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Trying to understand white balance


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  • 3 weeks later...

My camera is an Olympus OMD-EM5 Mark II.  It has white balance settings: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Custom 1 and 2.  My shipyard is illuminated by warm white LED fixtures (I don’t like the bright white LEDs).  I use the custom white balance setting, which required me to set it using a piece of white paper.  I put it on the bench where I usually take pictures of my model.  I’ve used Canon Digital EOS cameras in the past and they work very similarly.  If you’re not sure how to do this, look it up in your user manual or search for it on the internet.  It makes a big difference in your photos.  Also, the setting stays through power cycles, so you don’t have to redo it each time you pull out the camera.  If your lighting hasn’t changed, then you’re all set.

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On 6/24/2021 at 10:23 AM, Matt D said:

(I don’t like the bright white LEDs).

I would say: I don't like to look directly bright LED, it is like looking directly at the sun, it has a blinding effect.

This is why LED light should have intensity control to adjust to the work you want to do.

 

Before LED lighting, it was halogen lighting. In a way it is similar in lighting to a warm LED, they both add orange in the colors.

 

LED lighting can not only be useful for photography but for working also. To maximize LED lighting, you should use the right amount of lighting: not too little, you will not see everything and not too much, everything will be too bright and also you will not see everything. This is why it is preferable to be able to adjust the intensity. In fact it will be the same thing with photography, light intensity needs to be adjust.

 

 

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  • 4 months later...

It is also useful to distinguish between the technical and aesthetic aspects of lighting and colour. There is a lot of psychology involved in both colour and lighting. Something that is technically correct, may not fulfill an individual's aesthetic requirements and vice versa.

 

Most 'white' paints are not necessarily of a 'neutral' white colour in a technical sense, but are slightly yellowish due to the materials used or the way they have been adjusted by the manufacturers. Correcting their appearance to a 'neutral' white using e.g. the colour correction feature in Photoshop may lead to displeasing or confusing results. 

 

Some modellers go at great length to kit out their workshop with 'day-light' (5500 K) lighting in order to get the colours 'right' on their models. On the other hand, models are typically viewed under a variety of artificial light sources and not under daylight. So, a model painted under 5500 K would look different from what it should look like.

 

My point basically was that colour 'correction' is a very subjective process, unless it is done for a specific technical purpose.

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1 hour ago, wefalck said:

My point basically was that colour 'correction' is a very subjective process, unless it is done for a specific technical purpose.

 

A photographer will set his camera before taking pictures and the the color will be set, because one of the goals in taking a photo is to get the good colors.

But then, if I look the photos on a cheap tv monitor, it will be worthless.

 

On the other hand what you call a subjective process is in fact  just a matter of personal preferences, and in this domain, everybody is right.

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2 hours ago, wefalck said:

unless it is done for a specific technical purpose

This is the key point.   Technical Photography is a very different beast.  I preform technical photography at work on institutional collections.   The main rule - no matter how you achieve it - is that colors must be recorded as accurately as possible, whether for facsimile production or documentation purposes.   We mainly use white-balance in the camera, using tunable LED panels set at 5500K, shot tethered to a system with calibrated monitors.   We also use  color checker cards by X-Rite, and do minimal post-processing in Lightroom.   The standards say that if done correctly, you really shouldn't be doing any "correction" after the fact.  

 

If all goes well and you've got a good color profile and a nice printer you should be able to reproduce those colors in print very accurately.  

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"The standards say that if done correctly, you really shouldn't be doing any "correction" after the fact."

 

Most of us non- (or not so) technical people with make-shift photographic set-ups have limitations to do things 'correctly'. For these people mainly post-processing is meant (or for working with it creatively, as I do).

 

I am guilty of using 'wrong' and mixed lighting, simply because I am lacking the space to set up a proper photographing facility and have to make do with what I have.

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4 hours ago, wefalck said:

Most of us non- (or not so) technical people with make-shift photographic set-ups have limitations to do things 'correctly'.

I totally agree.  I wasn't suggesting a right way to do things.    I was simply offering a different perspective - one where post-processing is taboo and color correction, in particular, is avoided at all costs.   There are many standards that stipulate the rules on these things, many of them specific to the types of things you are photographing.  Everything is stipulated ahead of time.  

 

My own ship modeling photography is not to this standard.  While technical photography can be beautiful, it rarely allows you the freedom to highlight specific details over the whole in creative and beautiful ways.   I have no opinion on what is best...   

