Last meeting and we were on an away day in Queens Square where we were joined by the Filton Orphans Scooter Club for a 1970s themed photoshoot. Huge club thanks to Myk Garton for organising this, it was a good evening enjoyed by everyone I talked to and an equally big thank you to the Filton Orphans for providing some magnificent props. Megan Gearing, Kelly Wolf Rogers and Paul Walker were our models.
Given the colour of the buildings and the fact that we were shooting into that period of the evening when the light turns more blue, I decided to shoot with the white balance set to shade. This warms the general look of the image (more than cloudy, see below) and I think worked well. I remember having a conversation with a photographer a couple of years ago, before I got into digital myself, and he reckoned that shooting with the white balance set to cloudy was the best setting for his photography. Basically he had his camera permanently set on that because he likes/liked the effect. He is not alone in this. Maybe a little extreme for my taste, all the time, but I can certainly see that there are occasions when it makes a strong case. There is an important thing to take into consideration here, because what we are talking about is the final look of the image and the idea that there is a correct aesthetic for the colour rendition of subjects within an image, when there is in fact only a set of choices. Accurate is quite often a word that is thrown around when talking about rendering an image as an exact a record of an object in the real world. In the camera it becomes a series of electronic artifacts, that represent an object or set of objects in the real world. That is to say there is a certain amount of interpretation involved.
With the permanent cloud conversation in mind, I thought that I would use this week’s blog to look at that setting probably most ignored by most photographers because the camera does it for them, in a manner generally acceptable. Ladies and gentlemen I give you the White Balance.
Let me set down at the outset that if you are uncertain about what you are doing auto will work in most situations. Sort of. It has got better over the years, that is for sure. Certainly it will work well in sunlight. If you look at the settings on your camera, even most compacts these days, you will find a range of settings other than auto white balance. The settings themselves we will return to later. The reason that these exist is because light changes colour over the course of the day and we talk about it in terms of its temperature, which is measured in degrees Kelvin. The colour of this light will affect the colours in your photographs because what we see are objects reflecting the available light into our eyes which are converted into images in our brains. Cloud cover also plays a role in determining the colour of light at any given moment, lending the light a blue hue. This is before it starts to bounce off objects absorbing different wavelengths. But our brains colour correct and so we see not the colour modified hues and shades but the brain’s algorithms for determining what it should look like. Your camera sensor records according to the temperature of the light it receives reflected from the object(s) you are framing. Please note it is where the objects are and the light it/they is/are in that is important not the light where you are (unless it is the same when it obviously doesn’t matter).
Well, again, sort of. White is 18% gray in photography, you may have heard. This is to do with colour neutrality. Some people never leave home without a gray card, certainly they have their uses, but they are not a deal breaker when it comes to taking photographs. You can colour correct in post production (yes even with jpeg but only to a relatively small degree and not in the same way as in raw, as the assumption of what the white balance is is coded into the jpeg file when you press the shutter. With raw its more WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get – and can be manipulated over a wider range of possibilities because all the information is left in).
So there are reasons of colour temperature for the settings in the white balance menus on your cameras. AWB – automatic white balance – is a fire and forget mode, just not always accurate. We then move into general categories. Daylight calibrated from the noon day sun, is fairly neutral and the target which the other settings are designed to immitate. Flash is cooler than daylight on tone (has a higher Kelvin temperature). Shade compensates for the blue by warming up the colours (counter-intuitively lowering the colour temperature) so does cloudy, but to a greater extent. The picture of the light bulb denotes a tungsten colour temperature. Almost orange if uncorrected, with a dollop, to use the scientific phrase, of blue. The picture of the flourescent tube tells you that the sensor is going to have the warm tones boosted to overcome that rather cold, sterile light. Then we get into the custom settings which can be used in conjunction with colour temperature meters and those grey cards we mentioned earlier. They do take getting used to to use properly. If you are interested in getting a light meter and or colour temperature meter and have a smart phone they can easily and freely be downloaded from the Android or Apple stores. They seem to work pretty well (I have Colour Temp meter and it falls into the category of useable. Grass is generally around the 18% grey mark and makes a good substitute as does the palm of your hand which will read about 2/3 rds of stop under exposed as a general rule).
As I started out saying at the top of this piece, you can play around and adopt he settings at will. Cloudy and shade have been the two I have used most often (which I would quantify as not very often) to warm up, and it works well with Cotswold stone backgrounds. I have also tried the bluer settings against a sky of pretty uniform grey cloud. It didn’t work out well but there is a germ of an idea there. Whatever you use you will almost certainly have to change the settings when you get the camera out afresh, or you will, with equal amounts of certainty, have some unplanned colour balances when you download to your computer. This is where CSC’s win out. They are WSIWYG – though it doesn’t work if you ignore the evidence of your eyes. A friend told me that, you understand. Wouldn’t do it myself. Of course not. No.
For all of that there is, you will be happy to know, one more universal setting that eliminates all this faffing around. It’s called black and white.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
NEXT MEETING: Round 4 of the ROC.
Check out the Flickr competiton on the club Flickr page. To be found on the discussion page.