Tag Archives: Greyness

Avoid funny colour casts in your holiday pictures

White balance - grey card

White balance – grey card

Unnatural indoor colours?

Holiday time – out comes the camera and most daytime shots are great. However, indoor shots often get a funny colour cast. Odd yellowish, greenish or blue tones have appeared. The reason? Auto-white balance problems. The condition is curable.

Auto-white balance problems

Outdoors the auto white-balance function works reasonably well. But not in all cases. Auto-white balance aims to iron out colour casts in your photography. The problem is that the camera frequently gets it wrong. There are two main places that can happen…

  • Out of doors when there is a lot of one particular colour around (eg. lots of sky blue; orange/red sunsets or snow)
  • Indoors when there are artificial lights illuminating the scene (ordinary domestic lights, fluorescents and bulbs).

When a lot of one colour appears in your shot. The camera assumes that too much of one colour is a problem. So, it shifts something called the colour temperature toward a neutral grey colour. This takes out the colour cast.

Intentions ruined

If you intended to capture that colour cast (from a sunset for example), the auto-white balance mechanism will ruin your shot. Typically blue skies and white snow tend toward grey. And, the real classic, lovely orange and red sunsets look pink, cartoon-like and flat instead of saturated. Orange and reds are particularly badly affected. So if your sunsets look cartoon pink/grey instead of saturated fire-orange you need to adjust your auto-white balance.

Auto white-balance fail!

• Auto white-balance fail! •

Cartoony pink-grey skies. The auto-white-balance function has colour shifted the orange/red tones toward greys.
Click image to view large
• Auto-white-balance fail! • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Artificial light also creates a colour cast. Often the auto-white balance cannot properly adjust for this. The result is odd yellowish, blue or greenish tones in the picture where you did not see them yourself at the time. These also require an adjustment to your white-balance.

Why is there a problem?

Mainly the problem arises because we have made an adjustment in our heads without noticing. Most of the time we compensate for these colour casts and don’t see them. In fact, once we realise there is such a thing as a colour cast we can train ourselves to see it. We certainly see the heavy red colour casts of evening and early morning light. If we look carefully we can also see the yellows and blues from domestic lights – although less strongly.

Remedies

There are two possible ways to tackle the situation…

  • Compensate for colour casts by using a camera pre-set.
  • Correctly set the white-balance so it records the natural colours.

DSLRs have reasonably good pre-sets to tackle well known colour cast issues. On most cameras you will find white balance settings something like these below. The notes explain details…

  • Auto – The cameras best-guess colour match for what it senses. OK most of the time. Poor when there is a predominance of a strong colour.
  • Tungsten – (bulb icon) indoor, tungsten incandescent lighting using bulbs. Cools the colours – often bluish. This setting helps remove blues to warmer tones.
  • Fluorescent – for use under fluorescent lights – will tend to warm up the colours.
  • Daylight/Sunny – (sun icon) indicates the ‘normal’ white balance (may not be present if this is the default setting).
  • Cloudy – (cloud icon) Adds a warmer, yellowish colouration.
  • Shade – This light is cooler (bluer) than sunlight. Shade mode warms the colours a small amount.
  • Flash – (lightening icon) Stark and cool, flash desaturates towards blue. Flash setting compensates with a slightly warmer yellowish tone.
  • Custom – You do a little procedure to get an accurate setting to suit the situation.
Accurate colours

Colour accuracy is important. You really do want a bright blue sky or white snow or saturated red sunsets. The problem is that the pre-sets are averaged out for the “types” of situations encountered. The pre-sets will change the colours from dull flat colours to more representative ones. For example more saturated sunsets will be captured if you use the cloudy setting. However, to get it right you need to adjust the custom white balance.

Setting the custom white balance is simple. The camera does most of it. You need a “neutral grey card”. This is simply a card or piece of material set at an average grey colour, normally at 12% grey, which matches the cameras accurate shade for neutral. You can buy these quite cheaply at most camera stores. (See: Range of photographic grey cards).

