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Setting Your White Balance

Lesson 5 from: Introduction to Flash for Children and Family Images

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

5. Setting Your White Balance

Lesson Info

Setting Your White Balance

The next thing that I want to show is how to set your white balance using a custom white balance tool. You can just use, if you're shooting RAW, you can just shoot auto white balance. And we'll do one of those today, I'll just shoot auto white balance for you to see what that looks like. You can also set your white balance manually, to say, flash, set it to flash color white balance. Most of the time, that'll be fine. But a lot of times when I'm doing portrait work, especially for families and models, they put a lot of effort into preparation for this event. Choosing their clothes, choosing their color scheme. The mom did her makeup. She chose her lipstick and her, you know, she blotted out all the stuff that needs to be blotted out. The husband didn't do so much of that, unless you're fashionable like you, which you put some thought into it, no you're good. Anyway, the point I'm making is, that colors matter. Skin tones matter. If they just came back from a family vacation to Hawaii, ...

they're all tan, and you want to show that color properly. You can guess later on inside of Lightroom, if you're using RAW you can go back and change white balance, or you can just nail it in the studio and not have to guess anymore. That's what I want to show you how to do, how to nail the colors in the studio. Every studio has a slightly different color cast to it. The wall's a different color, the floor's a different color, light reflects and bounces around. Well, a custom white balance target's gonna solve all that, and I'm gonna take the white balance right off of that card. What does that card look like? It could be something as simple as a white piece of paper, or something as, I'll say, sophisticated as this, this is made by a company called Lastolite, and it's just a gray card target, it's a white balance target, it's gray on one side and it's white on the other, and if you go online or any, you go to your local camera store, there's a wide variety of these types of tools. Each camera has a different way to do this custom white balance. For example, Canon, you have to photograph just a white surface. In the Nikon cameras, you need to photograph a neutral colored surface. Colored, so in the Nikon world, you could use white but you could use gray or you could use black. But Canon you definitely have to use white. So what I'm gonna do, is I'm gonna have Brandon hold this and you're just gonna hold it right up against your body, cool, and then I already have my meter reading from the previous set, so the sequence here should be do your light meter, set that value in the camera, take your picture, look at the overall exposure, now once all of that's set, the power's set, your exposure's set, now you do the custom white balance check. And I'll just show you what it looks like here on the Nikon, the Canon's different, the Sony's are different, all that's different, but at least you can see the process here. So what I'm gonna do, is I'm gonna to info, the info screen, there we go, I want that to be brighter. And now I'm gonna push the white balance button on the top of my camera. Will it show it? I think it will show it, yeah it will show it. So now I push that white balance button and I hold it in, and when I do, right there, it's really small, but it says WB PRE, PRE stands for preset, so it's a white balance preset. While it's blinking, while it's still blinking, I have to take an exposure of the gray card. And if I wait too long, as I'm doing right now, it's gonna go away, and I have to reset it one more time. So from the top. I push and hold the white balance button, it says WB, I dial over to the word PRE, now it says PRE, and then I push and hold again, it starts blinking PRE, and while it's blinking PRE, I take a picture of my gray card, and then there on the top of the camera it says GOOD. Hmph, it's the only time your camera gives you positive affirmation. Good. I feel good about that. It didn't actually take a picture though. There's no picture that appears anywhere, it doesn't appear in Lightroom, it doesn't appear on the camera, anything. It just grabbed the colors from that and it saved it into the memory system. And in the Nikon world that memory system is called D1. (laughs) D1, so it's in D1 right now. Custom white balance memory location D1. So now that's an option for me. I can choose that custom white balance value or I can choose any of the other white balance values. I can choose flash, or I can choose auto. So let's take three pictures now. We'll take one picture in auto white balance, one picture in flash white balance, and then the third picture we'll take in the preset, the most accurate. And I just have a feeling there isn't going to be too much of a change between the three of those, but it's still instructive. So let's take our first image. And to do that, I'm gonna push my info button again, there we go, push my white balance, I'm gonna dial over to auto, A auto right there. It says auto white balance. Got it? Got it, good. First photo, auto white balance. I technically should remeasure my brightness, but time is short, nice smile. Next one, I won't show the camera this one, next one I'm just gonna go over to flash white balance. The little lightning bolt. Nice, and the third one, our preset white balance, D1. Nice, you've got a good smile, man, you've done this before. Congrats, props. All that good stuff. Let's go through those three. Starting with auto white balance there, the next one is flash white balance and then the third one is preset white balance. And I know it's hard to see what happened or what changed there, so I will show all of those together. So flash, no I'm sorry, auto, flash and preset, we bring those up on the scene. Oh boy, which one's which, oh I got it. So the upper left one is auto, the upper right is flash, and then the lower right is custom. And you may be looking at them going, what? Others of you may be looking at them and go oh yeah, I see a change, and it's somewhat significant. Like look at the upper left. There's definitely a blue cast to that photo. And I will tell you this, nobody looks good in blue cast. Except for that Las Vegas act, they looked pretty good in blue. But everybody else, we