The Non-Automatic Non-White Non-Balance

Put your hackles down – this isn’t racial politics. It is the eternal battle with colour temperature that we, as digital photographers, never had to worry about when we were film photographers. Somewhere along the line I think someone slipped one in on us.

Prior to the WB control there was the ” buy a tungsten film ” control and the ” orange or blue filter ” control plus the exotic one where you purchased an over-run photoflood bulb and tried to get all your pictures taken before it burned out. Essentially you got what you got in colour balance and were grateful for it. By the time the transparencies came back from the lab you had forgotten what the original colours were anyway and were prepared to take whatever was there. In many cases our joy was unbounding when we got back 36 viewable slides.

Not now. You must take custom colour balance shots every time you shift position in a scene and then spend 15 minutes moving sliders on your Lightroom screen to try to match the X-Rite chart to the back of a cornflakes packet. Occasionally you succeed and occasionally everyone looks like stand-ins on the set of ” Willy Wonka “.

My favourite agony is the automatic white balance when it is confronted with the curly light bulb. As these bulbs are now becoming the standard of illumination we will see them more and more in the studio. They are touted to be more stable and longer lasting than the previous halogen bulbs…that were meant to be an improvement on the tungsten filament. Pull the other one. They blow out with the same regularity as their predecessors and cost three times as much to replace. The extra money paid for the bulbs goes into a fund to pay for more advertising to tell us how they don’t blow out…

But back to the white balance. One would think that every source of light there is has some sort of colour temperature and can be brought to some sort of balance. But I’m starting to think this is not the case. I have let the AWB circuits of my Fujifilm cameras play upon this form of lighting – both with light and dark reflectance subjects  – and more often than not the result returned is far away from a clean balance. It can also be far away from a consistent balance – reading as much as 100º Kelvin different in successive shots when they are displayed ” as shot ” in the editing program. I am increasingly relying upon the down-stream correction of the editing programs that sample a spot on the image an pull that back. It’s crude, but effective.

At least the studio strobes do put out a constant temperature – as do the Fujifilm speed lights that I use. I can set a custom WB for 5600ºK and keep to it all through the workflow. Of course the subjective elements of what I shoot will modify this in part, but that is to be expected and can be controlled with placement of elements in the composition.

Please stay tuned to this column as I try out the LED lighting options that are out there.




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