tracey medcalfe photography | You're Smarter Than Your Camera - White Balance - Setting Manually

You're Smarter Than Your Camera - White Balance - Setting Manually

June 26, 2015  •  Leave a Comment
You're Smarter Than Your Camera - White Balance - Setting Manually
Hello everyone and welcome to the third and final week on white balance.  I have chosen to photograph our newest family member for this blog, so forgive me if they appear a little stunned!  It is our new 'pet rock'.  I have included notes on setting white balance manually with a grey card, not that I advocate this method of obtaining a correct white balance all the time :-).  It does provide a reliable option for setting white balance, but is often not practical and I will go through why in the blog.

Enjoy and thanks for reading,
So How Does the Manual Option of Setting White Balance Work?
Below is a set of images that walk you through how to manually set the white balance on a Nikon D7000.  Your camera will be similar but you may need to read through the manual to get the details.  Here are the steps - 

- Change the white balance option to manual - PRE is shown in the lcd settings screen
- Instruct the camera that you want it to measure for white balance - PrE is flashing and the camera is ready for you to take an image of the grey card - see below for details.
- Take an image of the grey card (the actual image isn't stored) and the camera will indicate if it is a good result or if you need to do it again (low light situations can be tricky for the camera).
- You can then use the menu system to check the white balance and adjust it.
PRE is flashing on the LCD screen so indicate that the camera is ready to set the white balance.  Before it stops flashing, take an image of the grey card - fill the screen with it and it doesn't matter if the card is in focus or not.
At this point you can adjust the white balance manually if you want to get creative.  Just to point out how cameras interpret white balance so differently in a very short amount of time - the carpet that the camera is sitting on is the same in all images (shot with an iPad)...but you wouldn't think so :-0
The image above shows the pet rock with correct white balance.  I just showed the grey card here to show you what it looks like.  Naturally you want the grey card as close to the subject as you can to evaluate the actual light available in that space.
So Is Manual Setting of White Balance the Best Way Forward?
Although this provides a reliable method for setting white balance, it is often impractical.  Examples of when you wouldn't choose this method include if the light is changing often i.e. you maybe sometimes in shade and sometimes in sunlight, also action or spontaneous shots often can't wait for an involved set up in this way.
So What Do You Recommend?
White balance is important and I would recommend using the grey card, but in a different way.  If you are able to carry a grey card with you when you are taking pictures, it is easy to take a shot of the grey card and then correct the white balance during development according to the grey card.

I don't go into post processing in any of my 'You're Smarter Than Your Camera' blogs, but in Lightroom for example, there is a white balance eye dropper which you can position on your grey card image and then correct the white balance of all your images according to that setting.   It is very quick and accurate and saves messing around during the shoot.  Do get in touch if you use Lightroom and want more information about it.
Does White Balance Matter If You're Shooting in Raw?
I had to go into this as I think there are many misconceptions about white balance and my apologies if you aren't familiar with this format of shooting.  I will go into the format options for shooting in a future blog, so hang in there.  When you shoot in Raw format, the information stored is both the full pixel information and the metadata which includes information like aperture, shutter speed, flash or not and of course the white balance setting.  The metadata doesn't affect the pixel information at all and during post processing you can adjust the image to any white balance you like.  So maybe no - as you can obtain any white balance after the event.  The difficulty, however, is knowing what the right balance is, and that is when having the image of the grey card becomes very useful.
Your Challenge
Purchase a grey card WhiBal is a very good supplier that is available in many sizes on Amazon, and they are pretty cheap.  Have a go setting your white balance manually and then have a go with just taking an image of the grey card and adjusting it during post processing - you will need software that is able to do this if you decide to give this a go, so make sure your software can handle this.  Plus for the second option, you should be shooting in Raw format, or it will not produce the same results as the jpeg image format has already been adjusted for white balance and so you cannot reverse that or change it effectively.
Next Time

Summer has arrived and things are getting hectic.  I am going to take a break for July, and return in August with composition and how your camera can help with it. Until then, thanks for reading and I hope you get to make the most of the blogs so far with your holiday shots and of course.....enjoy your photography :-)

See you in August,

As always, I would love to hear any comments or questions you have.
Thanks again,

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