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7 hours ago, Justin P. said:

 Technical Photography is a very different beast. 

I totally agree, Justin, and I am glad to see you use this term.  I tried to make a comment similar to this on another thread but was misunderstood and received comments about all photography being "technical" so I thought that perhaps it was a term used only in the antipodes.

 

John

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I used to do forensic photography back in the days of film.  Correct color balance was vital and you didn't dial it into the camera.  We used filters to correct for the lighting and it was tricky.  I used to start every roll of film with a shot of an 18% gray card with color chips (of a known value) and the lab used the settings they got when printing the gray card/color chips (standard tools of the trade) to print the rest of the prints so they all matched.  It was so critical that I used only Canon lenses - no Vivitars or other brands - and the guys who shot with Nikons only used Nikon lenses - no other brands.  Just like light meters are hardly used today ask anybody today about a color meter and they will look at you like you are from Mars.

 

Setting a white balance today is a walk in the park in comparison.

 

When digital first appeared on the scene there were all sorts of articles in the pro publications about how the images could be manipulated and the courts would never allow digital to be used in court.  They were wrong, but when the first digital images were finally allowed it was a real challenge to provide everything they might require the photographer to provide to make them certain the image(s) were accurate.  It got to the point where I was happy to get out of the business because of the hassle.  I had to give up a very lucrative business I did on my days off from the FD when I got promoted and put on a 40 hour M-F work week.  It came at the right time for me (getting the gold Chief's badges and pay raise mostly made up for the loss from the business) because it was getting to be a grind. 

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CAUTION: I am about to "step on some folks toes" with the following comments.

 

I have been photographing things for more than a half century. Early on I worried a lot about getting the "correct" colors. But eventually I realized that there are no correct colors. Allow me to explain.

 

When I was about 5 years old I discovered that my two eyes do not see the same colors. The right eye sees things a bit redder than the left eye. This was very useful in film days, because I had a built in "skylight filter" (old time film photographers will know what that means).

 

By the time I was 8 years old I understood the basics of optics - our eyes see light reflected from distant objects - and realized that the light reaching both eyes must be composed of the same wavelengths. So one eye had to be "wrong." I soon realized that maybe both eyes were "wrong." I have no way to know if what I see is the same as what anyone else sees! But we all agree to the names we give to colors, whatever we see.

 

By the time I entered middle school I was very skeptical of what everyone else seemed to believe was reality. This skepticism has served me well as a scientist, photographer and artist. I understood that the colors of objects were dependent upon the color of the lighting. So there is no "correct" color for anything. It is totally subjective.

 

When I entered U.S. Naval Officer's Candidate School I was given extensive eye exams, and I am not color blind. I can see all colors with both eyes, but I see two different versions of each. And I had extraordinary eyesight, better that 20:15, so they wanted me to be a pilot.

 

As a scientist I used many types of chromatography and spectral analysis, and I studied the chemistry of color - why and how different chemical bonds absorb and reflect different wavelengths. Absorption and emission is a property of the the excitation states of electrons in atoms and the nature of chemical bonds, but even there the wavelengths are dependent upon environmental conditions. There are no absolute colors! Color is purely a fiction of our minds.

 

When I took up wildflower photography as a hobby at first  I worried a lot about getting the "right" color. But I soon realized that there is no right color. Flowers of the same species have a variety of colors depending upon the plant's physiology, soil mineral composition, rainfall, plant age, lighting conditions and who knows what else.

 

So I no longer try to get "perfect" colors. I just try to get pleasing images, and detailed images to illustrate the morphology of plants or the details of my models.

 

Yes, it is possible to try to establish the "right" lighting colors and intensity ("right" being whatever you define it to be), and to try to get reproducible reproduction of the color spectrum in each and every case. If you want to go on "chasing your tails" and seeking perfection, go ahead. But you will never succeed. Whatever type of display you use to display images, or process to create prints, no two will be the exact same, and even the same devices will produce different colors depending upon temperature, humidity, lighting and who knows what other variables. And they will all likely change with time. But in the end the colors that viewers see will be entirely dependent upon their genomes and the viewing conditions.

Edited by Dr PR
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Interesting observation that the two eyes see different colours. Somehow I would have thought that the brain kind of processes the physically different information into a homogeneous impression - as our brain processes optical impressions to conform with a certain expected reality (when you get new cylindrical or progressive glasses your brain has to adapt to the new optical signals, for instance ...).

