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Thread started 02 Sep 2010 (Thursday) 04:25
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White Balance and Grey cards?

 
blindman9135
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Sep 02, 2010 04:25 |  #1

Hey everybody! So i was sitting here wondering about gray cards...(couldn't sleep) just took a few snap shots from my desk in AWB mode the pics looked "eh" kinda yellowy... Anywho i started playing with the custom white balance and i set it to a picture of a normal 8 1/2x11 sheet of paper i took under the same light sitting on my leg. After i set my CWB all my colors were exactly as i saw them with my eyes, and a little more vibrant too. i took a picture of my red and white pants and set it to my CWB. those pictures turned out perfect as well. And no i don't wear candy cane pants.... Ok but i don't leave the house in em ;)

so my question is...Why do i need to go out and buy a $10 Grey card when i can buy a stack of 50 for $8 from Office Max that works just as well?

Thanks for all your input, love this forum :)


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SkipD
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Sep 02, 2010 04:37 |  #2

An 18% gray card that is also guaranteed to be color neutral can be used in several ways.

First, it can be used to assist in making exposure calculations by letting you measure the light falling on the subject, even though you may only have a reflected-light meter such as the one in your camera.

Second, you can use the gray card as a color (white balance) reference for doing the custom white balance like you've done with white paper. There are two BIG differences between "white" paper and the gray card, though. First, you can use the very same exposure settings with the gray card and the scene but with white paper you must use a radically different exposure setting so that the white paper is not overexposed in the custom white balance setup image.

Third, a gray card can be EXTREMELY handy to use IN THE SCENE. I always shoot in RAW mode (though I also make .JPG image files at the same time). Whenever I have a need for accurate color rendition, I will place my neutral gray card in the scene for a test shot with the same lighting as a series of shots to be made and with the exposure settings on the camera the same as for the whole series. Then, when doing RAW conversion in post-processing, I use an "eyedropper" tool to sample the gray card in the test image. The resulting color-related numbers are then transferred to the rest of the series of images in a single batch conversion. White paper could not be used for this purpose because it's likely that it would be overexposed in at least one color channel.

Finally, "white" paper is seldom truly neutral. Paper manufacturers do all sorts of things to make the paper appear bright white, etc., that actually add a bit coloration to the paper. This makes the paper less than ideal as a white balance reference.


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tonylong
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Sep 02, 2010 04:38 |  #3

Heh! What's your question? Using a "White Balance Target" depends on whether the "target" is reasonably "color neutral" and whether it achieves a good color balance and, as you have observed, you can get good results from normal white paper as well as long as that white paper holds up in a variety of lighing conditions. This may or may not be the case since some "white" paper has different treatment that can throw things off. Also, gray cards can be used to set exposure as long as you have your gear set to properly "interpret" the tonal values (that is, a "gray" card can not necessarily give the best interpretationas "medium gray" by setting your camera to "read" it with the meter as square center).


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blindman9135
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Sep 02, 2010 05:38 |  #4

Ok so the gray card is "gray" so I can't over expose it and because it's manufactured to be "color neutral". I see! So would i be able to shoot in jpeg, go into lightroom for PP and use the eyedropper tool, Skip? or is that only for raw files? Also if I'm going to use that neat little trick what should my WB be to start off with? does it matter what my WB is set to when i take a picture of my Gray card?


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Anders ­ Östberg
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Sep 02, 2010 06:15 |  #5

If you shoot raw it doesn't matter what the WB is set to in camera, though it makes it easier to preview the pictures in camera if the WB is close to correct.

For JPEGs you want WB to be set correct in camera as you can't adjust as much in post processing without mangling the colors too much. (When taking the picture to set the WB just use Auto-WB)

I use two methods; one bigger grey card (actually a small grey reflector) that can cover the whole frame and be used to set both exposure and WB, and a small WhiBal card that I can include in a shot and use the eye-dropper on in post processing.


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SkipD
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Sep 02, 2010 07:12 |  #6

blindman9135 wrote in post #10835446 (external link)
Ok so the gray card is "gray" so I can't over expose it and because it's manufactured to be "color neutral". I see! So would i be able to shoot in jpeg, go into lightroom for PP and use the eyedropper tool, Skip? or is that only for raw files? Also if I'm going to use that neat little trick what should my WB be to start off with? does it matter what my WB is set to when i take a picture of my Gray card?

I suggest that you shoot in RAW exclusively (or RAW Plus JPG as I do) unless you either properly set the white balance selection in the camera for the type of lighting illuminating the scene or do a "custom white balance" for every different lighting situation you are using.

As mentioned above, if you shoot in RAW mode then the white balance setting in the camera makes no difference at all. Because I shoot RAW Plus JPG, I always try to set the camera for the appropriate lighting type so that my JPG files are usable as-is most of the time.

Avoid mixed lighting types (such as mixing incandescent and flash for example) at all cost and you will have a much better result.


