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MobiWorkshop MW2 White Balance

FundyBrian

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White Balance or Colour Balance

What is white balance or colour balance and how does it become out of balance? How do we know when it is correct?

The other day I was making a close-up of a nice apple that happened to have a yellow shadow impression of a leaf. My lighting was partially diffused daylight coming through a couple of windows. I looked at my subject and then at the screen and there was a very big difference in colour.

A1B0946A-21A2-43C8-A0EA-B342CDC973EC.jpeg

Above: This is how it looked to my eyes.

F4970D52-C77F-4CC1-8BA9-FB040555AF5D.jpeg

Above: This is how it looked on my screen. I thought, blah, that’s terrible.

What went wrong?

Auto White Balance (AWB) is to blame.

Yes, AWB wrecked the white balance of my picture and I had to circumvent it to get the proper colour. In this case I used a white balance reference card to read from. I made the reading, locked it, and made the picture. Perfect colour, no guessing, no editing, no fiddling with sliders.

I noticed something interesting while I was using my white balance card. The card view was filling my screen and when I took it away I saw the apple in its glorious natural colour, but just for a second. Then I saw the colour change as the AWB took over and the colour was leached out of my picture. The transformation took 2 or 3 seconds to go from right to very wrong. This was the adaptation at work. I had not realize it took a little time for the camera to study the image before settling on the colour it thought was right.

I returned the card to the apple position and this time I pressed the WB lock button. Now my screen image matched the actual subject.

RGB - the Additive Primaries.

Colour photos are made of 3 colour layers, Red, Green & Blue. This is where “RGB” comes from that describes the colour space our pictures live in. Why RGB and not some other colours? Why not the Red, Blue & Yellow that painters use? To understand that we need to look at the photographic colour wheel.

34B7F6BA-8752-46CE-BFAD-4E016168C954.jpeg


Imagine you have 3 projectors, each with a different colour filter, and you project the 3 light beams so they overlap somewhat. If you have the right three colours, they “add” up to white. The only time it adds up to white is when the colours are the additive primaries, Red, Green, & Blue. You can make any colour by adding proportions of these 3 colours.

I made the illustrations in Affinity Designer. I started with a black background, added 3 layers, each with a coloured circle. Yes, they really do add up to white. Likewise, the cyan, yellow and magenta are the natural result of this addition. You actually use “Add” in the layer mode selection.

Remember how we used to use a projector to show colour slides? The light passed through the RGB layers of the slide film and added them together on the screen. It isn’t that different from the way we look at pictures on a computer monitor or tablet or cell phone screen. In this case we are looking directly at the light and seeing the light coming through the 3 layers of our image. Sort of like looking at large slides on a light box.

Note that where red and green overlap we get yellow. I can feel the painters cringing now. Painters are mixing solid coloured pigments while photographers are mixing transparent coloured light. A painter’s primaries are those colours that cannot be made by mixing other colours together. Red, Blue & Yellow. When you add red and green light the result will be lighter than either of the two colours. Pigments, on the other hand, absorb light so when you mix two paint colours you always get something darker. When working with colour photos it really helps if you can keep the photographer’s colour wheel in mind and not the painter’s colour wheel.

When you add Blue and Green you get Cyan. Blue + Red = Magenta. Red + Green = Yellow.


Subtractive Primaries CMY

Now imagine you are looking towards a white light box and you have 3 coloured filters, cyan, magenta, and yellow. Each coloured filter passes its own colour and blocks the others. When the exact colours are overlapped you block all the light and you get black. Cyan, Magenta, & Yellow are the subtractive primaries and their best known application is in colour printing. The precise names are Process Cyan, Process Magenta, Process Yellow.
106D13CC-C5D5-4610-B338-73FBFCB97BA7.jpeg

Above: You see that each pair of colours that overlap results in a darker colour.

AB885431-68BC-42FC-A54D-1F12F03986BA.jpeg

Above: Now we have the 6 colours in the Photographic colour wheel. This is the same colour wheel used by physicists and scientists in the study of light, colour and the electromagnetic spectrum.

F94DFB81-FB56-4B1D-AB22-1DC3E2AF8867.jpeg

When we are thinking about colour balance or white balance it is easier to imagine this type of colour wheel with the colours faded towards white in the middle. In a correctly colour balanced photo you can imagine a dot in the very centre of the wheel representing neutrality.
When your photo has a colour shift the dot representing that shift on the wheel could be in any position, all around the 360º of the colours and farther from or closer to the centre representing the degree of imbalance. So we have the direction of the imbalance, plus the amount of imbalance represented by one dot.
You can think of this type of colour control as having a joystick in the centre. Let’s say our colour shift is towards red you are going to pull the joystick away from red and towards cyan until you get back to the centre.