 

When I was 18 I intended to join the navy for a three-year course as trainee officer and as my father was severely colour blind, he sent me to take an exam, which I passed with flying colours so to speak. I remember one task was to put about twenty purples and blues into the right spectral order in addition to the classical Ishihara-plates. And, well, my wife asks me for my advice when it comes to mixing and matching colours ;)

 

Started photography in earnest in 1972 and actually read textbooks at the time on the 'technical' aspects of photography, but soon realised that I had a certain 'image' in my mind that I wanted to take - which is completely independent of any 'correct' colour. There were neutral grey cards and a colour meter in the parental household, but I never had a real need in practice to use them for my kind of photography.

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6 hours ago, Dr PR said:

If you want to go on "chasing your tails" and seeking perfection, go ahead. But you will never succeed.

 

Too much is like not enough. The idea is to take a photo with similar colors as what the eye sees, there is no need to go to the extreme.

 

The main goal of all that, is only to adjust the camera... and the white balance, before taking photos and when the camera is well adjusted, there will be no need to retouch the photos after.

 

Everyone is free to use the calibration he prefers, some of it would fit in the category of the "personal preferences" and as in the truth, everyone has his own truth and everyone has his own preferences.

 

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16 hours ago, bartley said:

I tried to make a comment similar to this on another thread but was misunderstood and received comments about all photography being "technical" so I thought that perhaps it was a term used only in the antipodes.

I assure you "technical photography" is very real.  Reams of literature on the subject and many, many practicing technicians in the world.   However the term is used rather loosely when compared to things like "creative photography."   One can be both a technical and creative photographer.      In an effort to express themselves artistically, many photographers utilize highly technical skills and knowledge with their chosen equipment.   

 

With "technical photography" as I use the term, the goal is to capture and record information - as accurately as possible.   Much like "forensic photography" described by Kurt, there are rules - lots of them.   Much of the creativity employed in this arena surrounds sometimes very challenging scenarios.   The technical photographer uses a sort of creative engineering to capture the images at the required standard even when studio conditions are not available.  

https://chsopensource.org/1-technical-photography-tp/

 

I also agree the much of what @Dr PR has said.   Color rendition and perception is a fickle beast.  In my particular field the main goal of "chasing our tails," is to have as accurate a record as possible of a given objects state of condition.  It is not a perfect science to be sure - but every effort is made.   The information we collect is only part of a larger set of data used to make decisions about what is happening in an objects life and what effects its environment and/or preservation are having over time.   So even if the color of something is not perfectly captured, if the same exact parameters are employed a year later, we should have a reliable record that we can use for comparison.    This is just one piece.   We might have also employed a color-densitometer - which is a harder tool to fool than the human eye.    I suppose the main difference here is that you are creating a record not a work of art.  

 

To return the original post - my only piece of advice, based on my personal understanding of photography of objects is to set your white balance in camera.   The auto features usually do a pretty good job - but sometimes dont - and if you are having trouble, an alternative to expensive software is to just try setting the white balance yourself.  For most cameras this process is straightforward, is well described in your manual, and all you really need is a white sheet of paper to do a better job than "auto."    

 

 

 

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Interesting discussion and a lot of good points. For once in this post there aren't a bunch of so called experts trying to out-expert one another but instead shared ideas and perspectives based on experience and background and nature of photographic work.

 

I shoot creatively, nothing like Justin describes is a part of my detailed, and creative or not, technical process in capturing an image. Digital photography eliminates the need for gray and Color X-rite cards (I had both back in the day) unless you're held to the rules Justin must comply with. I shoot only RAW, with that White Balance is what I want it to be to create a pleasing landscape scene (www.glennbarlow.com if your interested) in post processing. I spend as much time in Lightroom and Photoshop as I do taking the image. Of course all the post processing work and camera white balance setting done won't help if you can't technically take a proper image, you have to know how to manage the camera first and the creative composition second. My only point here is photography is a broad ranging field. Landscape isn't portraits, portraits aren't forensic, forensic isn't scientific, even if the same camera and lens (All Nikon for me) is used. I just converted from DSLRs to Mirrorless, Nikon's Z7ii, Sony, and Canon mirrorless are opening new technical and subsequently creative possibilities for photographers. I did it mostly because it reduced the weight of my backpack by 12 pounds including the lenses I carry, but still.  Bottom line, everyone's opinion and perspective of technical and creative photography stems from the perspective of their photographic experience and work purpose and everyone is right.