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Lowner
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Sep 02, 2010 09:10 as a reply to  @ SkipD's post |  #7

"Why do i need to go out and buy a $10 Grey card when i can buy a stack of 50 for $8 from Office Max that works just as well"?

The answer, as you have found, is you don't. But lets not spoil it for those that have spent money on white balance cards, colour cards and who knows what else. If they want to mess about figuring out how many angels can dance on the end of a pin, who are we to argue?

White balance to me is get it to something that looks halfway real to me, once I've got that I stop fiddling.

Interestingly I overheard a conversation in an auction house this morning "I photographed the picture in your auction catalogue and the colours are wrong". The catalogue image is a 2" x 1" thumbnail, not a photograph, he then used his point and shoot and enlarged the image in his printer (no PC, this is straight camera to printer) and dares to complain that it looks different to the original! I'm surprised he could even recognise the image.


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Anders ­ Östberg
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Sep 02, 2010 09:34 |  #8

Lowner wrote in post #10836223 (external link)
...
White balance to me is get it to something that looks halfway real to me, once I've got that I stop fiddling.
...

You're right in that for general photography there is really no such thing as one "correct" white balance. You can use WB to make your picture cold or warm, to reflect what you saw at the scene, or just as an effect. A grey card gives you a known reference to start from though, unlike a random white paper that can be quite a bit off neutral. But sure, for a quick "close enough" setting a sheet of paper works well, as does the ice in a hockey arena. Just expect a bit more fiddling in post process to take out a tint you don't want, especially if you have some weird artificial lighting


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David ­ Ransley
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Sep 02, 2010 11:06 |  #9

Go here for a few good videos on the topic: http://www.whibalhost.​com/_Tutorials/WhiBal/​01/ (external link)


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RDKirk
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Sep 02, 2010 12:19 |  #10

Anders Östberg wrote in post #10836361 (external link)
You're right in that for general photography there is really no such thing as one "correct" white balance. You can use WB to make your picture cold or warm, to reflect what you saw at the scene, or just as an effect. A grey card gives you a known reference to start from though, unlike a random white paper that can be quite a bit off neutral. But sure, for a quick "close enough" setting a sheet of paper works well, as does the ice in a hockey arena. Just expect a bit more fiddling in post process to take out a tint you don't want, especially if you have some weird artificial lighting

Sometimes you can just get "lost" in balancing by eye, seeing that the balance is off but not hitting the correct combination to get it back on track. This can happen even if you have an object in the scene that ought to be gray, such as concrete. Having a true gray card in the scene can return you immediately back to photographic neutrality, from which you can procede to tune color balance to artistic taste.


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Lowner
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Sep 02, 2010 16:00 as a reply to  @ RDKirk's post |  #11

"Sometimes you can just get "lost" in balancing by eye"

Do you? Very strange, I have to say I've yet to experience it.


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RDKirk
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Sep 02, 2010 17:40 |  #12

Lowner wrote in post #10838700 (external link)
"Sometimes you can just get "lost" in balancing by eye"

Do you? Very strange, I have to say I've yet to experience it.

It happens if you screw with the color balance too much especially when trying to eliminate a color cast in mixed lighting or lighting by a source with an incomplete spectrum.


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Bill ­ Boehme
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Sep 02, 2010 18:28 as a reply to  @ RDKirk's post |  #13

Here are a few thoughts:


  1. Not all gray cards are neutral so make sure that you get a good one and not a $5 cheapo that might be blue-gray or brown-gray.
  2. The recommendation when using a piece of white paper for white balance is to use an ordinary sheet of cheap copier paper and not the premium "bright white" paper. The premium paper has UV brighteners that will screw up white balance.
  3. An 18% reflectance gray card is primarily for setting exposure, but if it is a good one that is truly neutral, then it can work almost as well as a sheet of cheap white copier paper.
  4. While setting white balance to get colors to be "true" which is most often what we want to do, keep in mind that doing a perfect white balance may be simply the wrong thing to do. Consider landscape images where a major component of the image is the colors created by the time of day and weather conditions such as a sunset or storm or rainbow. If one were to white balance such an image, its character would be completely lost. I very frequently adjust the color temperature and color bias in ACR to recreate the lighting mood that I see in my mind's eye.
  5. Also, keep in mind that if you apply any shooting style other than neutral or faithful to an image then you have changed the white balance from its "pure" state anyway.
The bottom line is that white balancing an image is not some sort of rigid component of image editing. If you have a good eye for color, then creative adjustment of the lighting is often better than perfect white balancing. Our brains auto adjust image colors that we see on a monitor to make them look right, so make frequent reality checks of what you are doing to an image the help insure that you are not going off on a color tangent.

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amfoto1
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Sep 02, 2010 19:00 |  #14

Bill is right... The main reason I see for using a true gray card is that you can set both white balance and exposure precisely with it.

Actually I use a Lastolite target that's more permanent than a gray card and folds up small to fit in my bag.


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Downs ­ Photography
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Sep 02, 2010 20:01 |  #15

Thanks for the tips everyone


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