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Learn how to give the right colors to your photos

Here is a second article on the basics of digital photography to be mastered: knowing how to frame, knowing how to use the right amount of light, obtaining a clear image, restoring the right colors, choosing the right lens, observing your environment carefully.This time I suggest you learn how to render the colors well or to choose them when shooting or in post-processing, and therefore, as we say in photography or video, to properly adjust the white balance.

In this article, you'll learn how to take back control of your camera to take a great photo with the right colors.

Why choose to render the right colors?

It is possible that you have never asked yourself the question in fact.Your camera was set to automatic white balance and you saw no problem there (this is always the case for your mobile phone).Except that you regularly said to yourself: “but why the color on my photo is not the same as the one I saw?Very often your camera will do the job in the majority of simple cases, but don't forget that it is only a computer and that it does not have the finesse of your human eye.And then, you know my opinion now: take back control, don't let a computer automatically choose your creativity for you, and that from algorithms that do the same thing for everyone!

It is also possible sometimes that we simply have no choice.For example, if you want to sell your favorite clothes on the internet, it would be better if the colors of the clothes that you are going to photograph and put online are the same as those that the person is going to receive at home, right?

Before moving on to the settings of your camera or your mobile phone, you still need to understand what color temperature is that influences the rendering of your photos.

What is color temperature?

Kelvin color temperature gradient by Jérôme Dern source Wikipedia

Color temperature is how certain colors appear to us visually from a natural light source like the sun or from artificial light like a living room lamp.Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin on a scale of 1,000K to 12,000K, and, very importantly, because it's not intuitive, the higher the number, the more the light temperature is said to be "cold".As a reminder, a “hot” temperature tends towards red/orange and a “cold” temperature towards blue.And so, concretely:

  • when it is noon and the sun is right above our heads, we can consider that the temperature of the light is neutral, it will show 5,500 to 6,000 Kelvin, in the middle of the scale of 1,000 to 12,000K.

  • one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset, the temperature of the light will be warmer and more orange, around 4,500 Kelvin.

  • artificial light with a bulb will be around 2,400 to 3,200 Kelvin depending on the nature of the bulb.That's why very often the photos you take inside your house will tend towards orange or warm colors if you don't correct the color temperature settings.

Take a good look at the photos below, I took my trusty desk buddy "Crash" with white balance settings from 2500K to almost 10000K on my camera, you can see that the color rendering is nis really not the same:

So if you want your camera to understand how it will have to compensate for the color temperature it will have to photograph, you simply have to tell it with the setting of what is called "white balance", this toolhas settings to correct or compensate for a possible dominant color temperature of the lighting that will influence the color of your photos.

The three methods to adjust the white balance

In your camera, there are often 3 ways to adjust the white balance:

These methods are possible in my Nikon D850 DSLR camera and on my iPhone with the ProCamera app, a paid but highly rated app that lets you access the manual camera features of your phone.This is also the case with the majority of serious cameras on the market (not necessarily the most expensive ones, by the way) and with well-rated paid applications from Apple or Android.

Adjust white balance with your camera presets

On my Nikon, when you go to the menu, you have access to the following classic presets:

You will then choose between:

  • Auto natural light if you are outdoors in the middle of the day with relatively clear skies.

  • Incandescent if you are inside a building with conventional bulb lighting.

  • Fluorescent if you are inside a building with energy saving light bulbs or neon lights.

  • Sunny if you are under direct sunlight with no clouds.

  • Flash if you're using a flash, because flash light is white light that tends to cool the color temperature of the scene you're photographing.

  • Cloudy if you are under a cloudy sky.

  • Shade if you are outside in the shade.

Adjust white balance with a choice of color temperature

Whether it's presets or more precise settings, you'll ask your device to compensate for a cold cast with a warm setting or a warm cast (indoor lamp that tends towards orange) with a cold setting.Your device will basically compensate with blue when your lighting tends towards orange (warm) and with orange if your lighting tends towards blue (cold).If the dominant is neutral, in the case of a classic natural light outdoors (5,500 to 6,000 K, therefore in the middle of a scale which goes from 1,000 to 12,000 K), you will enter an equivalent neutral value.It is also easier to understand on the ProCamera settings interface:

ProCamera App White Balance Screen

You can see above, in the slider on the left, that the more you move to the left, the more you are told that you will make your image bluer with a low Kelvin value, an adjustment that can often be necessary indoors to compensate for aorange-like warm color temperature.

This option of directly choosing the Kelvin value also gives you the possibility of being very creative and radically modifying the tonality of the colors and therefore the atmosphere of your photo.For example, if you are under classic natural lighting at 5,500 K and you want to make the atmosphere of your photo icy, you will enter a value of 2,500 K, your photo will be more bluish while the light has a neutral the base.This is what I did in the photo below to accentuate my son Ethan's already very blue outfit and to reinforce the presence of winter under a very leaden sky.

