white balance with studio lights

Started Nov 17, 2011 | Discussions
photoartist
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white balance with studio lights
Nov 17, 2011

I have been shooting with Alien Bees for a few years now and have been very happy with the results. However one thing I have found challenging is shooting portraits of subjects dressed in green. I have found that the color balance seems to be way off and make the skin tones very red. Can anyone explain why this happens? I have also noticed this when shooting with my 580 EX speedlight, that shooting subjects wearing green always skewes the color balance.

Tihomir
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 17, 2011

Do you shoot RAW and how do you set your white balance? Do you use some sort of a white/gray card or you nail it in camera by dialing the color temperature manually, or you try to guess it in post?

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David Grabowski
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 17, 2011

It sounds as though you are shooting in Auto WB mode. Try daylight, shoot RAW and correct the little bit of off WB there may be in post. But daylight will usually be stable from sjhot to shot if the lights are. Or if that doesn't work then learn to take a Custom WB reading and preset that as your studio WB. The green in and of itself mixed with studio flash isn't going to make the skin red. It's one of two things, both lead to WB issues in camera . The green either shows a pre-existing WB issue that your eyes don't nomally pick up on, or in the case of Auto WB, is over correcting for green throwing the WB off.

That said, I gel my lights for a slight blue cast, with 5500K lights I use and keep on the lights 1/8 CTO, with 6000K I use 1/4 cto. This brings in just enough filtering to take out the slight blue cast present in my daylight WB setting. I too could do a preset custom WB it seems but by doing this I also knock down my lights a little bit and don't have to shoot my fill light and hair light turned down as low as it goes and not get to F2.8 and 5.6. I get F2 with the gel on when turned all the way down , this at the backdrop thus giving a little better control at the subjects distance and the blue cast is completely gone... I gel them all, from main light to hair light. Hair doen't appear to have a bluish streak in it and hair color registers better.

Your situation is more powerful than mine, you need to change the WB in camera I believe, though it doesn't hurt to gel lights for consistent output either..
David

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steveathome1
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to David Grabowski, Nov 17, 2011

Best way in my opinion for studio lighting is to set a custom white balance, you should use a neutral reference, of which many are available.

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Barrie Davis
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 17, 2011

photoartist wrote:

I have been shooting with Alien Bees for a few years now and have been very happy with the results. However one thing I have found challenging is shooting portraits of subjects dressed in green. I have found that the color balance seems to be way off and make the skin tones very red. Can anyone explain why this happens? I have also noticed this when shooting with my 580 EX speedlight, that shooting subjects wearing green always skewes the color balance.

Hey! Are you using Auto White Balance (AWB), by any chance??

If so, then STOP immediately. It is not a suitable setting for studio flash.

  • When shooting by studio flash select 'Flash' preset WB, or, better yet, 'Custom' WB.

  • Custom WB is especially preferred with Alien Bees turned down low, as they can be a little yellow for a typical 'Flash' WB at their lowest settings... (or so I hear.)

Things can also go wrong with camera-top flash whenever a particularly strong colour dominates the image area. Again, use custom WB function.... that is what it is for.

PS. If you have inadvertently been shooting flash using AWB for many years, and green is the only problem you have had, then you have been very lucky indeed!
--
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Baz

"Ahh... But the thing is, they were not just ORDINARY time travellers!"

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DotCom Editor
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X-Rite ColorChecker Passport
In reply to photoartist, Nov 17, 2011

If you're not using this to get all your colors accurate, you are missing out. Watch their webinars to learn. Forget the gray card or the Expodisc. The Passport is now the only tool I use for getting ALL the colors right.

Remember, shooting a gray card shifts ALL colors by the same amount. But what if your camera records, say, blue more accurately than flesh tones? You need to color correct individual colors to extent each requires. The Passport does exactly this. And it takes only seconds.

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photoartist
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 17, 2011

Many many thanks for your help!! I have indeed been using Auto white balance with my Alien Bees. I have actually not experienced any other problems with color balance other than the green. I work for a large school and do all the staff and student portraits and have noticed that the color green makes the facial tones very red. I am taking some more pictures today and will try the daylight and flash white balance and if that does not work satisfactorily then I will do a custom white balance. I will also look into the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. I also have problems shooting in our gym. the white balance seems to depend on what color team shirt I am focusing on. If it is a blue shirt, the colors are fine, but if green again the color is very yellowish and red.

