Good color balance is one underpinning of good photography (the others are lighting, exposure and being there…). There are many ways to go about getting a good color balance in camera. This saves an enormous amount of post-processing time, particularly when, as a wedding photographer, you have hundreds of images to process in Lightroom or Aperture.
There are a range of gadgets which help you get accurate colour. From the tried and true 18% grey card to a variety of neutral white plastics which fit over the camera lens to set a custom white balance. All have their plusses and minuses. The aim is to first set a base line for the camera in terms of color temperature. Once that is set, blacks and whites more easily managed without introducing unwanted color shifts and other colors are truer to what you saw through the viewfinder.
This week I took delivery of the CPL color balance lens. It is an unusual looking device made in Korea, with concentric rings on a white side and an 18% gray plastic on the other. However, the difference it makes to the image in-camera is great. The white side has a series of slots atop a silvered bottom layer; the grey side is simply 18% grey.
I tried it out immediately under fluorescent lighting and difference was very gratifying. Skin colors in particular were great.The gray side is used for studio flash and daylight light conditions, while the white side is used for mixed light conditions, low light and cloudy conditions.
To use it, you hold it in front of your lens and fill 70% of the frame with the image of the CBL lens. You can leave the camera on autofocus. Set the camera for Custom White Balance, release the camera’s shutter and your white balance is good to go in that lighting condition. It takes me about 20 seconds to set up.
The results are very good with vibrant colours and sharpness. You can read the technical details about the gadget from the manufacturer’s website here.
To demonstrate the difference to an image a custom white balance can make, I took two shots in my back garden. The first was with the camera set to Auto WB (always a poor choice!!); the second with custom white balance using the CBL lens. Both images are JPEG files SOOC (straight out of camera).
If you look at the examples below, you will see that apart from the striking difference in colour rendition, the bottom image seems to have more “bite” in terms of local contrast. It also loses the cold tell-tale blue of the “without” image above it.
Does this mean that slip-over-the-lens products won’t get the same results? Well, I have a $2 slip-over-the-lens product which I will also use to color balance an image. More on the comparison in a later blog.
Do RAW shooters need in-camera white balance? Not unless you want to spend a lot of time in front of the computer going through each image and clicking with the eye-dropper tool. JPEG shooters on the other hand will be doing themselves a big favour by getting this right in-camera.
The CBL lens will save me a heap of time in post-processing in front of a camera and allow me to spend more time behind the camera.
More on color correction in-camera and in post-production soon.