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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

White Balance

I made an interesting observation: Somehow the majority of my male friends become daddy this year. Congratulations! A somewhat natural reaction once the baby is delivered is grabbing a camera and go crazy with it. So I got an email from a friend who played with his camera asking: "what is 'white balance' all about?" He asked me to answer this shortly and in clear words. I will try:

A camera is not as smart as a human eye. Your camera is like a person suffering from Alzheimer's disease. You have to say: "hello camera, this is white". Then the camera says: "well, if this is white, than this must be red, this dark red, and this light red, and then this is blue...". If you don't do this whenever the lighting situation changes, the camera gets confused.

Imagine the following: You take a nice landscape picture where the sun is your light source. You have green grass in it and a white sheet of paper somewhere in the picture. If you set the white balance correctly, the paper appears plain white and the grass green.
Now you take this sheet and bring it inside your house. You lower all the blinders and the only light source you have is a bulb. Now the same sheet appears rather yellowish (warmer), due to the warm color temperature of your light source. What you have to do now is, show the sheet of paper to the camera and tell: "The light in this room has a different color temperature than the light outside and white looks now like this." If you don't do this, the colors in the final picture will appear very warm, so that the sheet looks very yellow and people's faces even more yellow.

Fortunately, almost all cameras can be set to automatic so they figure this out by themselves whenever you take a picture. Some cameras are good in this, some are less. Most cameras also have presets for different situations.

In case you want to know what I do: I don't take pictures in JPEG format but in RAW. The RAW format allows me to set the white balance after taking the picture.

6 comments:

Francesco said...

Very good explanation !
I checked the mother wikipedia for whitebalance before you had the chance to reply. But your explanation is a good add-On to the article in the german wiki. I also read, that it is possible to do the white balance afterwards as you wrote. Good to know, that in this case, I have to save the images RAW ;)
You once wrote about a program you use to work with raw files, the company was bought by adobe... this might be quite expensive now - is there a free/Shareware you can recommend ?

Cheerz,
Francesco

Anonymous said...

fluck, is it already time for a
happy birthday ? ;)

regards,

Heinz-Werner

Oliver said...

@the one and only heinz-werner
no!
:-)

Oliver said...

Rawshooter Essentials is available for free:
http://www.pixmantec.com/products/rawshooter_essentials.asp

You need to know that the RAW format looks different on every camera, since it is basically the unprocessed data your camera's sensor delivers. It's not guaranteed that every software can handle your files, if your camera is an exotic or very old model. Happy shooting!

snirgel said...

Mehr solcher gut erklärten Tipps wären ne coole Sache......

Oliver said...

Okay, what would you like to read about?

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