Creating custom white balance

This post is for the new photographer who wants to take their skills to the next level. 

My problem is that cameras are dumb. That’s right, my expensive camera is dumb. When I point my camera at a subject and have it on auto it makes an educated guess on what my exposure should be and what my white balance should be. Yes, cameras do a pretty good job at figuring out white balance and exposure. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and Auto WB gets the job done. Many people just set the camera on auto everything and go to town. This is fine if you just want to get the shot quickly and be done with it.  Nothing is wrong with that.

Not to get to technical here, light sources give off different color temperatures. The sun, the overhead lights, the lights at the football stadium, they all have a different color temperature. When the clouds are in front of the sun it’s a different color temperature. When you’re in the shade under a tree is different temperature. As the sun rises and sets the color is much warmer. This is why many photographers like to shoot early or late in the evening. That light is beautiful. The color of light around us is constantly changing. We don’t really notice it because our eyes have an amazing Auto White Balance feature that you can’t buy for your camera. So what’s this mean for you? If you want to be in more in control of how you make your images then you should explore creating custom white balance .

In the pictures below you can see the one on the left is auto white balance and the other is a custom white balance. My dumb camera was fooled by the color of the blanket and decided the color should look like this. That baby is way too blue! Please note my computer screen is color corrected. If you lined up 20 computer screens next to each other, EVERY picture on it would be different. More about color calibration and correction another time

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If you look closely at the meta data of images shot in auto white balance (AWB) you will notice the color temperature is changing in every picture even if minor background changes happen. What’s nice about creating a custom WB is your color temperature will be the same for all of your shots. If the model is wearing a brightly colored shirt or a large cloud moves in your AWB may be fooled. Creating a custom white balance will give you more accurate colors.

First thing you need is a custom WB tool to carry with you in your camera bag. The WB tool I use is the Vello WB-DU.  I first figure out what my exposure should be. I hold the Vello over my lens stand where the subject is and point back to the light source (for Nikon D700) Hold WB button and select PRE. Hold the WB button for several seconds and PRE will start blinking. Take a picture. It should say “good.” That’s it, your done. That simple. 

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Custom WB works great if you are shooting a series of photos in the same environment. If you are running around like a wild man at a wedding this might be a little more work and may get in the way. Yes, if you move areas and the lighting changes you will need to take another WB reading. If a cloud covers the sun you will need to take a new reading. Every camera is different, read your manual to see how you can create a custom white balance. In conclusion, custom WB is not for everybody. If you want to be more in control of how your images look then a custom white balance tool is for you. Your photos will have more accurate colors in them. Thanks and have fun shooting.  --Micah