White balance is one of those fundamentally important settings that the less experienced amongst us seem happy to stick it onto the “auto” setting on the camera and accept the results no matter how orange our model looks or how green the sky is. The assumption that “auto” also translates to “correct” is a source of minor frustration to me. Aside from the “auto” setting being wildly abused I frequently come across images shot during my workshops also with oddly incorrect white balance settings despite my best advice pre-shoot. The assumption made here by the unsuspecting client is that selecting one of the little icons on the camera must also set things correctly…flash is flash after all! Well you would think so wouldn’t you?
Here’s the problem. Every source of light has a colour temperature. It’s measured in degrees Kelvin, named after the Physicist and Engineer William Thomson – I know crazy right? He actually became Lord Kelvin which is just as well as degrees Thomson just doesn’t sound right. Every manufacturer of any form of lighting whether it be flash, household lightbulbs or Redhead video lights and the like will use different materials, electronics, glass and so on in their products. So it follows that the light output from all of these sources will be different. Even daylight has a different colour temperature dependent on things such as time of day, the weather even where in the world you are or what altitude you’re at. So you can see that setting your camera’s white balance to one of the little itty bitty icons is nothing more than best guess at what the real white balance is. Don’t get me wrong much of the time the white balance will be pretty close to your chosen icon and even auto can do a pretty decent job especially outdoors. But more often than not when we’re in the studio using continuous or flash lighting you’ll want to head to the part of your white balance setting that allows you to dial in an exact colour temperature. Or better yet, many cameras have the ability for you to measure the white balance by pointing it at a white or grey card and recording the result. This can work really well although even this can be fooled at times and in the haste of the shoot and peeking at your very colour-unbalanced screen on the back of your camera how are you to know that things are as they should be?
You might be forgiven for thinking that this white balance malarky is proving just too much trouble than it’s worth, but bear with me. There is a solution on the horizon and one that is simple, accurate and almost foolproof!
What the video below will show you is how to set your white balance using not much more that a set of three numbers. Importantly it removes the human element. We all see colour differently and often we even see it differently ourselves to how we did yesterday. By removing this element of personal preference, that “well it looks OK to me” factor means we’re heading toward the holy grail of consistency where every picture you publish anywhere will have a perfect white balance to it. That is of course until you filter the crap out of it in post production to create some weirdly wonderfull effects. But at least you have a baseline of where to start.
Check out the video, you’ll be glad you did and your images will never look orange again.