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antares103
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 17, 2011

Even if you are shooting in AWB (I dont recommend it either), you should be able to find a shot you like, and apply those WB settings to all images, and they will all have have the same WB. Your visual perceptions may change from one shot to the next, but the settings are the same.

The ability to apply WB settings depends on the fact you are indeed shooting RAW.
--
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photoartist
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 17, 2011

"you should be able to find a shot you like, and apply those WB settings to all images, and they will all have the same WB"

I am sorry, I don't understand that - How do I do that??

I just went to our gym and did a custom white balance with a piece of white paper and also did a white balance correction using the grid on my 7D to take out even more of the green. The images look really good on my computer screen right now. Does anyone know if the cap of the Gary Fong light sphere gives a better white balance than a piece of white paper. I have the Gary Fong and will give it a try too.

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Tihomir
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 17, 2011

Try the following:

Set the white balance to "flash". Make sure you shoot RAW. Set your lights up and shoot a frame with a white sheet of paper. Then shoot a few frames without it.

Go to your computer and download your photos. If you are using Lightroom, you can do batch processing and you can adjust the WB after the fact (if you shoot RAW would be the best combination).

So, in case of Lightroom — go to the "white sheet" frame and switch into Development mode. You will see an eye dropper tool. Click on it and point at the white piece of paper in the image. Voila! You have the white balance adjusted ALMOST at the right spot. You can re-adjust it to taste. Then copy the Development Settings from the current image. Go and select all other images and paste the Development Settings. And there you have it on all images.

In case you are using a grey/white card or some other color calibration tool, it would be right on spot. But in the case of the white sheet of paper it would be in the ballpark. In most cases it's doing a good enough job.

In case you are not using Lightroom — let us know what you are using, so you can get some help.

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Lawrence Keeney
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 18, 2011

I haven't read all the posts so maybe this has been mentioned before.

If you really want all your colors spot-on, I suggest you look into getting the xrite Colorchecker Passport.

This allows you to generate a profile for your camera under the lighting conditions you shoot in.

I use this device and place it in the first shot of my series of images. Then in lLghtroom I use the profile I just generated. It not only shifts the color for white balance, but it makes all the different colors shift to the standard color pallet
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Barrie Davis
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 18, 2011

photoartist wrote:

Many many thanks for your help!! I have indeed been using Auto white balance with my Alien Bees. I have actually not experienced any other problems with color balance other than the green.

  • If you are shooting by Flash, then you have to set WB to Flash, either by preset to 'Flash', or do a Custom WB to the flash .

  • By using Auto White Balance (AWB) you have been requiring the camera to use the modelling lights of the flash heads, (and/or any other lights you happen to have on to supplement them... fluorescent?). Naturally, as the flash fired that AWB setting was instantly made WRONG! (However, see below as to why this hasn't presented itself as a problem other than the green issue.)

It happens that the modelling lights of your Alien Bees are incandescent tungsten lamps, which are yellow by comparison with the flash. Flash is whiter by comparison (has more blue in its spectrum to balance the yellow.)

The only reason your flash results have not been horribly blue-tinged (heavy blue cast) as the camera attempts to white balance to the yellow incandescent light by boosting blue...

... is because most cameras are very BAD at the business of AWB under incandescent lighting, and tend to default to a daylight WB instead.

Well, fortunately for you, daylight is pretty close to flash in colour, thus rendering MOST colours OK when the flash fires

However, AWB is a dynamic system attempting to identify a neutral colour light from the mix of colours in the subject, and, because it does do it dynamically, the actual setting changes from shot to shot, on the fly. As I said before, if the only error you have noticed is a messed up colour when subjects wear green.... the camera attempting AWB under tungsten light, remember....

.... then either you have been extraordinarily lucky most of the time, or you are very UN-critical about accurate colour... (sorry about that!)

I work for a large school and do all the staff and student portraits and have noticed that the color green makes the facial tones very red.

