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Join photographer and teacher Ben Long as he describes the tools, creative options, and special considerations involved in shooting with a DSLR camera at night or in low-light conditions, such as sunset or candlelight. The course addresses exposure decisions such as choice of aperture and shutter speed and how they impact depth of field and the camera's ability to freeze motion.
Ben also shows how to obtain accurate color balance in tungsten and fluorescent lighting situations, and how to postprocess the images in Photoshop to remove noise caused by higher ISO settings. He also demonstrates accessories that can greatly expand your low-light photography options.
When you shoot in low light, most of your images are going to need a white balance correction. Low-light situations play havoc with auto white balance mechanisms, shifting your image towards red or orange. You can try and be very diligent and careful and manually white balance at the scene, but sometimes that's not possible. Sometimes you may not have a white balance card, you may not be able to get it into the light where you're shooting, or as in the case when we shot the theatresports show the other night, you maybe dealing with stage lighting where a light is actually being intentionally colored in different ways and that coloring is changing throughout the shoot.
Even if I could have gotten on stage ahead of time and done a white balance, the light was changing throughout the show and so that white balance would have gone bad after a scene change and then I'd be back where I started. So if you're shooting RAW, this all gets much easier, because with a RAW file, you can change white balance after the fact-- and we are going to try that right now. I have the great good fortune before the show the other night to have the opportunity to get on stage with the actors and shoot some close-ups and shoot some headshots and things like that. So let's open one of those up right now.
I am in Bridge. I am double-clicking on the file to open it up in Camera RAW in Photoshop. We're going to be doing our editing in this course in Photoshop. If you use a different editor, say Lightroom, or Aperture, Capture NX, iPhoto any number of other RAW converters, you're going to find the same feature set that we're using here; it's just going to be a different interface and different tools. So here you can see the image is shifted in lots of weird ways. Their flesh tones are way too reddish and orange. There is a yellowish cast to the greens. This white shirt doesn't really look white. So this is a case of bad white balance.
Fortunately, I have a lot of different ways to go to correct this. Over here in Camera Raw, I have my White Balance controls. White Balance is always going to be comprised of at least two sliders: a Temperature slider and a Tint slider. Sometimes this will just be called White Balance and Tint. The Temperature slider shifts from blue to yellow and is a very finely controlled slider; there is a lot of varying degrees in there. The Tint slider shifts from green to magenta and is a very, very subtle adjustment. You're not going to see a huge change as you move this slider around.
In Camera Raw, I also have this pop-up menu of preset white balances. This is just like the preset white balances that I might find in my camera. If I pop this open, you see Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten. Those should look familiar. Those are probably the White Balance presets that you have on your camera, or something similar. I am going to go over here to Tungsten. There is no entry here for stage lighting, but these lights were probably tungsten lights, and if I pick that up, things get pretty good. This is definitely better, but they are still little too blue with a kind of a cold image.
I am going to put it back to As Shot, which means it's going to go back to what the camera's Auto White Balance had chosen. I have another option. I can just skew these sliders around by hand, but that can be really hard to do accurately. It's hard to know where to stop. But, up here I have a White Balance eyedropper--it's this thing right here--and if I click it on something in the image that is supposed to be white or ideally middle gray, then it will sample that color and use that as the basis for an accurate white balance calculation. Now, when your color is way of whack, it can be difficult, what in the image is supposed to be white or gray.
But, it's usually a safe bet that someone's teeth or the whites of their eyes are supposed to be white. So I am going to zoom in here. I am just using Command+Plus--that would be Ctrl+Plus on Windows, to zoom in. And I have got some teeth here that I can use. I am going to go for the whites of the eyes though, right up here. So I am just positioning my dropper there, clicking once, and there is my white balance adjustment. Again, it's a little cool, maybe a little blue. I am going to click around in some other places, some other whites, and see what I get. I am not getting a big shift on any of these; in fact, they are not really changing it all. So I think that's pretty good.
