This question is intended to help me conceptually understand what I am doing with exposure and white balance. Any insights are appreciated.
Assuming that I have a landscape image whose histogram is in bounds (no clipped highlights or lost shadow details). I could get the exposure and white balance exact by using a gray card in the field or adjusting it in Lightroom (I am shooting RAW). Would the use of the gray card provide any technical advantages vs. basic modifications in LR?
With my current understanding, the issue is whether I want to fine tune in the field or on the computer. Am I missing anything?
#1. "RE: Lightroom sliders vs. gray card" In response to Reply # 0
Colorado Springs, US
The thing that I would say you're missing is that few landscape shots benefit from an exactly balanced white balance setting. Many benefit from a warm white balance (think sunrise and sunset) or a cool white balance (think a cold, foggy scene). Neutralize the white balance in those scenes, and they can look pretty awful. It's generally better to adjust it to taste no matter which direction you go.
Also, photography isn't about being exact. It's about getting the image you imagined in your head. A sterile shooting approach often leads to sterile looking images.
#2. "RE: Lightroom sliders vs. gray card" In response to Reply # 1 Thu 20-Dec-12 09:20 AM by Antero52
As Rick said:
> “few landscape shots benefit from an exactly balanced white balance setting”
In addition, if the landscape covers long distances, you typically need more than one WB setting. Particularly so if the landscape is backlit. For instance, consider a scene where you overlook a forest in a valley. With one WB setting the nearest trees are healthy green but the distant trees or forest areas are masked by a blue haze. In LR4 the adjustment brush now allows correcting WB locally. Hazy backlit scenes often require a WB correction where the blue-yellow slider is drawn towards yellow and, particularly over forest areas, the green-magenta slider is drawn towards green.
#3. "RE: Lightroom sliders vs. gray card" In response to Reply # 2 Thu 20-Dec-12 11:51 AM by poc
Thank you Rick and Antero. Both excellent points on white balance in landscapes. My curiosity here is about where the fine tuning of exposure takes place. In the scenario presented, I don't see how you can account for different white balance during capture, so that must be done in LR.
Rephrasing my question, does it make any difference in the final image whether the fine tuning of exposure is done, in the field vs. LR? In other words, how much is the gray card really contributing? I have not used a gray card in some time. The new brush in LR4 is great. Other than saving some time on the computer, what is the gray card really doing? Has today's technology made it obsolete?
Again, thanks for taking the time to respond. This is helping me understand the concept.
#4. "RE: Lightroom sliders vs. gray card" In response to Reply # 3 Thu 20-Dec-12 01:36 PM by walkerr
Colorado Springs, US
Keep in mind you're talking about two things: exposure and white balance.
With exposure, you don't want to necessarily set the exposure based on a grey card setting. You want to set it to get the maximum information in the scene (presuming you're shooting in raw) and then adjust the image in LR4 to get it to look the way you want. If you can avoid blowing out highlights or having blocked up shadows in areas where you want some detail, that's the goal. This has little to do with grey card and a lot to do with using your camera's histogram. Again, it's not about exactness, but getting close and then adjusting to your visual preferences. In other words, both the setting of your camera and the post-processing matter for exposure, with the final touches being done in LR4.
With white balance, if you choose to use the localized white balance, that should generally be an aesthetic decision, so the same guidelines I mentioned earlier apply: make it appealing visually. Keep in mind that neutralizing white balance isn't always good in this scenario either. You may want to make the haze even bluer to give additional depth to a scene. That's how the eye perceives distance. Similarly, you may want to make shadows slightly bluer than they are for similar reasons. It depends on the photograph.
If you get the sense I don't use grey cards for most landscape shots, you're correct. When I do, it's generally close up work where there's a really strange lighting condition due to light coming through leaves and I don't want colors skewed. That's about it. If I placed a person in the shot and they took up a large portion of the scene (which would really make it a portrait), I'd consider using one, too.