Yes, as the AWB algorithm tries to counter an excess of green it "sees" in the subject, it will boost the level of the complimentary colour to green across the whole picture, which colour is Magenta.... and which will very likely look a boosting of Red in flesh tones.

I am taking some more pictures today and will try the daylight and flash white balance and if that does not work satisfactorily then I will do a custom white balance.

Flash preset is the preferred one, but Daylight is very close. That is why you can mix flash with daylight without problems.

However, while you are experimenting, by all means practise your Custom WB technique as detailed in your manual. Then you will be able to make valid comparisons.... assuming that your monitor is reproducing colours accurately enough, that is...

-- hide signature --

(profiling a monitor for accurate colour is a whole other discipline!)--

I will also look into the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. I also have problems shooting in our gym. the white balance seems to depend on what color team shirt I am focusing on. If it is a blue shirt, the colors are fine, but if green again the color is very yellowish and red.

Hmmm.... the colour variation in your gym is more likely to do with the discharge lamps used to illuminate the space.

The colour varies 60 times per second as the light output cycles with the mains electricity frequency (50 hertz in Europe).

Other than using rather long exposures to average out the colour across multiple cycles, which is totally impractical for action photography, your best bet is to shoot in RAW, and sort out the colour balance in your RAW editor on a frame by frame basis.... irksome I know, but that's what the pros are doing, apparently.
--
Regards,
Baz

"Ahh... But the thing is, they were not just ORDINARY time travellers!"

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Sailor Blue
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 18, 2011

As others have said, DON"T use Auto WB.

If you don't set a Custom WB then set the camera to either Daylight or Flash. After a few shoots you will figure out how much to adjust the WB of all of your images and it becomes a trivial thing to do.

Whether you shoot JPG's or RAW it is always best to set a Custom WB in the camera. Read you manual and find out whether it is recommended that you use a white target or a gray one.

White printer paper is NOT a good WB target - many types of printer paper contain UV whiteners and they can throw off the WB.

I recommend you buy an 18% gray/90% white card - they cost less than $20 and are available at any good camera store or on line. Kodak is the standard but many others are acceptable. Good gray cards are painted, not printed.

For greater durability buy a plastic gray card. These cards are light gray and can be used whether your camera manual says to calibrate with a white or a gray target. I recommend the Robin Myers Digital Gray Card, either the studio or portable version. If it gets dirty you can wash it or even sand it down.

http://www.rmimaging.com/

You can use the Digital Gray Card to set a Custom WB or you can take a photo of this card and use it to set the WB in post processing.

NOTE: It sounds like you don't know much about the capabilities of your post processing software. I suggest you go to The Digital Darkroom forum and ask for a good book or tutorial on whatever post processing software you are using and study up.

Another alternative is to use a White Balance Filter to set the Custom WB of your camera. The most commonly use one is an ExpoDisk. Here is a review comparing several brands of White Balance Filters, and showing you the budget way that is just as good and virtually free.

http://www.ppmag.com/web-exclusives/2008/11/product-comparison-white-balan-1.html

Finally, let me recommend that you get a copy of Light Science and Magic, Fourth Edition: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting and study it. It will give you a much greater understanding of what you are doing as a photographer.

http://www.amazon.com/Light-Science-Magic-Fourth-Introduction/dp/0240812255/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1321578680&sr=1-1

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photoartist
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 18, 2011

Hey everyone, Thanks so much - I really appreciate all the indepth advice!! I have learned some new things!

In answer to a few of the questions: I use Photoshop exclusively for all my post processing work. I never shoot in Raw - it would be impossible for me to do so. I work for a K - 12 school and do all the graphic design work, website maintenance and shoot 1000's of photos every school year, ranging from staff and student portraits in our studio using alien bees lights to all manner of school sports both inside in our gyms and also outdoors in our fields, school theatre productions in our auditorium (very low light conditions - another challenging task) and hundreds of different school events and classroom activities, as well as taking pictures for our middle school yearbook and overseeing the students that put it together. I also use my photos to make slideshows with Proshow Producer of different events around the school to entertaiin parents when they come to watch their children on band concert evenings.

That is why I really need to get it RIGHT in the camera because I simply cannot do alot of post work.