Now, white balance is an objective measure, but subjectively, correct white balance may not be the best thing for the image. It may not be exactly what you want. This is definitely better. It's always best to start with accurate white balance and then you can warm it up or cool it down to your personal taste. I am going to go from here to a little warmer by just sliding my Temperature slider a tiny bit to the right. As I said, it's a very finely grained tool here. I don't need much of an adjustment, and my image is warmed up. Now, I can go on to the rest of my edits.
Normally, we make tonal corrections before color corrections, because very often correcting tone--that is, correcting the black point and white point and contrast in your image--very often making those corrections will correct the color in your image. White balance takes things so out of whack that you need to get it taken care of first for a few reasons: one, if you cannot correct it, you might want to abandon the image; two, all of these adjustments that I make with these sliders right here are basically free edits. They don't degrade my image in any way. They don't use up any of the editing latitude. They don't move my data around in any way that is going to ever result in an artifact or tone breaks or anything like that.
Since my other edits will be doing that, it's great to get color as correct as possible with a white balance adjustment, because it leaves me a lot of editing room later. So this image is adjusted. I am going to hit the Done button here, which sucks those edits away, and now when I am back in Bridge. You can see my thumbnail just changed there to show the corrected, updated version. However, while I was standing there shooting this particular scene, I shot a lot of frames; that's what all of these images are here. They were all shot under exactly the same lighting, so they really need just exactly the same white balance correction.
So I am going to select all of these. I am going to click here to select the first one, then Shift+Click on the last one, and that will select everything in between, and now I am going to right-click. On the Macintosh, if you don't have a two-button mouse, you can Ctrl+Click. When I right-click, I get this pop-up menu. If I scroll down a ways, I will see Develop Settings, and in here there is Camera Raw Defaults, which will set the image to some default settings that Camera Raw has, or I can go to previous conversion. That will simply apply the last set of raw corrections that I made, and I know the last set was appropriate for this lighting situation.
So I am going to choose that. And after I do, these images just start appearing correct. It takes the edits that I made to this image and automatically applies them to all of these. Let me just pop one of those up larger here, and you can see, sure enough, that's correct white balance. This is another one of the great advantages of working in RAW, so I can very easily lift edits off of one RAW file and drop them on another. And this is true with Lightroom and Aperture and many other RAW converters. There is one other way of making that edit. Let me show you. I am going to come down here to another image.
Again, we've got a white balance problem, and again, I can fix this very easily. I am going to grab my White Balance eyedropper. In Camera Raw, there are two droppers: there is the White Balance dropper, which is this one right here, and then there is the Color Sampler tool. That's a different dropper, and that lets me measure a color in different places. That's not what I want; I want the White Balance dropper. Now, I am just going to click in the whites of the eyes again, and boom! My white balance is much better. I am going to now warm it up a tiny bit. Now, this image needs a lot of other edits. I am not going to worry about those right now though. I am just going to hit the Done button and white balance is correct now for this image.
But again, I shot a lot of other frames in that same lighting. So what I am going to do here now is go up to the Edit menu and you will see, here is another copy of that Develop Settings submenu. And if I pop that open, I find a couple of additional options: Copy Camera Raw Settings and Paste Camera Raw Settings. So I am going to copy these settings, and I am going to select these three images. I am stopping here because there seems to be a color shift in these next ones, so I am going to want to do a different edit there. Now, with those selected, I am going to go up here to the Edit menu, choose Develop Settings again, and this time choose Paste Camera Raw Settings.
Now, in this menu, when I choose Paste Camera Raw Settings, I get this dialog box that lets me select exactly what settings from the Camera Raw dialog box that I want to paste. I can go up here and just say White Balance and that will check off only the White Balance settings. If I wanted to also take maybe a crop if I had made one, or an exposure adjustment, I could put those in, so I can control exactly what Camera Raw edits are moving from one image to another. Hit OK and again, those get applied, and now all of these images are corrected.
So I can very quickly go through my entire shoot and get white balance set properly and then go back through and work on my other edits. So again, most of your low-light edits, and most of your low-light images are probably going to need a white balance adjustment unless you are very diligent about shooting manual white balance at the scene. But, if you're working with Raw, pretty much no matter what RAW converter you are using, you're going to have a very easy time of correcting that tricky low- light white balance.
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