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Most of the time, auto white balance will be all you need to get good color. There will be times, though, when auto white balance might let you down. Maybe you're shooting in shade, or on a cloudy day, or perhaps you're in a very difficult white balance situation, like I'm in right now. We've got a mixed lighting situation here. We've got daylight lights mixed with tungsten lights. And the practical upshot is those flowers back there, which are supposed to be white, are looking very yellowish, or orangish, and that's going to confuse the white balance on the camera.
We haven't looked at live view yet, but I'm going to go ahead and turn it on now. Don't worry, you're going to get a whole chapter on live view later in this course, but this is going to be easier for you to understand if you can watch what's happening in camera. You can see right off the bat that my white flowers don't look white, even to the camera; they've got a real yellowish orange look to them. I'm going to go ahead and take a picture here, because I want to store this bad white balance scene that we've got here. Now, I could change to a white balance preset. I could change to tungsten, or daylight, or something like that, but none of those are actually going to be right for this particular lighting instance.
What I need to do here is a completely manual white balance. This is always going to be the most accurate way to get white balance for any scene, but especially for one like this, that's confusing the auto white balance mechanism. So, the manual white balance process starts by pointing at something that is a neutral gray, or a white. So I'm going to ask Lauren to put this big piece of white foam core in the scene, and if Lauren is not hanging around your scene, that's okay; you can get someone else to do this. You just need a piece of white paper; something white, or get a neutral gray. It needs to fill most of the frame.
Most importantly, it needs to be back there in the light. Notice, she is not putting it right here in front of the camera. It needs to have the light on it that's causing the problem. Now I need to take a picture of it. I'm going to switch to Manual focus right now, because that bare white card, the autofocus is not going to be able to focus on, and I'm just going to take a picture. So now I have a picture of my white card. I'm going to switch back to Auto focus. Lauren, you can take the card out of there. Thank you! I'm going to use that as a reference for the camera to generate a correct white balance off of.
I'm going to go into my menuing system here now. And in the second page of the shooting menu, you'll find two white balance related entries. Actually, you'll find three, but we're only going to use two of them. White balance, which you can see, is currently set to auto white balance. With this command, I can do the exact same thing that I would do if I simply push the white balance button up here, and chose a new white balance. And down here, Custom White Balance; this is what I want right now. I'm going to hit Set. Now, when I do, it shows me the last image that I took, which in this case, is my white card. If I had taken some more images in the meantime, I would need to navigate back to this image.
You notice here that this is the sign for manual white balance, and next to it, it says Set. So, by pressing the Set button, I'm going to tell the camera to calculate white balance off of this image. So I'm going to do that now, and it's telling me to be sure to -- or it's asking me to confirm, do I want to use white balance data from this image? I'm going to say Yes. Then it's reminding me to set white balance to the custom setting. So I'll say, thank you for reminding me about that, and I'll just go do that right now with this very menu command. I'll come up here and change from Auto white balance over to Custom white balance.
So I hit Set there, and say OK. And now, right away in live view, I can see that things are very different. My white flowers are back to being white. So I'm going to take a shot here. Now let's go back and compare. Here is my image shot with a custom white balance, here is the image shot with auto White Balance, and you can see there is a big difference between the two; a huge color shift here. So this is a much better white balance for my white flowers.
But, you might be saying, I like the other image better, because it's got all that nice warmth to it. That's fine! From an aesthetic standpoint, you might like having more warmth in your image. I would argue that it's better, though, to shoot for accuracy. You can always warm and cool an image later in your image editor. It's very difficult to correct a bad white balance, especially if it's a scene with lots of different colors in it, and especially if you're shooting JPEG. Now, if you're shooting RAW, you can always change white balance after the fact. It would be very easy to correct this RAW file in my image editor.
That said, if I get white balance right in camera, it's going to save me a lot of image editing time later. So I would press upon you to always go for accurate white balance in camera, both because it's difficult to correct later, and it's a timesaver. If you get it right in camera, it's less editing that you need to do later. One of the most important things to know about working with white balance is that the really hard part of the work is not what's done in camera; it's what you do with your eye when you're looking at the scene. You need to learn to recognize when you are facing a scene that might need some white balance attention.
The problem is that your eye is constantly correcting color. So even though these flowers look very red and yellow, a less subtle lighting shift may be more difficult to detect, because my eye is really going to impress upon me that they are white. So it takes some practice to learn to really get in the habit of recognizing, oh, I think the flesh tones in this image are too cool, because I'm shooting in shade, or I think this tungsten light is lending an orange cast to my image. So good white balance starts with paying attention to the colors in your scene, learning to recognize when you might need to compensate for bad color, and then turning to the white balance capabilities of your 5D.
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