Young child at the top of a staircase - cold white balance example

Set white balance manually

This is my preferred choice, as it is both perfect for shooting and also allows for precise correction if needed in post-processing.Moreover, I confess to having a lot of trouble adjusting this balance indoors by distinguishing types of lighting which can be multiple.

This manual setting is done in two steps:

  • in the first step, you are looking for a neutral zone of gray color (as gray as possible, even if it is not a perfect gray, a dirty white will do the trick) exposed to the light which according to you should have the mostinfluence on your photo.

  • in the second step (see the manual for your camera), you usually focus on this area with your camera, you shoot and you get a manual adjustment of the white balance.

The first step is to find a neutral color like gray.It's often best to get what's called a gray scale chart, I chose the 30x30cm Lastolite, marketed by Manfrotto, which folds up quickly into a small bag you can carry with you all the time.

Lastolite Gray Scale Chart

Just because it's called white balance doesn't mean you have to adjust it using white media.This type of gray is perfectly neutral and makes it possible to precisely determine the influence of the dominant color of a light.However, the chart has a white side that you can use when the light is low and the gray becomes less visible for your device.

You then place your gray chart under the zone which undergoes the influence of the light which interests you.For example, if it's the sun and you want to paint a portrait of a person, you place the target near the person's face (you can ask him to hold it) and you'll go to the second step.Below you see what I did to be sure to perfectly reproduce the colors of the paintings of an artist, MurielleB, who asked me to make a book for her:

Of course, if you don't have a gray chart handy, use any gray or whitish area possible that is influenced by the light that interests you.

The second step is the actual setting with your device.Here are several possibilities with my app on my phone and my Nikon SLR:

  • With the ProCamera app, you press the WB button (White Balance is the English translation of white balance) and you point to your gray chart or gray area with your phone.It's done, your white balance is saved and you'll be able to shoot.

ProCamera app white balance screen
  • With my Nikon D850 SLR, you have two possibilities:

1- you can go through the menu by choosing “PRE”:

You choose a location to store the result of your white balance measurement: 6 possible locations, from d-1 to d-6.Then you point your camera towards the gray area to be adjusted and you press the shutter button as if you were taking a photo.If it worked correctly you should see, on the small right screen located above your Nikon camera or in the eyecup, display "Good".Otherwise you will have to start over.

2- you can hold down the WB (White Balance) hotkey and play with the two wheels on the right to select PRE and the location from d-1 to d-6:

Then, same thing, you point and trigger.

Please note that the light conditions can sometimes change often, depending on your environment, do not hesitate to redo the adjustment regularly.

It is imperative to adjust your white balance correctly for night shots, I advise you to carry out this adjustment manually of course and under the luminous zone of the main object of your shot.Without this, you risk distorting the colors and very often obtaining colors that are too warm due to the nature of the artificial lighting used at night, especially in town.

Catching things up in post-processing

It is possible to readjust the white balance of a photo when you go to the development phase of your photo in post-processing software.I personally use Adobe Lightroom because I have always used it and am very good at it.It is also integrated into a very comfortable production suite with Photoshop.But there are obviously plenty of other choices.

In Lightroom, you have in the development module a tool for adjusting the white balance.If we take the example of my friend “Crash” whom I initially photographed with a rather cold white balance, therefore bluish, I have 3 correction possibilities available to me on this first photo below:

Correcting White Balance in Adobe Lightroom

- First possibility: choose an automatic correction by checking auto in the drop-down list or any other value that corresponds to what you are looking for.

Correcting White Balance in Adobe Lightroom

- Second possibility: choose a manual correction with the eyedropper by looking for an area composed of a gray with the following RGB coordinates (Red Green Blue computer coding system): R = 37.65% red, G = 37.65% green andB = 37.65% blue.At least by trying to approach these values as best as I did below:

Correcting White Balance in Adobe Lightroom

- Third possibility: choose a manual correction with the temperature and tint sliders.

Correcting White Balance in Adobe Lightroom

Just like black and white, the choice of color is creative and has a strong impact on the message you want to give your photo.As a famous emperor and philosopher said:

"Your way of thinking will be oriented according to the nature of the objects that you most often represent, because it is from the representations that the soul takes its color". Marcus Aurelius

Here is !You learned in less than 10 minutes to choose to give the right colors to your photos or to define the tones, warmer or colder, of your images.I wish you a lot of fun and beautiful pictures to come.Feel free to post a comment or question below if you wish.


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