Show description: Chris plays catch-up with his friend CC Chapman, Tom wants to know what the dead sea has done to his colors, Rich has an interesting question about WB when shooting black-and-white and Denis from Montreal has an interesting … Continue reading
Photographers often deal with a variety of light sources, each of which has it’s own color cast. When compared to daylight in the middle of the day, tungsten lighting, like that which comes from traditional incandescent bulbs, looks yellow. Standard fluorescent lighting looks green. Light in shade, or on a cloudy day will have a bluish cast compared to midday sun. These color casts are referred to as the color temperature of the light. Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin. To beginners, color temperature will appear to be a bit backwards. From 2000°K to about 3000°K are warm tones, and above 5000°K are cooler tones, getting progressively more bluish as the color temperature goes higher. Midday sun tends to be at around 5500°K – 6000°K, while the sun at the horizon is warmer, at about 5000°K. Overcast daylight will be around 6500°K, and shaded daylight will be around 7000°K.
Thankfully, today’s digital cameras have a tool to correct for the different color casts created by the various light sources we encounter. For beginners, using the Auto White Balance setting is an excellent start. The camera will try to neutralize the color cast caused by different light sources and give the image a pleasing balance. However, while a neutral color balance is often desirable, there are times when as artists, we may want to use the white balance tool to creative effect.
You can choose what kind of mood you want to set before shooting if you like, by choosing a preset white balance. Most cameras offer Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Fluorescent, Tungsten, Flash, Custom, and Kelvin temperature white balance settings. These settings will neutralize the color cast from the light source they are designed for. For instance, Fluorescent neutralizes the greenish cast given off by fluorescent light. Custom white balance is a user defined setting where you tell the camera what in the scene should be white, and the camera corrects to make it so. Finally, the Kelvin white balance setting allows you to choose the color temperature of the light source you are shooting in. If you choose to use the presets in lighting other than what they are designed for, your image will be warmer or cooler, depending on your setting and the available light.
For all of those settings, the camera is simply looking to make white look white. While that may be what you want, by intentionally setting a different white balance, you can add to the mood. Choosing Shady or Cloudy white balance will warm up your image, and choosing tungsten will cool your image. This type of thing is done constantly in movies and television shows to help set the mood. Photographers as well choose their white balance to set the mood. A cooler color cast gives the image a colder, harsher feel, while a warm color cast is generally seen as inviting.
If you shoot only JPEG, you’ll be stuck with whatever white balance you had selected at the time of shooting, so if you want to change the mood by adjusting your white balance, you’ll have to choose to do this beforehand. However, if you shoot RAW, the white balance can be adjusted after the fact, using whichever RAW converter you choose. You’ll be able to choose from the presets that are loaded in the camera, click in the image to determine what color should actually be white, or you can simply select Kelvin white balance, and using a slider, adjust the white balance in degrees Kelvin and see what the different color temperatures look like.
By taking control of the white balance, you give yourself another tool that can alter the mood of your images and allow you to better communicate what you want to say with your image. Not every image will benefit by shifting the white balance setting, and there will be some photographers who will be adamant that you should always shoot to the “correct” white balance. As the artist, this is your time to exercise your creative license and do what feels right to you.
I am always looking for more interesting and unique ways to take interesting and beautiful portraits. It is a personal challenge for me to push my own creative envelope as much as possible so that I am constantly broadening my own bold and colorful style. There are so many ways to take a portrait the possibilities are almost endless and the range of emotional and psychological expressions that can be achieved are truly spectacular. Portraits can be editorial, lifestyle, fashion, glamour or extremely creative in style and the true wonderment of any portrait is the amazingly, maddening ability of the human face to portray expression in so many captivating ways. So let’s look at a more creative way to take a portrait that I think gives the final photo a simply stunning look.
Before we get into the details of shooting, I think a little review of white balance is in order as this technique involves a basic understanding of the topic. Every light that we take photographs in, whether it be an incandescent light bulb indoors or the bright shining sun outdoors, is made of of a different spectrum of colors. Now when we look at objects under these light sources with our own eyes, we take it for granted that our vision compensates for all the different color casts of these lights amazingly well and we get a pretty standard representation of all colors in the scene. Basically, when we look at something that is supposed to be white in varying light conditions, our brain interprets the situation and our eye sees it as white. The camera works a little bit different.
The camera sees color in a much different way and has a less sophisticated way to interpret colors under different lighting situations. This is where the white balance setting helps us out. Many photographers that I know tend to keep there cameras white balance on the automatic setting. With the automatic white balance setting, your camera searches for a white reference point in the scene you are shooting. Then all of the other colors are set to this reference point. Therefore, your camera tries to make an educated guess to ensure the colors are represented correctly in your photo. The problem is that sometimes the camera is wrong and we have to bypass the automatic settings and go to that very scary place of setting the white balance in a more manual way, either by using the preset settings that the camera contains or even, heaven forbid, we might have to use some sort of white balancing device to help set our colors. There is a wealth of knowledge on this subject and I encourage you to pursue this topic at your leisure. You can also click on the following links for a decent explanation and breakdown of white balance (DPS-Intro to White Balance and White Balance in Digital Photography). The take home message is simply that we have to be conscious of how our camera views color and understand that we might have to give it some help by changing our camera’s white balance setting.
