, 2013 at 08:47 PM
harrygilbert
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


Back when I shot film, I used a grey card and color card at the start of every shoot, to help dial in each batch of film and processing.

With digital (I shoot Canon and always RAW), I see very little need to fiddle around, finding that the AUTO setting on my DSLRs are pretty darn accurate. And any minor corrections (either to set a pure white, or to adjust to my taste) can be easily done in PP.



Aug 02, 2013 at 09:20 PM
lsquare
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


JimboCin wrote:
How are you using the WhiBal card? Are you using it to set an in-camera custom white balance or using it to set white balance in post-processing?


I forgot to mention that I'm going to adjust white balance in post-processing via Lightroom.



Aug 04, 2013 at 08:33 AM
 

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dhphoto
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


lsquare wrote:
I forgot to mention that I'm going to adjust white balance in post-processing via Lightroom.


As long as the WB card is in an area lit by the light whose colour you want to be predominant you can just use the eye dropper in LR and correct the colour very accurately.

The problems come when there is more than one colour light source. The best answer to this that I have found is either to use the excellent and versatile new tool in LR to change the colour temp of selected areas or make two RAW conversions at different colour temps and selectively combine them.



Aug 04, 2013 at 08:37 AM
slrl0ver
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


+10 to Dan's posting. It encapsulates what I've seen personally when struggling for a "simple" approach to white balance (I find there isn't one if you don't control the lighting).


Aug 04, 2013 at 12:06 PM
gdanmitchell
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


As an illustration of how a gray card is rarely the answer for landscape, let me share two photographs I made within about 45 minutes of each other along the northern California coast a couple of evenings ago. When I made the first photograph is was perhaps a bit more than a half hour before sunset, and the warm "golden hour" light predominated, especially since the atmosphere was thick with moisture from an incoming offshore fog bank. The second was made a bit after sunset, when cool "blue hour" light was amplified by the fog over the water and the open sky above.

A gray card "accurate color" image would have ruined both of these photographs. Both the golden hour and the blue hour would have merged into a boring, bland gray hour coloration. Yet, both are slightly color-adjusted in post - the second more than the first - to get the effect that seems right to me, and in both cases that meant using some subjective judgement, both about what the scene "should" look like and about what I want it to look like.

Dan














Aug 04, 2013 at 03:10 PM
jcolwell
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


Great examples, Dan. I think white balance and colour cards can have an important role to play when you want a faithful reproduction of colour. For example, when you're shooting a product for advertising. Otherwise, there's a lot of room for interpretation. It's sort of like trying to take a photo of a dark subject, without adjusting the exposure down an EV or so, rather than taking what the camera meter measures as gospel, because it wants to make everything grey, even when that's not what you see.


Aug 04, 2013 at 03:24 PM
gdanmitchell
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


Yes, don't get me wrong. I have a gray card and I know how to use it! ;-)

Commercial advertising photography of products, where keeping the colors accurate is very important and where the photographer can control the lighting temperature, is the classic example of a situation where color accuracy is critical. You can bet that Starbucks isn't going to be too happy if "their" green ends up a bit too blue or red, and no one wants to see purple pizza! Some sorts of portrait photography might also benefit from this sort of attention to consistent and accurate color - though here one might consider moving things in a more flattering direction or in a direction that creates a certain mood. (Witness a trend to very blue presentation in certain advertising.)

This leads to the point that while it is important and useful to understand a lot of technical stuff in photography, in many cases the technical answer alone does not get us where we want to be, and some kind of intuition based on a lot of experience and some ideas of what you want ends up being far more useful.

Of course, in a so-called technical forum, some will not want to hear that... though others will find it liberating! ;-)

Dan



Aug 04, 2013 at 03:35 PM
anscochrome
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


I like to pretend I am shooting 5500K balanced slide film all the time, so I set all my daylight shoots for 5500K, +5 magenta in LR. That seems to work out well. Early morning and late evening shots now look like they should on "fixed" slide film, and we are culturally used to that.

For tough mixed lighting scenarios like small club gig shooting, I usually set a custom WB based on the default setting of the club lighting at the beginning of the set, and let it fall where it may as they change about with different color light combos, or I process to black and white and boost red luminosity a tad so the fleshtones don't become too dark. Has worked pretty good for me.