Once you understand how Auto White Balance goes wrong you will have a good idea of which way it has gone and why, and how to correct it.

Auto White Balance looks at the whole picture and tries to strike a balance in the colours in the image. When it perceives an imbalance it pulls the colour away from the excess colour by adding the opposite colour.

In the case of my apple picture at the top. The Auto White Balance looks at that and sees mostly red, but also a big patch of yellow, and it says “where’s the cyan/blue?” so it piles on a bunch of cyan until it feels the scale come back into balance. From the AWB perspective you can imagine a dot placed on the colour wheel above probably 2/3 in the red and 1/3 towards the yellow. The opposite of that would be 2/3 cyan and 1/3 blue. The problem is in this case, the picture really is made up mostly of red (plus some yellow) so adding all that cyan/blue ruins the colour. In this case the AWB has caused the problem. It would have been better if the AWB just sat this one out. As soon as you look at a subject with so much red you can anticipate the response of the AWB will be to pile on the cyan.

From the AWB’s point of view it would call this “subject failure”. From our perspective we call it AWB failure. Essentially, we have presented it with a no-win situation.


More to come. This is my opening message. The how and why will follow.
 
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FundyBrian

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In case anyone is wondering... I’m writing the text on my iPad but if I post the text from there the formatting disappears. So I send the text to my iMac and post it from there instead, and the formatting remains, but the pictures are over on my iPad. Then I go back to my iPad and add the pictures from there.
 

FundyBrian

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I don’t know how long the power will stay on here. We’re having a big storm and it has changed from blowing snow to ice pellets. The forecast freezing rain will be the problem when it arrives.
 

RoseCat

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The color thing is a bit wonky to me as I come from a painterly background and know the primary colors as red, blue, yellow.

Inkjet printers use magenta, cyan, yellow (which makes more sense to me as magenta and cyan are types of red and blue).

But red, blue, green feels sort of :alien:.
 

FundyBrian

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The color thing is a bit wonky to me as I come from a painterly background and know the primary colors as red, blue, yellow.

Inkjet printers use magenta, cyan, yellow (which makes more sense to me as magenta and cyan are types of red and blue).

But red, blue, green feels sort of :alien:.
Yes, I realize that is fairly widespread. That is exactly why it is important to have the Photographic colour wheel in mind when editing images. I’ve spent so much time with the Photographic colour wheel that when I look at the artist’s colour wheel I feel disoriented. The way colours are mixed in the artist’s colour wheel just doesn’t work in photography.
 

FundyBrian

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Auto White Balance

Digital cameras have White Balance to adjust the colour to suit any given lighting condition. Auto White Balance, or AWB as it is usually marked in the camera, attempts to automatically adjust the balance of colour in our photos to suit the prevailing light conditions. Overall, it works fairly well with average subjects. Here the word “average” takes on a specific photographic meaning. It works about as well as auto-exposure - and you know how well that works (eye roll). The scenes it works OK on I think of as the Grey World. Even mix of colours, average reflectance, ordinary lighting.

Different approaches to white balance.

I have the impression that some people think that paying attention to white balance at the time of photographing is more than they want to think about and would prefer to deal with the problems later. That means spending lots of time in editing fiddling with the sliders to adjust the colour so they think it looks pleasing. They may have to start by overcoming a considerable colour shift and they probably can’t tell when the colour is anything like the way they saw it. If you have to make big changes to colour in regular jpeg images you stand the risk of introducing more colour noise.

If you understand how Auto White Balance works you can still work the same way except you will have a much better idea of how to get the colour you want.

The other approach is to get the colour right at the time of photographing and save all the time you would have spent editing the colour later to get it right. Of course you still have the option to exercise your creative expression but now you have a known starting point.

590763E8-C171-43BE-B8A0-BB50D39697DA.jpeg

This is how the scene looked - bright warm red wall, yellow chairs.

98252E3B-BD74-4BCB-A975-6333E6349196.jpeg

Auto White Balance really did a number on this image. But you can see why. It would take one look at this scene and say “Where’s the blue/cyan?” The result is so predictable that you should be alerted to take steps to circumvent the problem before pressing the shutter.
I don’t usually save any off colour results but this case was so extreme it was too good to pass up.


