White Balance Part One: I’m not a Number

White Balance. (Also known as colour balance)

Let’s have a little discussion about white balance! Like most things camera related on the net, opinions can get a little ‘shirty’ when technical things are discussed.

So with that in mind, let’s not be too technical… if you want to know about the technics of white balance, then there’s innumerable resources on the net (not to mention books!) and of course Wikipedia has a page about it here

No, let’s talk about White Balance (WB) as a tool.

In the world of Fuji (and in fact most if not all cameras), there’s the odd complaint about the Auto White Balance (AWB) feature, that it renders too hot or too cold or has blue or green or yellow colour casts.

People like to make suggestions about getting a better looking AWB

Fuji are happy to provide the technology for this, even the AWB can be user tweaked to add or subtract colour.

So we frequently see very well meaning comments on the internet, popular forum suggestions are:

To improve the AWB do the following:

B(lue) +1 & R(ed) +1
B-3 & R+2
B2 & R0
B-3 & R0

Do you want to take a look at these frequently suggested settings?


Standard AWB


B+1 & R+1


B-3 R+2


B+2 & R0


B-3 & R0

Now you can look at all of these and think, I personally prefer the look of image XYZ

But can it really be so? Can we really make a little colour cast adjustment to Fuji’s AWB and live happily every after, never experiencing any colour cast issues again?

Ha!

Of course not.

The clue is in the fact that these suggested settings are all quite different, yet are the favoured settings of some people.

How can we not agree on which is the best WB setting?

Well folks because it’s just not that simple!!

The colours we get in our pictures change. They change depending on the light (eg golden hour or blue hour), the time of day, the time of the year, where we live on the globe and of course; what’s actually in the shot.

What works for me, living in the northern hemisphere in a southern European country might not work for someone living somewhere completely different.

There’s also the question of WB Kelvin numbers.

Again, plenty of info on this out there on the internet.

But in the briefest summary I can think of..

Different light adheres to a different value on the Kelvin chart.

For example, shade might be 7000-9000 Kelvin, sunlight might be 5000-5500 Kelvin, and artificial light might range between 2500-3500.

So… Could we conceivably just learn the Kelvin chart, then select a WB Kelvin number based on the light?

Certainly our Fujis (and most cameras) offer this feature.

Technically – yes, we could.

But PERSONALLY FOR ME, no.

You see, the reported Kelvin value in your RAW file, varies between software!

For example:

Here’s a SOOC X-Pro2 Jpeg.

Do you like the colour, do you think it’s realistic? Some of you will, some of you wont.

Why? Well different screens, devices, our own personal (yet subconscious) penchant for colour.

It’s not important if ‘you’ like it… It’s important that the photographer is happy with it (and the client likes it 🙂 )

But this was a fairly bright day, taken at 13:20, so pretty strong light.

So let’s open the RAF in various RAW convertors and see what they have to say about Kelvin value and colour deflection (aka tint)!

SilkyPix Pro7 – 4646 / Colour deflection +5
RFC (Supplied by Fuji) – 4646 / Colour deflection +5
Lightroom CC – 5000 / Colour deflection +9
PhotoNinja – 4150 / Colour deflection +31

So we see how WB isn’t really a Kelvin number (sic, of course it really is, but bear with me!!), but in PRACTICAL application it’s more of a colour decision made by the software we use rather than a value that we/AWB selects in camera.

The 2 extremes of the above (LR and PhotoNinja) are 8500 Kelvin and +26 colour deflection apart… and that’s on EXACTLY the same RAW file.

So if someone says, “hey the WB of that shot should be Kelvin XYZ” then make sure to ask them which software they need you to use to get the desired result 🙂

So, let’s recap:

WB varies on external parameters – light obviously, but more generally time of day, location on the globe – which is why making a global AWB colour cast adjustment on your camera, based on what you read in an internet forum can be a bit hit and miss

WB can be measured on the Kelvin chart. Except that none of the RAW convertors seem to agree on what exactly the number should be!

So suddenly things apparently get a little convoluted no?

Learning the Kelvin chart or setting up your camera how someone suggests on the internet, might very well NOT work out for you, and almost certainly won’t on every shot.

So what to do?

Well there’s a couple of things.. The clue to one is in the photograph above.

We’ll cover the first of them in the next instalment!

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