 

Back to the topic of White Balance; shooting RAW I can change white balance to whatever works for me in post, including that of a 18% gray card should I choose. I can't be random about it when photographing my grandchildren, those images must be technically correct, more of that is done in camera based and driven by the Profoto B10 flash I normally use or skin tone if no flash is involved. Even with the sophistication and processing power of today's camera it's worth noting that Auto White Balance (my camera has multiple Auto options) is turning over the color decision over to the camera. Since I shoot in RAW it doesn't matter, I can adjust it in post, however if shooting .jpegs there are less capability to correct it.  Auto can result in different white balance results shooting the same image minutes apart or by moving the camera a few degrees since the processor in the camera is judging different things to determine what it deems to be an optimal white balance. And while you can set your own white balance (e.g. 5500) the Daylight, Flash, and Cloudy settings are also fixed settings that don't allow the camera to decide and generally all you need. I used to leave my camera on Cloudy for landscape work on my old cameras (its warmer) but Auto 1 on my newer Nikons is right more than its wrong, so that's what I use now.

 

One last point, inside fluorescent lighting messes with white balance more than anything nature can do, that's where shooting RAW can really come in handy if you're not subjected to rigorous rules for image capture, or you want to be technically correct to capture a creative image of your model.

 

Last, last point. Color is color, it's what our eyes and brain interpret it to be. Arguing over who's method for achieving the best color is like arguing over who has the best looking grandchild, what's the point. Clearly mine are. (again Justin's record rules notwithstanding).

Edited by glbarlow
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Wefalck,

 

You are correct about the brain "fixing" the color differences between the two eyes. I actually see three colors - left eye only (cool or bluish shades), right eye only (warm or reddish shades), and the color blend my brain creates when both eyes are open. The differences are very subtle and I don't normally notice unless I deliberately try. Like looking at outdoor clear sky shaded scenes with my right eye to see what a skylight filter would do on my film cameras.

 

****

 

I do understand the need for precision or accuracy in some situations. I have done a lot of work with spectroscopy, and there we try to determine the exact wavelengths of absorption or emission spectra. This is critical in chemistry, physics and astronomy, just to name a few fields. And if you want to get into it really deep, just look at color printing or paint mixing!

 

The goal in digital photography would be to relate a given wavelength of light (color) to a specific digital value. Colors are implemented in RGB (red green blue) on displays or CMY (cyan magenta yellow) for printing. The idea is to represent each shade or hue as a different numerical value.

 

In most digital images there are 255 intensities of red, green and blue, each ranging from 0 to 255, expressed as RRR,GGG,BBB. 255x255x255 = 14,630,625 different colors. But this could be any number, such as 1024x1024x1024=1,073,741,824 possible colors.  Few, if any, cameras, displays, printers or scanners can come close to actually reproducing this many colors.

 

In the real world there are an infinite number of possible wavelengths, So it is not possible to represent them all with binary numbers (unless you have an infinitely large memory).  Therefore absolute color precision is not possible with digital imaging.

 

The next problem is assigning digital values to wavelengths. Exactly what wavelength does 255,0,0 represent? This is arbitrary, as are most things in the real world. But we can define a value, just as we can define the wavelength of the color we perceive as "red." For archival photography the goal is to capture an image that can be related to some standard color scheme, so sometime in the future people can reproduce the colors as accurately as possible.

 

But for most photography none of this matters. We just want pictures that are pleasing or satisfy our needs. But I do agree that if you are not planning to post process the images you should correct for white balance.

Edited by Dr PR
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Talking about spectroscopy: I didn't look into this, but it should be possible to calibrate the camera sensors against the visible spectrum using e.g. emitters with discrete spectral lines, such as Na.

 

I am intrigued by this colour vision difference between the eyes and have to set up a test in which the illumination of the object is such that it is exactly the same for looking with one or the other eye. So far I did not notice a real difference ... 

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If I may? 

 

The first line of the OP, is clearly wrong. We do NOT want colours to be true. If only photography was that simple...

 

What you want is YOUR interpretation of the subject you are photographing, whether that be a landscape, portrait or a model ship. The only times this may not apply is scientific or forensic photography.

