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March 10, 2011 / arthill

If the color isn’t right


My guess is that most of us shoot almost everything with White Balance set to Auto (AWB).  It is remarkable how well that usually works.  But from time to time you’re going to get some pictures where the color is just, well, off.

Chances are that Auto White Balance just wasn’t up to the task.  White Balance is a funny name for that setting.  It should be called “Matching the light to the colors”. Your camera allows you to set White Balance to one of these settings:

Auto
Daylight
Cloudy
Shade
Tungsten
White Fluorescent
Flash
Custom

Before digital cameras you loaded up with one of the three types of film, daylight, tungsten or fluorescent.  If you shot tungsten outdoors the results were pretty awful. Amateurs usually just used daylight film – fluorescent lights were always a problem.

Now, with digital cameras we have the opportunity to get the color “right” on a whole series of shots – indoors, outdoors, flash, room lights and fluorescent lights.  And most of the time Auto White Balance gives you pretty good results.  But not always.

Yesterday was my granddaughter Scarlett’s birthday.  We had lunch and headed for Build-A-Bear.  I have been there before and come back with a lot of overly yellow pictures.  The place has bright fluorescent lights and yellow walls.  I was shooting with external flash but I decided to set White Balance to Fluorescent.  On the LCD screen it looked like that did the trick.  When I got the pictures onto the computer I still felt that the color was not right.  Better than the last time but still not quite right (or I’m too fussy). So I loaded up the RAW files and chose a Custom White Balance.  This allowed me to click on Scarlett’s white shirt to have all the colors adjusted around that.  I’ve shown you the results below.

IMG_8185 awb
Auto White Balance

IMG_8185
Florescent

IMG_8185
Click on white shirt

scarlett as uploaded then adjusted IMG_8185 (2)
The final version with Custom white balance and exposure adjusted slightly

This isn’t the only way to correct color and of course won’t work if you weren’t shooting RAW + JPEG as I recommended in an earlier post. Should you shoot RAW?  All of the image programs you’re using have an option to Auto Color Correct.  I took the Auto White Balance version of this picture and let Photoshop Elements, Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery have a go at it.  The results are below.  You be the judge.

 

IMG_8185 pse auto color corrected
Photoshop Elements Auto Color

IMG_8185 picasa autocolor
Picasa Auto Color

IMG_8185 awb wlpg auto color corrected
Windows Live Photo Gallery Auto Color

In conclusion I’m not trying to tell you that you have to set White Balance before each shooting session.  Auto White Balance (AWB) is amazingly good most of the time.  But I encourage you to experiment with the other settings.  I’ve found that outdoor shots sometimes just look better with White Balance set to Cloudy or Shade, for example.

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One Comment

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  1. Maryann Goldman / Mar 10 2011 11:08 am

    I really like how you showed the comparative pictures in your write-up. It’s a good reminder to take a few trial shots on several settings to see in the LCD what might work. I have trouble figuring out Tungsten vs. Fluorescent sometimes.

    Totally agree that it’s very tough to shoot pics at Build-A-Bear. Been there done that with less than great results.

    The adjustment for skin tone in PSE is also helpful on top of the auto adjust or what you can do in raw if that’s available.

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