Auto White Balance changes the white balance in every picture based on the balance of colours reflected from the scene. In other words the white balance is dependent on the colour of the subject while it really should be dependent on light conditions - except it has nothing reliable to read from.

Let’s say, you’re taking pictures at a parade on a sunny day and a yellow car goes by. The Auto WB thinks “too much yellow” so it adds blue. A red car goes by and it thinks “too much red” and so on with each colour that goes by. Unless a neutral grey car comes along none of the cars gets the correct colour and the background colour in every picture is different. Does that make any sense? Even worse, during editing you have to adjust every single picture, and each once will be different even though the light conditions were the same.

Instead, you’re going to do just one thing. Go to the white balance menu and select the sunny day setting. That’s it! Now the colour balance will the same in every picture, as it should be, and each car will have the proper colour and you won’t have to edit the colour in any of the photos. Just that one thing saved you lots of fiddling.
If it is a cloudy day instead you simply select the cloudy day icon. OR- make a custom WB reading from a known neutral subject, such as a white balance card, or an 18% grey card that also claims to be good for white balance (not all are). And now you once again have a correct white balance setting.

Here you thought it was going to be a lot of extra fiddling around when in fact it is just one thing and it saves you maybe dozens of individual adjustments.

What does correct colour balance look like?

If we look at the fine art definition of white balance it would say something about the colours being true or looking the way they are supposed to look. But colours can vary quite a bit and who is to know. You find your main clues by looking at the neutral tones in the image, in particular, the whites and blacks. If your whites are white and your blacks are black who can quibble about the colours in between?

Methods for getting the correct colour at the time of Photographing.
  • Evaluate your scene to see if everything looks normal and if so then AWB will probably work fine.
  • If your evaluation reveals an unusually large area of one colour that will throw off the white balance then you need to take steps to prevent that. Instead of relying on reading the light reflected from the subject pick a method that reads the light itself.
  • A - Select a white balance preset. Many camera apps have provision to use white balance presets. Just like a regular camera, there is a menu with a set of standard white balance presets. Sun, overcast, shade, indoor 3200ºK, flash, etc. You simply select the one matching your lighting conditions and carry on.
  • B - Making a custom white balance reading. If your lighting conditions don’t match any presets you have the option to measure the colour of the light where you are now and save it as a custom white balance. You need a known neutral surface to read from, such as a white balance card made for the purpose. You can also use any truly neutral card such as a piece of white photo mount board. In a pinch some white paper will do but bear in mind that it is actually quite hard to find truly white paper. The problem with this best option is that not very many apps have provision for making a custom white balance.

Another way to think of auto white balance (AWB):


You have a red flower on a green bush. The AWB looks at the scene and says “where’s the blue?”, and it puts some in until it finds a balance - the wrong balance. This is why, in this situation, that your red flower ends up with a bluish colour shift. And this same colour inaccuracy is happening in practically every blankety blank shot where the colours in the subject don’t happen to average out neatly, and it’s very aggravating!!#*! So I would propose that Auto White Balance be dubbed Aggravating White Balance instead.

PureShot is my manual camera of choice and one reason is the easy access to the white balance lock. It’s right on the main camera screen, not buried in a menu. In any unknown light condition the fastest method to get the WB correct is to take a reading off a known surface, such as a WB card. You just hold the card in front of the camera picking up the light at the same direction you are photographing and tap the WB lock button. You may have to angle the card slightly to avoid a shadow but generally tipping the card slightly to catch the light at the same angle it is falling on the subject works best. That’s it, you’re all set. No guessing. No experimenting with different scene settings or °K scales. Bullet proof. Make sure you aren’t wearing wildly coloured clothing, like a yellow raincoat, because the light reflecting from the coat will pollute the white balance reading.

What about creative expression?

If you submit photos to a high end competition with trained judges they might take a dim view of your personal expression if your blacks have a reddish tinge or your whites are bluish. Certainly there is room for creative expression but it should be done well.
The problem is that careless use of white balance sliders can shift all the colours in the picture including the whites and blacks
It is entirely possible to adjust colours in a certain direction without messing up the whites and blacks - using curves.


Methods of correcting colour shifts during editing.