 

Far too many people get themselves bogged down with the technical aspects of digital photography, and, frankly, there really is no need. As another poster has said, I also shoot RAW images, but this is a whole aspect if photography that the average person does not need. Nearly all modern digital cameras, even the cheap ones are quote capable of producing acceptable,  if not outstanding results - even camera phones. 

 

Don't fret about it. It's more important to have a sharply focused image  a non distracting background and well balanced lighting.

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Off on a slight tangent but it does involve photography and the 'talent' is an interesting, ancient subject ..... https://www.model-engineer.co.uk/forums/postings.asp?th=174972

 

It involves the 'Antikythera Mechanism Research Project' - the 2.000 yr old lump of brass that was found on the sea bed, and turned out to be a very sophisticated lunar calendar.

 

X-ray photography was used on the 'lump' to see inside.  Now some posters are starting to ask if the way the photography was done may be misleading the Project team members.

 

The discussion really starts to warm up on pg 5 (IIRC) when one of the Project team joins the discussion.

 

Richard

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4 hours ago, Steve G said:

technical aspects of digital photography, and, frankly, there really is no need.

I shoot all my build log photos with my iPhone 12 Pro mostly because it’s a pretty good camera, in that case or casual photography for most people, like those that use Auto on their cameras, your statement might hold.  Anyone doing serious photography, I offered up my website as example, certainly has a need for understanding the technical aspects of photography for a capturing a quality image.  Not wave lengths or museum rules technical but definitely manipulating how the camera captures the image including in some cases managing RGB channels. Perhaps it’s a misunderstanding of “technical” in this scenario, or perhaps the camera is in Auto.

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17 minutes ago, glbarlow said:

I shoot all my build log photos with my iPhone 12 Pro

I do too.   Quite frankly, if I had to use a regular camera, the process of transfer and all that would likely lead to far less content in my build logs.   What helps motivate me to post, is the ease with which I can quickly shoot as Im working and move to my computer and already have the images waiting for me on the laptop.   I don't have to do anything but quickly review them and choose which I will use. 

 

I use a mirrorless DSLR for Gallery images though, set my white balance to auto on my Fuji XT-2 using a 35mm lens, set up a cheapo DIY studio in the garage and shoot.   The results are better than an Iphone as they convey depth a bit better.   Not research worthy images at all, but nice to look at on an internet forum - which to me is the main goal. 

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6 hours ago, Dr PR said:

You are correct about the brain "fixing" the color differences between the two eyes. I actually see three colors - left eye only (cool or bluish shades), right eye only (warm or reddish shades), and the color blend my brain creates when both eyes are open. The differences are very subtle and I don't normally notice unless I deliberately try. Like looking at outdoor clear sky shaded scenes with my right eye to see what a skylight filter would do on my film cameras.

This is very interesting.   Im suprised that after a lifetime you can still notice.   A relative of mine is colorblind and never knew it until he was told by optometrist - lived a full 45 years without a clue.   He still doesnt really believe it - until he got his hands on those glasses that are meant to reveal what the rest of the world see's.   Which now seem a bit dubious having read some of the comments here about color and subjectivity.    

 

Not wanting to get off-topic but your situation reminds me of those people with certain eye deficiencies where they are given only one corrective lens, with which the brain can use to correct for both eyes - or some such thing.  

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Well, some people don't seem to have much of a colour vision, my father was one of them. I remember that he asked me once to fetch a particular blue book from his study, but I had to return with empty hands, as I could not find the book at the indicated location. When he finally fished himself the book from the shelf, it turned out to be green ;)  He never wore coloured ties only silver ones - just to be on the safe side.

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1 hour ago, glbarlow said:

I shoot all my build log photos with my iPhone 12 Pro mostly because it’s a pretty good camera, in that case or casual photography for most people, like those that use Auto on their cameras, your statement might hold.  Anyone doing serious photography, I offered up my website as example, certainly has a need for understanding the technical aspects of photography for a capturing a quality image.  Not wave lengths or museum rules technical but definitely manipulating how the camera captures the image including in some cases managing RGB channels. Perhaps it’s a misunderstanding of “technical” in this scenario, or perhaps the camera is in Auto.

It depends on what purpose you picture is for. Most people just want a good, acceptable picture for their own use or to publish on social media. If you are talking about printed magazine reproduction then yes, you need to know about white balance, colour rendition etc. But relatively few people need this sort of technical knowledge and if they do, they are much better using a pro photographer in the first place.

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