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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday Tip: A lesson on Balance, White Balance

So... someone asked "how do I take good product or stock images with out purchasing a full studio"
Well here is your Tuesday Tip!  Understand White Balance!

Taking quality photos is just as much about knowing your limitations, and working with what you have, as it is about having the right equipment. Will you get as good, or better results as sending them to a professional? It depends, unfortunately the answer is many times, no.   Unless your going to spend the money on all that photography gear, lighting equipment, professional grade backgrounds, and LENSES... that is the BIG difference. However, understanding WB, will help you work with what you have and get more out of the camera you do have! Which will greatly improve your chances at professional grade images from your home.

This post originally started out as a post about lighting.. and how you can work with house lighting in order to achieve quality images. I think this is a big issue for many people trying to take photos of kids, pets, or even for their own online shops or blogs. First, if you haven't read Lighting 101, you should do that now... as we will continue to build on those fundamental

We already know that light inside our house can produce anything from a yellow, or reddish hue to blue tones on our images, due to the Kelvin rating of our "house" lighting. Tungston lighting, as well as being a major part of what you would buy for your lamp produces a yellow hue, this temp of a bulb can also  be found in many of the "hot lights" or Continuous Lighting kits sold for at home product photography. Why or Why do they do that to armature photographers? It must be part of a bigger plan, I know! Often, you will see it listed as a "Tungsten light kit". If you can stay away from that one, and opt for one with a more "white" light option.

You can find some kits and bulbs that are rated for "natural light", I've even seen these in the regular stores for an everyday lamp, and if thats what your using... trying to create your own "kit" I would really recommend spending a few extra bucks to pick those up.

Regardless of what type of kit your using, if its not a strobe or flash, you will want to run some test shots. Adjust for any color balance in your camera to make White = White. That is how digital works... all your other colors will be on target if you can make white, white.

White Balance. Every digital camera has SOME way of adjusting WB. If you don't know where yours is, I highly recommend digging around the menu or looking over the buttons to find it. This is a great way to manipulate your lighting without changing it. It will typically be listed as WB in your menu or button. 

Here is a sample, shoot with my desk lamp, on Program Mode, no flash and no WB adjustments.

The easiest way to work around this blue hue, is not Photoshop! The easiest is to turn on YOUR flash! Every camera has some sort of built in or pop up flash, if your shooting in your "P" mode, then you can command your flash on. Your flash is strong enough to override direct light on a subject typically within 5 feet from you, sometimes more. This is a great solution for kid photos, pets etc. things "on the go" it is best to control your light on your camera, then trying to adjust for each situation. However, if your doing product images, it might not be the best solution, especially if your trying to do anything closer then 4-5 feet of a subject. A direct flash at that range can cause heavy shadows, and glare or reflection off your product.

Flash - Program Mode

You see the pop-up flash did great - my glass is white, my background is mostly cream - just like it should be... with no Photoshop. The flash does cause another issue, however; that shadow... ugh, nothing ruins a great shot like a distracting shadow, and since my background wasn't pressed and flat you see every shadow IT creates. This is why we work with off camera flash or strobes, and , light modifiers, or additional light sources to remove that shadow... since this isn't that post we will continue on with simply fixing the colors when we work with "house" style lighting. 

Adjusting your WB is the next great step! If you want to work with "natural" or "available" light... you better become ONE with your WB. Learn it well, and invest in WB cards or Expodisks (which we will look into later). For now, bust out your manual, find your WB options... and set your camera to override in my case for the blue lighting... in yours it may be yellow, or even reddish depending on the temperature of your lighting. Take your next test shot using one of the preset WB modes... (if you don't know which one, this image should help! It shows the symbols commonly used on camera's preset modes along with a rough guide of the color temp.

 Not, too bad...but that exposure is still off, and it is still very blue. If your still not satisfied, look if you can "bump" the amount of adjustment your camera adds, for me I can use negative numbers to take out more of the blue... here it is again at the -3

 And if you have Photoshop... you can make a simple correction or two and end up with...Of course if you just have one image, you can remove that in Photoshop with some skill... but I prefer not to Photoshop any of my (or my clients) product images, even shadows on the background. I guess I am old school about truth in advertising or something.

So while this is passable... do you still see the blue? It just doesn't look right still does it? What it is really missing is MORE light... the quality of light isn't just blue, but it isn't giving you enough over the whole image to keep the blue shadows from coming in even with the WB mode.  So, what do you do? You can...

Add more lights
Add higher wattage lights
Add reflectors
Adjust Aperture to allow more light to hit your camera sensor 
Or resolve to fixing your image in a Photoshop style program such as Elements or Lightroom, both of which are fairly affordable. (Although if your spending $100 of software, you could just buy a small light kit and be done!)

So after adding more light and adjusting my WB, and setting my aperture to allow more light in... what did I come up with?

None to shabby for using simple house lamps and a little bit of trail and error!

However, the question is, how does your cameras preset modes look, you need to set up a stage, with a white product and do some test shots. Figure out what setting of WB, placement of light, or what light works best, along with light modifiers, aperture settings, lens, and combination of all these things works best for YOUR image. You will be surprised... if you systematically change one thing at a time, you will learn what works. Once you get to a point that your happy... write it down! Next time you will be able to re-create your best image, super fast and confidently!

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