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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Friday, April 3, 2009

White balance and live view

This image was taken on an assignment for an airline in-flight magazine. They were doing a feature article on restaurants in the far north Queensland town of Port Douglas so I spent a couple of nights wandering around some beautiful restaurants photographing the food and chefs.

Now as regular readers of this blog know I mostly work with natural light - at least as far as I can. Although I do have a lighting kit, for this type of editorial assignment I try to stay natural as much as humanly possible.

Which means that I come across all sorts of weird and wonderful lighting displays and their equivalent white balance. Now white balance is a very subjective thing really. What may look like a perfect white napkin to one person might look to cold to another. So there is no right or wrong to a white balance for this type of work unless you need to get an accurate colour in one particular item.

But you can't necessarily rely on the camera to give you something you like. So I always shoot RAW under artificial light (well I shoot RAW all the time but if you are a Jpeg shooter I would definitely recommend you shoot RAW in these sorts of situations). That way I can import the pictures into my RAW processor afterwards and get the white balance I like.

The one problem was that sometimes you would get the picture into the computer and notice that you had clipped some of the colour channels - which you could tell by looking at the histogram. To get around this you could just lower your exposure at the time of shooting to keep all the channels within the histogram but then you might get a darker picture than expected. So the best would be to take the photograph with the right (for you) white balance and optimise your exposure from there. Any time you can fix things at the scene saves you time in front of the computer.

Most dSLRs have a Kelvin white balance (marked by a little K in the LCD). You could go in and set your Kelvin to a certain colour temperature and Bob's your uncle. The only problem with this is unless you have an intimate knowledge of Kelvin and colour temperatures you have no idea where to set this.

Well Live View is the answer. When you put your camera into Live View and set your White Balance to the Kelvin colour temperature setting, as you change the colour temperature the appearance of the picture will change. So you can make your picture cooler (bluer) or warmer (more orange) on the fly as you look at the picture on the LCD and judge for yourself whether the white balance looks OK. It couldn't be easier.

Of course I would still recommend you shoot RAW so you can make any fine detail changes afterwards but this really is a great way to get a much better initial image out of the camera in situations where you're under artificial lighting. In many cases it could save you a lot of time fiddling around with colour balance on the computer.

So the next time you're shooting under artificial light and your White Balance presets just aren't doing it for you try putting the camera into Live View and set your White Balance to the Kelvin colour temperature setting. Then fiddle away to your heart's content until you see something you like and feel confident that you're shooting at the 'right' white balance.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very interesting and useful post, even though I don't have Live View myself. It made me think, especially as I'm in the midst of reading Joe McN's Hot Shoe Diaries!

Paul Dymond said...

Thanks Jonathan, I didn't really understand Live View before I got it on my new camera and it's pretty neat what you can do. Not that you can't work without it of course but it makes a few things easier.
And I'm jealous as hell that you've got Joe's book. I haven't ordered mine yet but if it's anywhere near as fantastic as The Moment It Clicks I'm sure it's fantastic. An amazing photographer with an amazing ability to teach.

Carina said...

Great tips!! I wasn't crazy about having live view when I got my camera last year, figured I'd never use it, now I finally see that I can use it to my benefit..

Paul Dymond said...

Thanks Carina, I wasn't too sure I was going to appreciate Live View before I got my new camera but it's been a bit of a surprise to me how handy it is.

I'll post some more about how I've been using it over the coming weeks.

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