Thanks for the tip about the Melita coffee filters - I will absolutely give that a try. I did try setting the WB to flash today as I was taking pictures of volleyball in the gym, I used the 580EX off camera on a stand but I found the color to be very yellow. The custom WB with some of the green removed in the WB shift gave me the best color rendition.

I have found as well, when taking photos outside using AWB (no flash) that the skin tones of Asian and darker skin seem to throw off the WB too. The skin ends up looking too yellow. This is a real challenge for me as I may have Asian and caucasian kids together in the same picture. Is there any way around that or is this simply something that one would need to correct in post?

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David Grabowski
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 18, 2011

I don't shoot everything in RAW, with my Fuji S2 camera I shot whole weddings in jpeg to good result. RAW gives all there is to get thought and leaves all the room in the world for correcting WB, if it was off in an even way especially. I'm not so sure you would find it impossible to shoot RAW, you can do batch conversions while you are away from your desk doing other tasks.

Thanks for the tip about the Melita coffee filters - I will absolutely give that a try. I did try setting the WB to flash today as I was taking pictures of volleyball in the gym, I used the 580EX off camera on a stand but I found the color to be very yellow. The custom WB with some of the green removed in the WB shift gave me the best color rendition.

I have used coffee filters as well, still do. I'm not paying for a Fong otr Expo filter when a coffee filter can be put over the lens. It works fairly well, it's consistent, maybe consistently off a tad but easy enough to correct. The Passport is your answer ultimately though. I shot a whole series in Maine with my D100 camera a couple of years ago using the cabins coffee filters as my WB source, turned out great. I couldn't find something pleasing in camera and left my calibration cards at home, 400 miles North of anywhere I grabbed for the coffee filters.

The gym is possibly under fluorescent lighting or sodium lighting. It may help to gel your flash and then take a custom WB. The gelled flash will come more in line and the WB will be easier to set.

I have found as well, when taking photos outside using AWB (no flash) that the skin tones of Asian and darker skin seem to throw off the WB too. The skin ends up looking too yellow. This is a real challenge for me as I may have Asian and caucasian kids together in the same picture. Is there any way around that or is this simply something that one would need to correct in post?

Just get AWB out of your head, it's a useless device causing WB to be different from shot to shot ! Find another way, even to shoot daylight setting, flash setting or in the cloudy setting if clouds are around you will get consistent shot to shot WB at least that is easy to correct later in post. Do a custom setting each time you change venues, it's not hard to do ( least not with Nikons anyway, I have no experience with Canon cameras).

I'm curious, how did you land such a seamingly pisser job ? No offence meant, but photographers with far more experience have trouble finding work these days and schools are slow to budget in things like 7D cameras and Alien Bee lights.. Or are you contracted with the school ? As I said, just curious.

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Barrie Davis
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 18, 2011

photoartist wrote:

Hey everyone, Thanks so much - I really appreciate all the indepth advice!! I have learned some new things!

In answer to a few of the questions: I use Photoshop exclusively for all my post processing work. I never shoot in Raw - it would be impossible for me to do so. I work for a K - 12 school and do all the graphic design work, website maintenance and shoot 1000's of photos every school year, ranging from staff and student portraits in our studio using alien bees lights to all manner of school sports both inside in our gyms and also outdoors in our fields, school theatre productions in our auditorium (very low light conditions - another challenging task) and hundreds of different school events and classroom activities, as well as taking pictures for our middle school yearbook and overseeing the students that put it together. I also use my photos to make slideshows with Proshow Producer of different events around the school to entertaiin parents when they come to watch their children on band concert evenings.

I am amazed that you have been shooting thousands of photographs over a long period of time in what comes across as a more or less professional operation, and yet you never realised that Auto White Balance was a fundamental mistake with studio flash.

All I can say is... Wow! And BOY have you have been leading a charmed life!

That is why I really need to get it RIGHT in the camera because I simply cannot do alot of post work.

Thanks for the tip about the Melita coffee filters - I will absolutely give that a try.

I did try setting the WB to flash today as I was taking pictures of volleyball in the gym, I used the 580EX off camera on a stand but I found the color to be very yellow. The custom WB with some of the green removed in the WB shift gave me the best color rendition.