• The Lastolite Ezybalance •

  • collapsible; durable
  • wipe clean; very light
  • 12% grey; 30cm wide

An easy to use grey-card system. White on one side, grey on the other. The card doesn’t crease, the sprung border stretches the material tight. The card collapses into the supplied case, slipping easily into your camera bag. A great accessory to ensure colour accuracy in your pictures. You should not be without one.Spacer image

To set custom white-balance

It’s easy to set the white balance. However, there are lots of variations for how different cameras do it. Therefore it’s essential to use the right procedure from your manual. To get ready…

  • Place the card about 30cm/12 inches in front of your camera.
  • Zoom in or out to make the grey card fill the frame.
  • Now follow the camera manual “custom white balance” instructions.

To ensure complete accuracy you must do this procedure in the ambient light in which you will be shooting. This is the light the camera will sense and compare to the grey on the card.

More after this…

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Shooting with RAW vs. *.jpg

I am sure lots of you are saying, “But I shoot with RAW and this is unnecessary”. OK, that is partly true. You can, with RAW format files change the white balance in the post-processing. Here are two reasons you should NOT do that…

  1. It is time saving to get as much right in the camera as possible. I like to spend my time shooting not computing!
  2. I have rarely met anyone who can remember colours so accurately that they get the post-processing colour and temperature balance right. I like to get them right in-camera as accurately as possible. Then I can safely change them later if necessary.

RAW format is excellent – you have complete control over colour temperature and hues. However, if the picture is wrong from the start, RAW is only as good as your own memory or colour awareness. Artists of many years may be able to remember colours accurately. Very few others can. Beginners especially have very poor colour memory/accuracy. So, use RAW, get it right in-camera – then do your artistic processing from a solid colour-base you know is accurate.

Compensation and accuracy

While both compensation for colour casts, and accurate representation of colour casts both rely on white balance there are differences in how they are treated. Strong colours or a strong colour bias through the picture needs some special treatment. Think about the two different methods above and practice them.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Five easy tips for better photos in difficult weather and light

Its easy to make weather excuses, but….

We can actually find a way to shoot in almost any weather situation. Here are some tips to get the shot even though the weather conditions are not ideal for a photograph.

1. Rain…

Cameras hate water. If there is a sure fire way to ruin your equipment, get it wet. So we want to dodge the rain shots. Actually rain is fun. You don’t need to be shooting right in the rain. Most of the time there is cover you can use to work from for your shot. Shop fronts, cars, through open windows, under canopies… you can think of thousands of rain hides if you try. And, rain provides lots of great things to shoot too. Rain is a great cleanser. The pavements and side roads are dust-free, shiny, or with splashing drops and running water. Yet life goes on. Street photography becomes dynamic, frenetic and full of new behaviours. People are doing things they normally do not do. They run, they put up umbrellas, they crowd under cover… lots of great behaviours that often do not get photographed. Look to catch people in the puddles, jumping, dashing for cover. Look for colours and reflections. Look for droplets, wet surfaces, running water. Most of all try to catch the reactions of people as they try not to get wet. Rain is great fun. Don’t hide your equipment away. Get out and take some great shots. After the rain look for skyward glances, great reflections, splashes and people emerging from cover.

2. High noon…

A high and harsh sunlit situation is not good for any kind of photography. Normally we think of it as pretty awful for any kind of portrait shot. The direct light creates washed out, over-exposed areas of the shot. The faces look flat and colours lose the subtle tonality. You can still get a great shots though. Seek out some cool, even shade. Under the canopy of shops or malls is ideal, or maybe within the shade of a substantial tree. Look for anything that provides enough shade for you and your subject to get out of the direct sunlight. However, stay near to the main sunlight area. The direct sunlit area will act as your main light source. The shade will act as a diffuser. Now, make sure you do not shoot into the direct sunlight or deeper darkness of deep shade. Try to keep your shot on your subject and make sure any background you use is also in the same light-shade level of intensity. That way your contrasts and colours will all be within the same dynamic range of light – which your camera deal with. However, the main light source will be diffused – creating a lovely soft, bright light source. Remember, if you shoot out of the shade into the sun you will find the contrast range too high. You will get bright highlights and over-exposure which will draw the eye away from your subject. So keep the shots tight to the light level you are working within and your shots will be fine and bright. Don’t shoot in mixed or dappled light.

