White Balance Part Three: Seeing Colour

Last time out (click here if you missed it) I spoke about using a White Balance Card (WBC), and using it to set the correct colour balance, covering why you might want to do this, and detailing the 2 ways of working with a WBC (either leave one in a reference shot or use it to set the value in camera).

I started this off by saying that WB isn’t a value, or a colour cast setting you add in camera.

WB is colour balance.

You can edit WB in post, using nothing more expensive and time consuming, than your eye, personal (or client) preference and your judgement.

But before I talk about these, let’s dispel another little WB myth.

You can tell if the WB is correct by looking at the histogram, if one of the 3 colour channels (Red, Blue and Green) is excessively represented, then this means that there’s a colour cast and the WB is wrong

Yeah…. That’s just not true!

Your histogram tells you the luminosity and amount of each colour you have across the image.

So do you know what the histogram of a shot of a red rose, in a red vase, sitting on a red table cloth is going to look like?

Yup, that’s right – pretty damn red πŸ™‚

But that doesn’t mean the shot has a rose tinted colour cast, no, it means it has a rose tinted rose πŸ™‚

For me, for my opinion; it’s the image itself where we must focus our attention when adjusting WB. There’s no magic formulae of AWB adjustment we saw on the internet (although they can get you to a reasonable starting point in certain shots), it’s not as easy as just setting a Kelvin value for each shot (although again this can work sometimes)

No – for me; if you’re not using a WBC &/or want to adjust WB there’s a tool you already own that can work very well:

Your eye and your judgement!

And there’s more ways to work by eye than simply moving the WB/Tint sliders in your application of choice.

Images can be warmed/cooled by adjusting any of (or a combination of) the R G B individual colour channels in the histogram, I’ll just show you what I mean by that, as PERHAPS not all of you are aware of this technique…

So, here’s that shot again. I’ve set the tone curve tool to the blue channel and left it ‘as shot’ by the camera.

Now I’m showing this in RFC, not because it’s the best tool for this, but because it’s free and available for both Win/Mac and if any of you want to replicate this, then you can use exactly the same tool.

That said, this principle is exactly the same in all apps that let you adjust individual colour channels within the tone curve.

So, the base image:

Now we’re going to see what happens if we REDUCE the luminosity of the blue curve.

(and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE – don’t all write in and tell me these look dreadful – I know, I’m deliberating making colossal adjustments to show the effect)

Look how yellow the shot has become πŸ™‚

But why is this?

Well blue sits opposite to yellow on the colour wheel (no promises, but maybe we cover colour theory another time ok?) so we’ve reduced blue, which brings out the yellow.

What’s important to note here though, is that we’ve drastically warmed the shot up.

So if you’ve got a shot that looks a little too cool, dropping the blue curve a little (a little, not a lot like I’ve shown you here) can be all that’s needed

Now let’s see what happens if we INCREASE the luminosity of the blue curve (I think you can guess no?)

Yup, correct – it cools the image down. So if your shot is a bit to yellow, then raising the blue curve can help you out

And personally, one thing I really like about working with curves, we can tailor them to the part of the image we want to adjust.

Highlights too yellow and shadows too blue?

A ‘S’ shaped blue curve adjustment might very well fix that, as you cool the highlights and warm the shadows.

There are of course other tools in many applications to change the colour balance

With the split toning tools, which enables you to change and balance the colour temperature between shadows and highlights

With the Hue, Saturation & Luminance tools, although not strictly speaking WB tools per se; changing individual colours can get the image you want, and let’s be honest, if the result looks good then no one’s going to say “hey you cheated, you used a crap WB, but then hid it with the HSL tools”

After all….

WB is colour. Colours look different to different people, different people like different colours.

There’s far worse ways to work, then simply using your skill and judgement to arrive at the correct destination.

Hopefully you’ve found these articles useful….

…and the next time someone tells you that setting your camera’s WB to Blue -5 & Red +2 (or whatever), or that ‘all sunlight shots should be Kelvin 5500’ you’ll think; there’s more to it than that

But most importantly… The next time you see complaints that camera XYZ has a terrible AWB, you’ll know that it’s not the end of the word, that WB is dependant on so many things, and that this doesn’t bother you, because you’re perfectly comfortable with working with white balance, either with judgement or by a calibrated tool (I use a combination of both).


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