Yellow rendition cannot be caused by flash. Flash is a blue kind of white, not a yellow one. Besides, the flash would have only a local effect, only a few feet.... it can't light a whole gymnasium.

The yellow is undoubtedly coming from the ambient light of the gym, which colour would be magnified if you set the WB to flash, where it expects a predominantly blue balance. Custom WB would fix that.

Note: Just as with the studio flash, and the camera trying to AWB off the modelling lights, there is no point setting the camera WB to any particular colour of light, if the actual shooting takes place by another one that's different.

I have found as well, when taking photos outside using AWB (no flash) that the skin tones of Asian and darker skin seem to throw off the WB too.

Use Custom WB. Stay with the same WB until the light colour changes. Learn to be aware when colour of light changes. To help in this, note the list of WB presets that your camera offers, and do a test of a daylight subject with each of presets used in turn.... and observe the colour differences they make.

The skin ends up looking too yellow. This is a real challenge for me as I may have Asian and Caucasian kids together in the same picture. Is there any way around that or is this simply something that one would need to correct in post?

Check to see if you have the camera's colour saturation wound up too high. If so, it would explain an enhancement of the normal differences of skin colour.

Otherwise I cannot offer further advice without you posting some pictures. If you do post, please ensure EXIF is intact so we can see camera settings. Thank you.

Final point: Auto WB is a technical compromise that tries to work out the colour of the light being used for the photography from the light that reflects from subjects, subjects which themselves are coloured . Naturally, the actual colour of the subjects will influence the cameras perception of the colour of the light itself.... and what's worse, it will vary from shot to shot.

For this reason it is better to remove the subject colour from the WB setting altogether, and do this whenever you can..

.... either by using WB presets (if a suitable one is available)... or by performing Custom WB from a target that has no colour... (White or grey card)
--
Regards,
Baz

"Ahh... But the thing is, they were not just ORDINARY time travellers!"

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photoartist
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 18, 2011

thanks for all the great advice. Even though I have been taking pictures for many years, I did not realize about the AWB. I will definately now do a custom WB whenever I take pictures again. This will really help me with the varying skin tones that I shoot. I am learning all the time and am grateful for forums like this where others can share their expertise. I will be attending the scott kelby lighting seminar next week and hope to learn more there.

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Sailor Blue
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Re: white balance with studio lights
In reply to photoartist, Nov 19, 2011

photoartist wrote:

I have found as well, when taking photos outside using AWB (no flash) that the skin tones of Asian and darker skin seem to throw off the WB too. The skin ends up looking too yellow. This is a real challenge for me as I may have Asian and caucasian kids together in the same picture. Is there any way around that or is this simply something that one would need to correct in post?

I live in Thailand and shoot mostly Thais so I have experience with your problem. It is certainly related to using Auto WB, but it is simply hard to get a pleasing skin tone.

Asian skin seem to be difficult to render pleasingly, even with proper WB and color calibration of your camera & lens. Even with using a ColorChecker Passport I'm not especially pleased with skin tones and often play with color temperature a bit to get a more pleasing one.

It should be clear by now that Auto WB simply doesn't work reliably. Lighting type, clothing colors, skin tones, and changing backgrounds - all of these effect Auto WB. If you want reliable results with JPG's then the only option is using Custom WB.

Since you take so many photographs under so many varied lighting conditions I recommend you go ahead and buy either an ExpoDisk or a lens cap that serves the same purpose for each lens. These will be much sturdier and longer lasting than a coffee filter and the cost is negligible when spread out over thousands of images. Here is one example, but there are many more available.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/58MM-WHITE-BALANCE-LENS-CAP-FCANON-XT-XTI-XSI-550D-500D-/230702553794?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item35b6f19ac2

I also suspect that you are shooting using some form of auto exposure. This may be one reason the gym shots came out yellow even though you were using flash. Your Auto exposure mode set the shutter speed low enough to give you an ambient light exposure as well as a flash exposure as determined by your aperture and flash power.

When shooting flash it is almost always better to shoot in full Manual mode where you have control over the shutter speed (1/3 to 2/3 stop below the sync speed given in the camera manual to minimize any chance of sync failure), aperture, and flash power. Set the aperture and shutter speed and adjust the exposure with your flash power.

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