Aug 04, 2013 at 03:59 PM
gdanmitchell
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


anscochrome wrote:
I like to pretend I am shooting 5500K balanced slide film all the time, so I set all my daylight shoots for 5500K, +5 magenta in LR. That seems to work out well. Early morning and late evening shots now look like they should on "fixed" slide film, and we are culturally used to that.

For tough mixed lighting scenarios like small club gig shooting, I usually set a custom WB based on the default setting of the club lighting at the beginning of the set, and let it fall where it may as they change about with different color
...Show more

In the first case, that is a matter of taste, I suppose. It often seems to result in something a bit too warm in the case of landscape. For example, my "golden hour" shot ends up way too "golden" when I do that... and the "blue hour" shot ends up looking a bit intense. If you like things on the warm side, 5500 and +5 (also the default in ACR for "daylight") can work, but it does warm things quite a bit.

I'm not so sure that the "culturally used to" slide film notion works quite as well as it might have at one time, though it probably does depend on the person and the context. For shared jpg images on computer screens it could work in a number of cases, especially when people like things overly saturated. For fine art print work, well, it depends.

I'm with you on how to handle the artificial lighting shots, such as your club shooting along with some theatrical photography I've done along with extensive night photography. Stage lighting is really tricky stuff. There are often many different colors of light gels in play, and the lighting levels can also vary greatly between shadow and highlight areas. With night photography, at least in urban areas, it is not uncommon to have a number of light sources with wildly divergent color temperatures - incandescent, fluorescent, sodium vapor, moon light, and now LCD. On one hand this sounds like an impossible complexity... but looked at another way it give the photographer great freedom of interpretation.

Dan



Aug 04, 2013 at 04:12 PM
Photon
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


Dan, I was going to "+1" one of your comments when I realized that what I want to do is support everything you've said in this thread! I think your attitude is right on the mark.

While the OP can certainly benefit from building experience in using a WhiBal appropriately, it helps to be reminded that not every situation comes down to a question of comprehensive and perfectly accurate technical knowledge! Taste and artistry (and practicality) have a role to play in photography.



Aug 04, 2013 at 06:36 PM
slrl0ver
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


I wanted to add a technical comment about HOW white balance in software works, which once I understood, helped me realize why a grey card will end up killing things like golden colors at sunset.

Turns out, Grey reflects equal amounts of Red, Green and Blue colors, the same colors most digital cameras sensors measure. In Photoshop or Lightroom when you use the white balance picker and say "use this as neutral grey" the software will measure the R,G,B values at that location and multiply the Red and Blue channels by some factor so it is made equal to Green value.

That means if on the "grey" patch PS measures 50,100,50 (corresponding to Red/Green/Blue), the software will then multiply ALL Red values in the ENTIRE image by 2x and same with Blue channel, so that particular patch now reads 100,100,100 (Red == Green == Blue). Theoretically this global adjust sets the white balance correctly since Grey should be neutral to R/G/B.

Unfortunately like in Dan's example, if you were taking a picture of the ocean and there was a lot of blue in the image (because there was naturally a lot of blue), using grey card + white balance would probably remove the perceived "excess" Blue because the software is trying to make it match the Green channel (at the point where the Grey patch is measured).

You can quickly see how the "dumb" white balance that most software implements only works in particular controlled studio environments.

Now, HOW you deal with white balance in concerts and other mixed lighting situations is something *I* would like to learn more about . Maybe others will share some of their pics taken in challenging lighting and speak about what they did to get their results?

- slrl0ver



Aug 05, 2013 at 04:36 AM
Alan321
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · How to effectively use a gray card (white balance)?


One thing that I don't think has been mentioned yet is focus. If the grey card is not in focus and also does not fill the image then its colour will be influenced by whatever light comes in around the card. The boundary of the card gets wider as the focus gets more blurred, and the actual grey part gets smaller.

I generally try to focus on the card but I also make sure that I blur it in post processing before taking a WB reading. That way I reduce the effect of noise at the higher ISOs.

- Alan



Aug 05, 2013 at 06:56 AM
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