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The White Balance eyedropper in Camera Raw, or really just about any other RAW converter software, is a great way to fix white balance: single-click and bang, your colors all fall into place. The problem with working in low light is it's often very difficult to tell what in the image was originally gray or white. In other words, what is a good target to be sampling off of for your white balance? Also, because you are working in low light, you probably got your ISO up. If you are working with a camera that's very noisy, even though you might see a patch on the screen that you know is supposed to be gray, the pixel you click on might actually be a green or purple color.
So it can just be a little bit difficult to work with that White Balance dropper when you're shooting in low light. If you are very picky about white balance, if you want to be sure that you can come home and very easily correct your white balance consider carrying a white balance card with you. That's what I did here. I shot this image. I was just walking around the street. It was raining and I saw this and I took it and I thought okay, I think that might be a keeper, but I'm going to want to correct the white balance. So I pulled out my gray card and held it up in front of me--this is what it looks like--and I took a picture of it.
As long as I'm in the same light as my subject then this will work, just holding at arm's length and taking a picture of it like this. At nighttime, I'm almost always going to be in the same light as my subject, because we're all under the streetlights. This is a white balance card made by a whibal.com. That's W-H-I-B-A-L. There are lots of things I like about it. It's truly spectrally neutral, meaning no matter what angle I look at, I'm going to get a real gray. It's gray all the way through, so if the surface gets scuffed, I can just sand it down and there's gray underneath. And it floats.
So if I ever fall off a boat I can actually use it as a little floatation device. So what can I do here now that I have this actual gray sample? Well I can grab my White Balance dropper and click on it, and my image is corrected. That's great, except I didn't really want a picture of a gray card; I wanted this other picture over here. So there are a few different options. I could click with my White Balance dropper, take note of the values that it filled in over here--Temperature 2000, Tint, -8--and then I could go type those into this other image.
There is an easier way though: if I, say, Select All over here and then hit the Synchronize button I can tell it that any of these edits that are checked, any of these edits that I make will be done to all of the images that are currently selected. I'm just going to go ahead and hit OK, because the only edit I am going to make right now is white balance. So now I just click here, and you can see that now over here my white balance is correct. It sampled the gray card, which I know is correct for the lighting in this image because I was standing in the same place for both shots.
I sampled the gray card, figured out what the correct Temperature and Tint values were, and applied that to all of the selected synchronized images. As soon as I click on an individual image, they are no longer synchronized. There are other ways that I could do this same thing. I could click on the gray card to correct it and then back in Bridge, if I'm using Bridge as my browser, I could copy that edit off of one image, paste it onto another. If I'm using Aperture, there are ways of copying and pasting images. Same thing for Lightroom, same thing for Capture NX. A lot of raw converters provide this capability. You can simply look at yours to determine how to do it.
The important thing is this only works if you've got this reference shot. So I don't necessarily walk around at night shooting gray cards wherever I am; I don't worry about it until I've taken the shot that I want. Another thing I could use this for is if I know that I'm going to be in mostly the same lighting all the time, I could go ahead do a manual white balance in my camera with that gray card and then I know that I'm not going to have to do any post-processing at all. Personally, I actually find this easier than dealing with manual white balance. So that's whibal.com, W-H-I-B-A-L. This is a great technique for getting accurate color when you're working in low light.
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