GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT


Letting your camera do all the work isn't always the best option especially when it comes to 'white balance', and especially when photographing babies. For newcomers and even some expereinced photographers understanding 'white balance' is often seen as unnecessary and many will resort to using AWB - Auto White Balance.  Having an understanding of how your camera compensates for different light sources and how natural light changes through out the day is vital if you want your photographs to have a pleasing tone and consistency throughout the session.

QUESTION - Take a picture in daylight using a white balance of Tungsten in your camera, what tone do you get and why? 


LEARN THE BASICS

There are plenty of technical tutorials on the fundamentals of colour temperature and white balance so I am going to try and keep this as specific to the baby photographer as possible showing you a simple technique to get it right in and out of camera.

All light sources have a temperature associated with it and it is measured in Kelvin (K). Depending on the temperature the light can be warm or cool and is an inverse of the temperature. High temperatures (bright sunshine) are seen as cooler and lower temperatures (tungsten) are seen as warmer in camera. White balance refers to the adjustment or compensation function that digital cameras have to remove or adjust colours to retain a pure white within an image. Most digital cameras have presets and a manual setting for white balance. If you have a constant light source then compensating or setting your white balance is easy but if you dont know the light temperature or are in a changing light source then achieving a pleasing white balance needs a little more thought. 

As the light temperature from a good flash head will be consistent and reliable, studio flash can be very controlled and it is easy to get the white balance correct by setting a manual white balance in your camera. If you are a natural light baby photographer on the other hand then you need to understand what the day light is doing and how to compensate and measure the light temperature throughout the session so you can give your images a more pleasing tone.

Throughout the day the light temperature changes, sunrise and sunset can produce some lovely warm light whilst in the midday sun the colour temperature is usually high which gives a much whiter or cool light. Overcast and cloudy days can give some nice soft light but the light temperature again will be different to when the sun is shining. So you can imagine during a 5 hour newborn shoot the light temperature may vary from 4500K to 10000K depending on your window postion and weather on the day of your session.


A SIMPLE TECHNIQUE TO GET CONSISTENT TONES IN YOUR IMAGES

The following are some simple techniques to help you get the white balance right rather than guessing. 

1.) The first thing to consider in your natural light studio is what light sources are present. It isn't advisable using two different light sources such as a tungsten/flourescent light bulbs and daylight through a window, so elimante any secondary light sources i.e. the tungsten lightbulb.

2.) Always shoot in RAW - dont be afraid of RAW it is a professional photographers best friend and you may struggle to correct if shooting in Jpeg.

3.) Use a manual white balance such as cloudy or daylight in camera or put in a manual setting and use this for the whole shoot. This will mean your images have consistency throughout the session even if it isnt correct - you will be changing the white balance during the editing ot the images.




Image 1 - Screenshot of a RAW file in Adobe Lightroom.


4.) Have a grey card or white balance colour card handy on every session and take reference shots everytime the light changes or every 30 mins during a session. A grey card is neutral and gives a colour temperature reference when editing in Lightroom or other editing software after the session.  The temperature can be measured with your white balance dropper and this can then be batched across multiple images - consistency!

Image 1 shows the first shot of a recent session. The image shows a grey card placed where the baby will be posed. I have used daylight for the white balance setting and used this throughout the session. You can see the temperature at the right handside and we can see from the image that the temperature is too cold - but how cold?

5.) As far as RAW editing software goes Lightroom is an amazing application that is very easy to fit into your workflow. Lightroom has a very handy tool to help you correct white balance - the White Balance Selector. This looks like a dropper in the white balance window on the right handside of the window.




Image 2 - Using the White Balance Selector Tool


If you click on the dropper you will be able to move it to a point within the image (as shown in image 2 above) - the reference - and then click to tell lightroom that this is a neutral colour or pure white. The grey card in the image acts as a reference for measuring the white balance. The window top left gives you an idea of the final image once the reference point is selected.

6.) The corrected image (image 3 below) should be a much warmer and pleasing image and you can see the exact colour temperature at the right handside 8100K vs. 5500K.




Image 3 - The correct white balance


Now that you have a correct white balance you can synchronise this setting across a selection of images very quickly. It is worth noting that this process should be done several times during the session or as and when the light changes.


SUMMARY

Nobody likes washed out baby photographs and as professional photographers there is no reason to not have pleasing skin tones. Like most things in photography it takes time and experience to get things right and understanding white balance is one of these. Of course there are other tricks and methods to help create beautiful skin tones and most photographers through practise and experience develop there own preferred style and look in camera and in post edit. Understanding your camera and getting it right in camera should be a priority for any professional baby photographer and if you get the basics right in camera then you are on the way to creating beautiful warm baby photographs


ANSWER TO QUESTION - Tungsten is a warm light so when you take a photograph with a tungsten white balance setting in your camera, your camera believes the light is warm so does very little warmth balancing to the image tones. So if you take a photograph in daylight, which is cooler light than tungsten, your camera doesnt warm it up as it needs to and you get a very blue or cool image. Shooting with daylight white balance in tungsten light has the opposite effect a very warm toned image. Simple! ;)
 
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