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Camera Profiles and White Balance


by Brenda K. Hipsher – February 24th, 2010

by Joe Brady

Based on some of the questions I have been asked, there still remains some confusion on the relationship between white balance and custom camera profiles. There are three times when this comes up – during the creation of the custom camera profile, creating a custom white balance in-camera and applying a white balance in software.

Let’s start with profile creation, because this one is easy! As we’ve seen previously, we create custom camera profiles by taking a photograph containing the ColorChecker Classic target. Using either the plug-in in Adobe® Lightroom® or the ColorChecker Passport Desktop Application, this image is brought into the application and the profile is generated. You do not need to white balance the file before doing this, because the software does this behind the scenes by itself. Remember however that applying the custom profile that is created in this way does not apply a white balance to your image – you will still need to do this. By doing it this way, you still have the creative freedom to apply a white balance as you see fit. To sum up – don’t white balance to build a profile, but do white balance after applying the profile!

The second situation is how and when to create a custom white balance in-camera. If you are in a controlled environment like studio lighting, this is easy, because if you are using good lights, the color temperature won’t vary too much. The same goes for shooting in mid-day light. Create a custom white balance by simply photographing the Passport white target in the same position where your subject will be photographed. How much of the frame needs to be filled varies from camera to camera, so check your camera manual. I find that most current cameras can white balance with the frame filled 60% or more with the white card target.

If your studio lights are of the more inexpensive variety, one of the weaknesses (yes, there are several) these systems have is that the light temperature falls as the power is decreased. If you create a custom white balance at full power and then turn the lights down, your images will get yellower. That means that besides doing your custom white balance, you’re going to have to include a neutral white reference in the scene each time you adjust the power of your lights. When processing your images, you will need to adjust the white balance of each lighting power change. This is a great reason to invest in good studio lighting!

The third situation where white balance becomes a variable is when photographing in early morning or late afternoon light. As photographers, we all want to keep the golden glow of the light and if we white balanced during these times, that beautiful color would be neutralized right out of the image.

My solution to these situations is to both custom white balance and shoot the ColorChecker Classic target close to noon at the same or similar location. This allows me to get a camera profile that is accurate to the color response of the location without neutralizing the golden light.

©2009 Joe Brady

Now, if you arrived the night before and got up at sunrise to photograph the scene, I would recommend setting your camera to its Daylight white balance setting for these captures and then photograph the ColorChecker Classic, Enhancement Target and the White Balance Target so that profile creation and white balance adjustments can be easily made later in software. By the way – all of this assumes you are shooting with a RAW workflow, not JPEGs. While it is true that you can adjust the white balance on JPEGs as well, if you are going to do any major adjustments to color, the JPEG’s image quality will suffer.  When photographing the landscape, I will always shoot RAW to have the best possible data capture and to insure the best color control and editing flexibility!

Categories: adobe lightroom, ColorChecker, Education, How-To, News, White Balance | Tags: , , , , , ,

2 responses to “Camera Profiles and White Balance”

  1. clavia pierre charles says:

    how i can have a good white balance

    • Brenda K. Hipsher says:

      Shoot ColorChecker classic or Color Checker Passport and click on the second to the lightest grey patch on the grey ramp then apply to RAW files and process.. You can also use our White Balance card to accomplish the same thing in post production or produce a custom white/ neutral balance inside your camera.
      Hope this is helpful,
      Brenda K. Hipsher

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