In the excitement of the shoot and technical pressures, one of the most important steps gets the short shrift: White Balance Shot. It is so easy to do and it saves so much time, later on, I cannot overemphasize its importance; especially with the availability of great tools at very affordable prices.
White balance shot
Clearly, nobody wants a “dumb shoot.” Yet, the stories I have heard about model shoots in photo meets could use a few simple, low-cost, maybe even no-cost tools to add more information to the images captured. After the shoot, in post-production, when you look at a photograph you took earlier this morning or yesterday afternoon, how do you know that the colors are correct? Is the model’s skin color accurate or is there a greenish color cast? Was the white hat she was wearing this cold or was it a bit warmer? Without a known entity in the photograph, these decisions cannot be made to the best advantage of the photographer.
The solution is extremely simple and takes practically no time: Include a simple device designed for this purpose every time the lighting setup changes. Tell all the participants to take a white balance shot that they can use in postprocessing. Today’s digital cameras record much of the meta-data from the date and time to the exposure, and they are very good at assessing the white balance to bring it into the ballpark. To maximize the information value of the photographs and the photoshoot, a white balance shot will be extremely valuable, the first step in the smart shoot. There are two such devices from the powerhouses of color management: Datacolor’s SpyderCube and X-Rite’s ColorChecker Passport. The latter is far more sophisticated in both the target it provides and the software solution it integrates with Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Lightroom. It also fits comfortably in your pocket. Don’t leave home without it!
The same hardware-software combination also allows for camera calibration under various lighting situations. This simple extra step makes a significant improvement on the color rendering of the photographs as they are now adjusted for the specific sensor on the camera you are using. It is particularly important if you shoot with multiple bodies as it will ensure minimizing the camera-to-camera color rendering differences.
Below are before and after white balance shots. There were three different light sources. Using the ColorChecker Passport makes it a one-click fix with equally easy warming or cooling the entire photograph.
Check camera white balance
Although less important when shooting RAW, it is a good idea to make sure that the camera is not set for an incorrect white balance setting during the shoot. This will serve as additional insurance if you have to quickly extract JPEG images from your RAW files to show the client, or for other technical reasons, you switch to JPEG shooting in midstream. Your camera will do its best to give you the appropriate white balance which you can modify in postprocessing. For an all-purpose setting, auto white balance is a safe choice, especially when shooting RAW with a white balance shot as described above.
Avoid mixed lighting
Although the amount of lighting determines the exposure, the color and quality of lighting will determine the colors in the photograph. Using mixed lights, like fluorescent and tungsten, daylight and fluorescent will throw a curveball at your camera’s white balance. Whenever possible, use light sources that have the same or similar color temperature. Flash and daylight are similar, tungsten light and daylight are not similar in color temperature; most ordinary fluorescent lights may be a nightmare when mixed with other sources. Keep it simple!
Keeping written information and diagrams, very simple ones that sketch the lighting setup and the lighting ratios will also add considerable value to the collected information and provide additional learning tools when the memory fades and the excitement diminishes days after the event when you are all in front of your computers trying to remember the details of the shoot. This information may very well be prepared ahead of time by the model shoot organizers and provided to the photographers for note-taking. In the studio, every photographer should develop record-keeping habits that can be referred to later on, much later on.
There is also some debate, although I fail to understand the reason, on whether to shoot JPEG or RAW. With the storage prices today, the argument of being able to store more images in JPEG no longer holds any water. Every RAW image can be converted to a JPEG as if it was shot that way if necessary for the speed of processing. However, the amount of information contained in a RAW file is significantly, and substantively more than a pixel-based JPEG version. If you like to eke out the maximum quality from your photographs, shoot RAW.
There are two schools of thought on the post-production process of digital images, including portraits and glamor shots. One school subscribes to “no further intervention after the shutter is released” and the second advocates “any tool is acceptable to achieve the vision.” Your personal position on this spectrum is obviously your choice. I will only submit to you that post-production or the work done on the computer is nothing more than another tool in the arsenal of the photographer. If it helps you achieve your artistic vision, learn it and use it; if it does not, ignore it. This is very much like having a dozen or more filters in your camera bag that you decide to use depending on the circumstances. The only point that I will strongly advocate for the use of these tools is one of restraint. In the end, the viewer should not be aware of the use of any tools, whether used during the shoot, or post-production. The tool must remain unnoticeable and unobtrusive.
Post-production needs to cover for imperfections brought in by:
- The photographer
- The equipment
- The model
The aim in this stage should be to retain plausible reality in all the elements of the finished product. The main environments I will present in the subsequent posts are Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and their associated tools to achieve the desired results, although you can carry the general concepts and principles to other post-production environments.
Next: Model Photo/Portrait Editing Framework