Mon 21-Jan-13 06:14 AM | edited Sun 17-May-15 10:52 PM by jrp
This is well known by experimented landscape photographers. However, since my landscape practice is only once a year, I felt the need to reassure myself that White Balance Daylight is better than Auto for landscape photography, more so when near or at the golden hours.
This first series of six images was made with WB Daylight while waiting for sunrise at the Mesquite Dunes in the Death Valley National Park, CA
And this other series below was made in between the above shots with White Balance Auto
Although they are not exactly equivalent to each other, it is very clear that the subtle blue tones of the light, especially between dawn to sunrise (and twilight to sunset), are recorded by the sensor in RAW but wiped out in the rendering when using WB AUTO. Unrecoverable if shooting JPEG only.
This was tested on both a D700 and with a D800 with the same results, although at different locations.
The results may look a bit more dramatic than usual because of the use of a "Velvia" Picture control, enhancing contrast and saturation (in both series).
Below an abbreviated "summary" set of images made after sunrise, confirming the conclusion: WB Daylight is best for landscape photography.
Auto Tones and Auto Levels were also proven to be a lazy way to process images in Capture NX2/Photoshop, eliminating tone and color subtleties.
The above images were made on a Nikon D700 on a MAGICA 3.3 camera support in A mode with 14-24mm f/2.8G ED IF AF-S Nikkor @ 24mm, f/7.1, ISO 1250, varying only the shutter speed depending on light as Matrix-metered.
The lens was focused at aprox. 4 meters (~13 feet), later found (back home) as being the hyperfocal distance recommended for 8x10 prints @ 24mm, f/5.6
Mon 21-Jan-13 11:25 AM | edited Mon 21-Jan-13 11:36 AM by walkerr
Great post. Even though it's easy to override an auto white balance setting in a raw converter, I too find it much easier to use a fixed one as a starting point. It makes it very clear to me what kind of light existed when I made the shot, and I'm less likely to discard what might have been a good shot otherwise. It also makes it easier to spot peak times in terms of certain looks. In addition, to improving the look of the dunes, looking at the sky in shots is really illustrative. You'll get everything from ugly green colors to salmon skies when they should be blue or blue mixed with warm-colored clouds. It's one of the things that first clued me into this technique in years past (plus remembering why film worked so well in these situations: a fixed white balance).
It's worth remembering that anytime your subject matter strays away from a neutral-toned subject, you can have this problem. The auto white balance systems on the latest cameras are pretty good for a lot of subjects, but they have their limits, and it's good to know when to override them.
Very nice shot, too! I'll bet it makes a beautiful print.
Another good reason to lock down a white balance is if you autobracket and end up using a bracketed set for HDR processing. Auto white balance can produce a color shift between the bracketed exposures. Also, it's important to lock down a white balance (along with everything else) if shooting a pano set.
Great illustration and tutorial Ramon. What I like to do is set up Shooting Menu Banks in the Shooting Menu in my D800 and D4 for certain general shooting situations. I always set the first one, (A), for "Landscapes/Nature" where I set the White Balance to K° and enter a custom white balance of 5500K° with the G-M (green/magenta) set to 0.
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that in typical outdoor light I tend to gravitate to that setting (or close to it) in post processing - so I have established that as my WB starting point. But, since I often use specialty polarizers as well, such as a warming polarizer, the Singh-Ray Color Combo, and Gold-N-Blue I have found that this setting (relatively neutral) is also just about ideal when using these filters. Not as the final WB but simply for illustrative purposes for evaluation of the tones in the rear camera LCD and as a starting point in post process. Since I always shoot NEF I am not too concerned whether the white balance is off or not. Ninety-nine percent of the time I will make adjustments in post process. When using the Gold-N-Blue (not a filter for the faint of heart) I definitely expect to make significant changes. That's just how this filter works with digital - it was designed for film where the results are much more subtle. Of course, if I were shooting JPG where these settings would be cooked into the image file my technique would be less than desirable.
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Ernesto, my D700 has a 5560K° temperature setting and that's where the WB is set now for Shooting Menu Bank A - Landscape since those test shots above.
The many years of film practice made me tweak scans primarily with Levels and Curves, not with color mode/temperature, because films had it embedded.
One other reason for sticking to AUTO WB is that it proved to be more adequate for portrait flash photography (what I mostly do) than the WB Flash setting, in most cases. I'll have to check that carefully again, both under mixed lighting and with flash as fill or as primary light source.
The fun part is that now we can take further advantage of the additional glorious tools at hand in digital photography, making images that can even surprise ourselves, like in this trip. (Did I take this one?!)
I must say that as a raw shooter, I more often than not forget to reset my WB, to the point of getting "strange" results at times. But usually, for dawn/dusk, I'm along those lines of "daylight" WB setting too...
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Sun 27-Jan-13 03:41 PM | edited Tue 19-May-15 03:35 PM by jrp
The series with WB set to Daylight > Direct Sunlight, is the one closest to the true colors. Both series have no other correction (for contrast or tone).
When most of the light is reflected the subtleties abound. I have good examples made almost everywhere in Death Valley. (See for example this) However, even in direct sunlight, in the early or late hours, there will be reflected light that is nice to show. In both cases Auto WB tends to kill such subtleties as shown in the sample series above.
The other issue that is sometimes involved is reflected light. Auto white balance has a nasty habit of not only neutralizing color temperature, but also any tint. A green forest, the glow of bright yellow fall foliage, or even reflection of blue sky onto the shadows in scenes above can be neutralized by Auto WB and you'll lose that magical feel of the scene.
"Direct Sunlight" is what I'll use for JRP's scenario above, presuming the sun is visible. To get really picky, I have my newer cameras set for Direct Sunlight +0.5, which is a very slight shift in the warmer direction.
Mon 18-May-15 10:37 AM | edited Mon 18-May-15 10:40 AM by walkerr
If it's cloudy and the sun is blocked, you set it to cloudy.
I rarely use the shade setting. It's pretty warm, and when I'm in natural conditions requiring this much of an increases in warmth, there are usually other things going on (tree cover, etc.) that shift the tint around. I'll instead take a shot that includes a grey card in it so that I can copy a corrected white balance to all images taken in that light.
Keep in mind that just as I usually override the Direct Sunlight setting slightly in the warmer direction, you can also override the cloudy setting toward the cooler direction if need be. Just dial in a -B1 or -B0.5 (on cameras that have that half setting) to get it where you want. It'll stay there and be present anytime you switch to a cloudy setting on that camera.
Great post JRP! I've always wondered what is best, although I only shoot raw, it was only late last year I started to notice, I was prompted by my D700 producing unusual blue hues sometimes, At first I thought this old sensor was getting old, (well, it may be, I don't perform as good as I used to either! 😉) January this year, I started setting the WB and have been getting better results, (when I can remember ) Don't know why this is so? Gary
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Tue 19-May-15 01:54 AM | edited Tue 19-May-15 02:36 AM by jrp
Jan, Not silly at all
I sometimes use a pre-set WB, when there is time to do so and when facing odd colors like the changing tones of the fuchsia bougainvillea plants in my front yard. When at sunrises the light changes by the minute and sometimes in less time. As examples, aside from these above mentioned, here are two others:
An excellent tutorial JRP. This re-emphasizes the importance of paying attention to every detail, especially in challenging lighting situations. Photography requires one's full attention at all times....otherwise you'll end up with mere snapshots.