Now that we have introduced the concept of white balance let’s turn the tables on this subject and manipulate it to create some drama and eloquence in a portrait. The lighting setups for these portraits can be seen in the following diagrams:
Essentially, both diagrams are the same with the only difference being the placement of the light with the shoot through umbrella. I switched it from one side to the other just to see what sort of difference it made and concluded that both light placements worked just fine.
The overall concept for the shot was to contrast the old, decayed tree with the young beautiful model (Brittney) and to highlight each with some warm and cool tones for effect. So where does one start with getting the camera settings and flash setup properly?
First, lets talk about the manipulation of the white balance. I used an Alien Bees 1600 flash unit set at full power, covered with a full CTO (color temperature orange) gel, and modified with a shoot through umbrella. The CTO gel is commonly used to balance the color of light from the flash to that of a tungsten light bulb. Thus, when one is shooting flash in an indoor setting, the color of the flash matches the color of the light bulbs in the room and a camera white balance setting switched to tungsten will create a wonderfully balanced color palette in the photo. When used outdoors, a CTO gelled flash, combined with a white balance setting to tungsten, will balance the colors for anything upon which the flash falls. However, this tungsten white balance setting will also cause the sky and anything not receiving light from the flash to take on a majestic deep blue color cast that can be captivating. Compositionally, this simple white balance manipulation creates a mix of cool blue tones with warm orange tones that works fantastically well and makes the image pop.
Now, if you find yourself a little anxious about using flash outdoors you should go ahead and relax cause you can definitely pull off this shot. Before you start shooting with any flash at all, the very first thing you want to do is meter the scene and reduce your exposure about 2 stops so that the background is underexposed. Doing this in full daylight requires a few considerations and I recommend shooting either in the morning or the evening so that the sun is not too high in the sky, otherwise you will have a hard time getting your flash to overpower the sun. Camera settings are pretty easy to figure out. First, the white balance needs to be set to tungsten to get the desired effect. You are shooting in daylight and want the background underexposed so low ISO is a must which in my case was 200. The shutter speed cannot be too fast as it can only be that of your flashes sync speed which in my case was 1/200 seconds. What does this mean exactly? If you set your shutter speed faster than your flash can fire, the shutter will open and close before any light from the flash can be seen by the camera and you will never capture your flash in the image. So the only real variable was the aperture in this case which in order to get 2 stops underexposed for the background had to be at f/16. Basically, the environment for the shoot had already dictated my camera settings.
Since my camera settings were already determined, the only thing I needed to do was to turn on my CTO covered flash and adjust the power until I could see the effect in the image. Since I am shooting in daylight and trying to overpower the sun I knew I would need a lot of power from my flash and actually had brought a second flash unit just in case I needed more power then one flash head had to offer. I started with one flash about 5 feet from the subject at full power and took a few sample shots and it was just a little shy on power. I moved the flash as close to the subject as I could without it being in the frame (about 2.5 feet) and took a few more shots and it looked great. A few outfit changes and a serendipitous bit of sun flare from behind the tree and I had the makings for a stunning set of portraits. I hope this post encourages you to not only push your creative boundaries, but also to take a small step further into the excitingly surprising realm of flash photography.
It is often said that photography is a visual language. Through our photographs we tell stories, share experiences, and communicate emotions. Aside from journalism, where faithful captures are important for ethics reasons, photography is often about creatively interpreting a scene, rather than simply recording what is in front of the lens.
Creative use of color can be a powerful tool for controlling the mood in your photographs. In a series of three posts I will discuss three Lightroom controls that can be used to control color and mood in your photos:
1. White Balance
2. Split Toning
3. Tone Curve
In this first article in the series I will discuss white balance, the simplest of the three tools.
Note: I shoot Raw and import my photos into Lightroom, converting to DNG on the way into Lr. Shooting Raw gives me much more flexibility to make creative color decisions in post processing. The screenshots from are from Lightroom 4, but with the exception of the Tone Curve technique that I will cover in Part 3 of the series, these techniques can be used in previous versions of Lightroom.
White balance allows you to control the overall color temperature of your image, and adjust for different light sources like tungsten, daylight, flash, etc. If you’ve never heard of white balance take a look at this post.
Most of the time you’ll read that white balance is there to help you get accurate color in your photos. This article is not about accurate color. For the next few minutes, forget about accurate color and let’s just look at how white balance can be used to change the mood in a photo. I like to think of white balance as just another tool for controlling color image my images. Thinking of white balance this way is liberating and encourages experimentation.
Notice how a cool white white balance creates a totally different mood than a warm white balance for the same scene? Which of the above images do you prefer? When you feel like getting creative with your images, try shifting the white balance either cooler or warmer for creative effect.
I hope this article has encouraged you to think creatively about white balance, and to experiment with shifting white balance for creative effect. I love hearing your feedback, please comment below or feel free to connect with me through Facebook or Google+.
In Part 2 of the Creative Color series I will discuss Spit Toning, and demonstrate how white balance and split toning used together for even more creative control over color.