3. Insufficient shade?

Avoiding very hard light or direct sunlight makes sense but what if you cannot find enough shade for you and your subject to be in the same light. If you are trying to photograph a person the impact of this direct light is particularly hard on their face and unflattering. Unfortunately putting your subject into the shade can make the situation worse. The darkness in the shade contrasts strongly with the bright light outside where you are standing. So you get bright spots in your shot and harsh darker areas in the deeper shade – very distracting. To overcome this high contrast situation take your shot on the shadow line. Line up the person you want to shoot on the shadow edge so the bright light is softened. In this intermediate place your subject gets the golden glow from the brighter light but it is softened by the slight shadow.

To help your camera to cope try to shoot from the same half-in half-out of shadow position too. The contrasts will not overpower your sensor there. If you get it right you will split the light to make it just right. Carefully placed you will capture the lovely sky and background but not lose detail in the shadow-darkness under the shade. Be careful not to get dappled light from sun through the leaves, and make sure the shadow line does not cross your subject. Bright contrasts and sharp shadow lines on the subject are very unflattering. Instead shoot along the half shade into the brighter light utilising the foreground weaker light as your main source for the subject.

4. The sun flattens the landscape

Often, particularly on holiday or when out on a shoot, we cannot wait for the golden hour. We are in a place where there is a deadline to move on and you want to get the shot. Unfortunately the high, direct sunlight flattens everything, eliminating shadows and ironing out colour tones. The light is boring and harsh and the shadows minimal.

How do you get the landscape? Include more sky than usual. Often in these situation the most interesting lighting is for the sky. The clouds and far away places look good. So expose for the sky and reduce the amount of landscape you include. This means using the sky as the main bright source of light. Point your focus point to a cloud. If the autofocus ‘hunts‘ and will not focus turn it off and focus manually. Make the sky your subject and concentrate on the distance and sky. This may mean some of your foreground will be slightly underexposed. However, it is easier to brighten the foreground or a near subject later in post-processing if you have exposed for the sky.

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5. Dreary, grey diffused sky light

Another bad light situation for the photographer is the dreary grey day. Uniform light from across the sky leaves little or no shadow detail anywhere. Everything looks flat and dead. The problem here is there is nothing in the landscape that provides relief for the greyness. The sky is difficult too – you cannot do foreground shots as the uniform lack of colour or shadow means everything is pale and uninteresting. The distance has lost its sky appeal too. Even exposing for the sky creates almost uniform grey.

Well, this is the time to get out the flash. Off-camera flash is best, although pop-up flash will also do the trick. Get close to the ground or a surface with great texture. Then, shoot along the surface with the flash. If the flash is off-camera set it off to one side so it exaggerates ground shadows. If you are working with pop-up flash then make sure you work with the shadow at its maximum. This may mean shooting with your camera upside down so the light is really close to the surface and the optical axis is across the surface lit by the flash. If you use a relatively wide aperture, these low-level flash shots will bring out shadow detail in the foreground and leave the distance in bokeh and out of focus.

Some places to find great surfaces for this type of shot are low grasses, sandy or gravelly surfaces, tarmac, along road lines, autumnal leafy forest floors, bare rock… well, you get the idea. Seek out any surface that provides texture for you to capture. Lots of small to medium undulations and detail is best. Large objects will block the foreground so reserve them for the middle distance.

Remember the five rules…

The key to difficult weather and light situations is…

  • Find the right vantage point to shelter/shoot from
  • Maximise the opportunities for spotting unusual behaviour
  • Make the most of the weather opportunities (sky, puddles, splashes etc)
  • Keep the light where you are shooting within approximately the same dynamic range
  • Look for, or create, light situations that exploit texture detail

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.