Some editing apps have a white balance eyedropper tool. The idea behind this is you sample a neutral grey area within your image and the app adjusts the colour to provide a true neutral grey. I have found that my pictures hardly ever have any real neutral grey tone in them to sample from. I might select the bark of a tree that I think is probably neutral grey so I sample there and, whoa!, the colour goes off wildly in some unpleasant direction. Nope, I guess that wasn’t a neutral tone. The only time I find that sort of tone to read from is when I put a grey card in my image for test purposes.


A Dilemma:

Here’s a situation I want you to see and maybe you can find a way around it.
Let’s suppose we have a picture that has shifted towards magenta and we want to bring it back to normal. The typical white balance slider is blue to yellow. Sometimes another slider is present, called tint, going from green to red.

Have a look at the colour wheel to see where those two sliders operate.

EEC4EF76-0D1A-4148-8FD0-16581E4247AA.jpeg


The black arrows represent the two sliders we usually have and the magenta colour shift requires a lot of experimental juggling to try to get to the amount of green correction we need. Better if we had 3 sliders. Yellow-blue, Red-cyan, magenta-green. Better yet if we had a joystick control that could go in any direction needed. In a graphical interface we could simply have the circle and drag your finger in whatever direction is needed, even those in between areas. Much more intuitive.

Here’s Your Workshop Assignment:
  • find a couple of pictures from your files that show white balance problems and try to explain why that happened.
  • Try pointing your camera at some solid colour areas and see what the AWB does to the colour.
  • What is likely to happen to skin tones photographed in the baby’s room that has pink walls?
  • What is the likely colour shift that will occur when photographing greenery?
DA52811C-F744-4C70-8EC0-2648BF2E532B.jpeg




Next I will post a list of some cameras apps that have white balance controls.
 
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RoseCat

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Yes, I realize that is fairly widespread. That is exactly why it is important to have the Photographic colour wheel in mind when editing images. I’ve spent so much time with the Photographic colour wheel that when I look at the artist’s colour wheel I feel disoriented. The way colours are mixed in the artist’s colour wheel just doesn’t work in photography.
When I edit, I already know how my mind's eye saw/felt the image, and how I want to convey that. It's all very intuitive. If I had to think of this photographic color wheel and try to edit with that in mind.... well, I probably would stop making photographs. :grimacing: :lol: I really love the painterly color wheel, can relate to it in a way.... If I'm editing a photo, I might think "Oh, this is a brick red.... I need it to be a crimson red" and I know to turn down the warmth a bit until Voila! Crimson. And with Snapseed's feature of allowing one to paint an edit on a specific area, I can adjust just that red part if I need to. It's nice when no editing is needed, but I actually enjoy taking an image and fiddling a bit to get it to look the way it "felt" when I originally snapped it.

I also realize I am probably not the type of student that you would ideally like to teach. My ways might seem very "un-photographer-like". :rolleyes: :lol:
 

RoseCat

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Here’s Your Workshop Assignment:
  • find a couple of pictures from your files that show white balance problems and try to explain why that happened.
  • Try pointing your camera at some solid colour areas and see what the AWB does to the colour.
  • What is likely to happen to skin tones photographed in the baby’s room that has pink walls?
  • What is the likely colour shift that will occur when photographing greenery?
I will try this... :thumbs:

6B8871DA-363A-427B-AEA8-FDF05C943EEB.jpeg

DE7E1B10-5E5C-4D76-911B-23A46F11683D.jpeg

Both of these are very close to how they actually look... but are slightly on the cool side. The green is a slightly more yellow “pea soup green”, and the bright coral pink on the pillows is warmer, a bit more orangey. Not sure why they’re not perfect as it’s nice and sunny today so I have good natural light coming inside.

915178D8-E3AD-44C2-A9E6-80F880230DDE.jpeg

Phoenix is more golden in real life... maybe the blue/pink of my mom’s pajamas threw off the color.
 
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FundyBrian

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I will try this... :thumbs:

View attachment 119552
View attachment 119551
Both of these are very close to how they actually look... but are slightly on the cool side. The green is a slightly more yellow “pea soup green”, and the bright coral pink on the pillows is warmer, a bit more orangey. Not sure why they’re not perfect as it’s nice and sunny today so I have good natural light coming inside.

