When it comes to photography, natural light is king.
My blog photos look sooo much better when I shoot them in daylight. Whites are brighter, colours are sharper, and it just looks NICER.
But when you live in a cold, grey country, with long winters and short days, it can be really tricky to keep on top of taking photos for the blog.
Sure, I plan ahead and take as many as I can on the weekend, when I’m off work. But sometimes that just isn’t possible.
So what then?
Well the next obvious choice is indoor lighting. But unless you’ve got proper professional softboxes or ring-lights or whatnot, it’s easy to get disheartened when your photos keep coming out dim, dark, and worst of all: YELLOW.
Correcting white balance on overly warm or cool photos is my least favourite of all editing tasks. I hate it with a fiery passion born in the depths of Mount Doom.
No matter how delicate I am, or how much time I spend on it, I alwaysssss seem to end up with this ugly pink-green-blue tinge to all my colour-corrected photos.
BUT NOT ANYMOREEEEE.
Because I’ve discovered Custom White Balance. And it is a GAME CHANGER!
It means that with 15 seconds and a couple of clicks, I can take my photos from this… to this.
Both of those photos were taken at 7am this morning, on my Olympus PEN e-pl7, using a 45mm lens.
The curtains were drawn in my living room, and the only light source was a normal living room lamp, with a normal yellow lightbulb.
If anyone’s technical enough to care about the settings, both photos (as well as the ones coming in a minute!) were all shot at f1.8 – 1/8 second – ISO 250.
Both photos have been adjusted in Lightroom with +0.50 Exposure.
The ONLY setting I changed was the white balance. The first photo was shot on Auto WB, and the second on Custom WB.
And it only took me 15 seconds to adjust!
I think a lot of people don’t bother playing with the Custom White Balance settings, but it’s honestly not hard – and it makes SUCH a huge difference.
WHAT IS CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE?
If you’ve played around with your camera options, you’ll probably have spotted the White Balance presets. These tend to include: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Shade, among others.
Now, these are a great starting point for learning about White Balance, but the presets themselves tend to be REALLY strong.
A bit like using an Instagram filter on full whack, instead of turning the slider down slightly, so it looks a bit more natural.
Custom White Balance does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a setting on your camera where you can adjust the colour tone of your photo to exactly suit the lighting conditions you’re using right now.
That means no more worrying about that horrid yellow glare from an overhead lamp!
HOW DO I SET UP MY CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE?
This is where it gets funky, because there are actually a couple of ways of doing this.
One is time-consuming and awkward and involves taking a photo of something white and using that as a base to create the color cast within your camera. Yawwwwn.
The way I discovered on Sunday is SOOOO much quicker and easier!
You’ll have to check your own camera settings and instructions to find which option it is (on the PEN, it’s the very last icon on the White Balance settings list: CWB), but what you’re looking for is the Kelvin settings.
I’m not even going to pretend to understand the science-y side of it, but Kelvin is a scale for measuring heat, and it’s used in photography to measure color temperature.
If you use a low number, it will cool the image down, if you use a higher number, it will warm it up. Simple!
You can move up the scale 50-100 Kelvin at a time on the PEN, which makes it so much easier to get the exact color setting you need.
Just pick the one that looks best to you on the camera screen, and voila!
Can’t I just edit it in Photoshop instead?
I’ve been doing that for years and it’s not worked out so badly for me.
But I hate, hate, haaaaate having to colour correct every single photo, and this has honestly made my routine so much faster already.
PLUS. I happen to think the quality is improved.
Don’t believe me?
I edited the Auto WB photo above with my usual Lightroom settings, trying to get the whites as neutral as possible without impacting on the photo quality (much).
I also edited the Custom WB photo, with basic brightness and contrast adjustments.
Here’s the comparison:
Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to shoot on Auto WB ever again!