#5. "RE: Lightroom sliders vs. gray card" In response to Reply # 0
With today's camera sensors (D600, D800, D4, D7000) dynamic range has improved such that carrying around a gray card is not necessary. It used to be that we kept in mind that our exposure meters are set to give us a reading of middle gray for whatever it was pointed at. We then made adjustments as needed. Shooting a snow field under bright skies? Increase exposure 1.5 to 2 stops. Shooting a scene with a lot of deep shadow where you want the details in the shadows to come through? Point your meter at that area and hold that exposure setting (or maybe increase by 0.5 a stop) re-compose and shoot. Today it's more important to check your histogram and make sure we are not clipping either the shadows or highlights too badly. The sensors today along with a good raw converter can recover a lot of detail under those circumstances. In fact, not too long ago we were all told to ETTR, expose to the right, a term used to reduce the chance of developing noise in the shadow areas by exposing the image so that it the histogram is skewed to the right (highlights) just short of clipping. Today even that is rarely necessary now that sensors have excellent noise reduction performance.
As far as white balance I don't mess with it hardly at all in the field. I generally leave my camera set to 5500°K for outdoors and set it to the preset for flash for indoors when shooting with flash. I'll then adjust the WB in post processing. If I'm shooting people or subjects where I want a journalistically accurate representation of color and tone I'll make sure to shoot a test shot of my X-Rite Color Checker Passport under the available lighting to create a camera profile to be applied to those images later.
#6. "RE: Lightroom sliders vs. gray card" In response to Reply # 5
Colorado Springs, US
> >As far as white balance I don't mess with it hardly at all in >the field. I generally leave my camera set to 5500°K for >outdoors and set it to the preset for flash for indoors when >shooting with flash. I'll then adjust the WB in post >processing. If I'm shooting people or subjects where I want a >journalistically accurate representation of color and tone >I'll make sure to shoot a test shot of my X-Rite Color Checker >Passport under the available lighting to create a camera >profile to be applied to those images later.
I do the same, although I only generate scene-specific profiles under really odd lighting conditions.
#7. "RE: Lightroom sliders vs. gray card" In response to Reply # 0
Personally, I carry a gray card and always set a custom white balance in the camera. In constant-light conditions, I'll use the gray card to set exposure as well. What I carry is actually a white-balance reference called the Digital Gray Card, made by Robin Myers Imaging. It's a 4"x6" plastic reference that's spectrally neutral. It's technically too bright for setting exposure...it's about 30% gray...but I use it anyways and simply adjust my Exposure Compensation appropriately. You're supposed to apply 1/2 stop of EC for 18% gray anyways, so 0.5 or 1.3...makes no difference to me.
When I step into new light I'll just pull the DGC out of my back pocket, start the WB process on my D90, hold the card directly in front of the lens, angled to catch the light, and press the shutter. If the light is constant then I'll also press my AE-L button and lock exposure at the same time. It takes me less than 10 seconds to set both white balance and exposure. Then the card goes back into my back pocket and I'm ready to shoot.
I see a lot of posters in other forums complaining that they can never get skin tones to look "right", and blaming the camera itself. When asked about a custom white balance, they parrot what they've heard on the internet...when you shoot RAW, you don't need to set a custom white balance...just leave it on AWB and adjust it later in post. Well...I believe that a custom white balance should be set. Even if you want to change it later, it is very helpful to have an accurate white balance as a starting point.
Here's the guideline I follow...when the color of the light is an element of the scene (sunset, candlelight, spots, etc.) I set Daylight white balance. When the color of the light is not an element of the scene, then a custom white balance always seems to give the best looking colors.
This does not mean that I am above changing colors. I will definitely shift colors to get a certain look. However, I would rather use the color channels for that work because white balance affects all the colors in the image. With landscapes, I may want to enhance the red in the image without affecting the greens. You can't do that with the white balance control.