want to be warmer, a little bit more and our skin tone needs to be a little bit more accurate. You can see the upper right one still has a little bit of a blue cast to it. The most accurate one of all is the preset or the custom white balance. That's where it's at, man. As a pro, as a professional photographer, I put a lot of skill, and I take a lot of pride, in making sure my exposures are spot on, and making sure my colors are spot on, because those really do matter. And what I've just showed you now are two ways to do that relatively inexpensively. If you can't afford a flash meter, you can do everything that I've just described just by looking on the back of your camera. You can get close, and shooting RAW gives you a lot of flexibility in software after the fact. But colors, if you don't have a calibrated monitor, or even if you do have a calibrated monitor, you're always guessing on colors. I mean you can get close visually, but the most accurate and the best way is to do a custom white balance just like I've shown you here. So we're basically gonna use that custom white balance setting for the rest of the day. I'm gonna make one more point before I move off of this topic. Every different light modifier has a slightly different color cast. We were using this little umbrella here, this is a 40 inch umbrella, and you can see on the inside of it, this is well used, it's well loved, there's some rusting and there's some time and love that's gone onto the inside of here. So that's gonna give me a slightly different color cast than let's say maybe that big umbrella that's there in the background. In fact, I can see it here. This is a much bluer color, the one in the background's a much warmer color. Yeah, technically, every time you do a new change of your lighting, you're gonna do another preset white balance. I don't know if we'll have time to do that all throughout the day, but that's the concept. And the more your client is paying, the more important it is to do this reliably. You know, if I'm photographing a supermodel for a big magazine, which happens like all the time for me, then I'm gonna put all the effort I possibly can into getting the colors just so. So since we set our custom white balance, it should be completely perfect colors. Now I know you're going to get into post processing later, but when you pull that image up into Lightroom and you use the eyedropper that we did yesterday, and click on that white background, it shouldn't change then Good point. In Lightroom it should be perfect. What if it does change even after we set all of that perfect exposure. How do we know what's correct colors, if our screen is calibrated, if we did everything correct and Lightroom still changes those colors. Good, awesome question. It's an extremely good question. And the reason why is because what we just did, is we white balanced for the subject. We did not white balance for the background. And this is an important distinction. Because the color of light falling onto the background very well could be slightly different than the color of light falling on the subject. Let's think about what happened with that light. The light was here, it landed on Brandon. He's wearing a green jacket. The room here is overall fairly neutral, but if I look up on the top, there's some sound attenuation boards up there, they're warmer, they're tan. So this light hit Brandon, reflected off the ceiling, reflected off his green, and then landed onto the backdrop. That color on the backdrop is actually different. So the answer to your question is, don't change it. Because you just nailed it. You nailed the light for the subject, and in this case we care about the subject's face, his complexion, the colors, all of that stuff. These rest of the studio just kind of falls away, yeah. So have you heard of or used a product, an expodisc, that clips onto the, I've never had great luck with those. Especially when I set it to, I have a Nikon as well, and I set it that custom setting so that it will do the white balance PRE. I'll take a picture, I almost have to be pointing my camera at the light source and not the person, why is that? Okay perfect. So expo, she's talking about this expodisc, and what it is that it clicks onto the front of your camera on the lens, it's a little filter that goes on there, and it's like a, kind of like a fresnel type lens, and it lets in light. And when you fire the flash, it then judges the color, using this preset thing that I just showed you, and it should set your white balance appropriately. Here's the thing. If you aim the expodisc at the subject, well let's use Brandon as our example. What colors is it trying to filter out? It's filtering out the green. So what's the opposite of green on the color wheel? Magenta, right? Oh well guess what? When I use that expodisc and I aim it at the subject and they're wearing a green shirt, it's gonna bias the colors towards the magenta to neutralize it. So on the expo website, I remember reading, it says you're supposed to aim it at the subject to get the white balance, I disagree, and so I have some of the expo imaging products here, I use their stuff, and if the CEO's watching, they're watching, I'm disagreeing with your assessment of how to use that tool. My assessment is you aim it at the light. Just like you said, because it needs to measure the color of light, that's the white balance setting. Do it the way you're describing, you'll get much better results. In terms of what's best, you know, now we're getting to that 95th, 99th percentile, in terms of excellence. Is the expo imaging tool best, are the expodiscs best, is the reflect off the card best? Yes, it just depends on what you're most comfortable using. Find a tool, use it, and then use it consistently.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Children & Family Images Lighting Diagrams
Gear List for $100 Budget
Gear List for $250 Budget
Gear List for $1000 Budget

Ratings and Reviews


Great course really love the way Mike teaches so informative with very useful tips and tricks to use in photography

Dortohy Lyner

Loved this class. Great basic essential information. Mike filled in many gaps concerning my knowledge of studio photography.


Love the natural way Mike has to explain and to work on the studio. Plenty of tips and clear knowledge transfer for me that I manage quite well natural light but that I still mess with the on-camera flash.

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