View attachment 119550
Phoenix is more golden in real life... maybe the blue/pink of my mom’s pajamas threw off the color.
AWB looks at the whole picture area. If it spots identifiable whites or blacks that gives it additional reference points when deciding how to adjust the colour.
In your top photo the inclusion of the white space gave the reference but the size of the green would throw it own some. If you made the photo without the white space it would probably be more off colour.
In you second photo the white area above the cushions is offsetting to expected colour imbalance. I’m sure if you made the same picture without the white above it would be more off colour.
Do you happen to have PureShot on your phone? I think we talked about it once before. You can use PureShot on automatic (the green A) and with jpeg files to be as familiar as possible. Then find a pad of white paper, place it on one of the cushions, fill up the frame with the white paper and press and hold the WB button on the upper right until you see the AWB symbol in the upper left change to WB with a padlock symbol. That will read the colour of the light. Now reframe your picture of the cushions and press the shutter.
 

FundyBrian

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When I edit, I already know how my mind's eye saw/felt the image, and how I want to convey that. It's all very intuitive. If I had to think of this photographic color wheel and try to edit with that in mind.... well, I probably would stop making photographs. :grimacing: :lol: I really love the painterly color wheel, can relate to it in a way.... If I'm editing a photo, I might think "Oh, this is a brick red.... I need it to be a crimson red" and I know to turn down the warmth a bit until Voila! Crimson. And with Snapseed's feature of allowing one to paint an edit on a specific area, I can adjust just that red part if I need to. It's nice when no editing is needed, but I actually enjoy taking an image and fiddling a bit to get it to look the way it "felt" when I originally snapped it.

I also realize I am probably not the type of student that you would ideally like to teach. My ways might seem very "un-photographer-like". :rolleyes: :lol:
Not un-photograpger-like. Just human. You are used to doing things a certain way. The ideas may eventually seep in and you might find them surface when you need it. I don’t think I consciously bring the colour wheel to mind. I just know it well enough that it has become intuitive. It’s just automatic that I know what the complement of any colour shift is. A common problem I have noticed is too much red in shadow areas. If you just try the red-green slider it moves all the red, not just the shadow area. However, using curves you can move just the shadow region of the red curve. Some apps give a choice of RGB curves, or CMY, and others. Just those two gives you very specific focused colour adjustments.
 

ImageArt

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Well, I don’t know whether I did this correctly, but I went into ProCamera took a pic, then switched on AWB and messed around a bit. I put a white card behind the camera and happened to hold down the WB symbol and it said Calibrated to Grey Card. :confused: So should I have had a grey card??

These were the results. They were quite similar. The corrected image was definitely more accurate.

2A609251-F324-41B8-B404-70011BA4EF86.jpeg

1836761B-69C1-4751-ADCB-2650C855664C.jpeg
 

sinnerjohn

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When I edit, I already know how my mind's eye saw/felt the image, and how I want to convey that. It's all very intuitive. If I had to think of this photographic color wheel and try to edit with that in mind.... well, I probably would stop making photographs. :grimacing: :lol: I really love the painterly color wheel, can relate to it in a way.... If I'm editing a photo, I might think "Oh, this is a brick red.... I need it to be a crimson red" and I know to turn down the warmth a bit until Voila! Crimson. And with Snapseed's feature of allowing one to paint an edit on a specific area, I can adjust just that red part if I need to. It's nice when no editing is needed, but I actually enjoy taking an image and fiddling a bit to get it to look the way it "felt" when I originally snapped it.

I also realize I am probably not the type of student that you would ideally like to teach. My ways might seem very "un-photographer-like". :rolleyes: :lol:
I totally agree with RoseCat, her description of a typical mobile phone photographer is right when she says "un-photographer-like".
I'm not sure the old rules apply anymore do they? How does this help me if I'm into street photography for instance?

WB I'd say only really matters if you want an exact replica of the scene, but by the time we've snapseeded, vsco'ed hipsta'ed etc who can say what was realistic?
Sure if you want to shoot lots of nature photographs then I can see the point in getting the colours exactly right. But then you'd have a DSLR with a huge lens not a mobile phone wouldn't you?

I'm sorry Brian, I'm being negative again and it's usually on your threads :notworthy:. I'm conflicted between technical and artistic, but I do know fstops white balance and focussing do not inspire me to make photographs, maybe I'm more organic than I thought I was :rolleyes: (and definitely a bad student in Catherine's class :lol: )

Lets all ponder on the shade of Ann's slippers awhile :sneaky:
 

rizole

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.... I can feel the painters cringing now. ......
When you add red and green light the result will be lighter than either of the two colours. Pigments, on the other hand, absorb light so when you mix two paint colours you always get something darker.
The color thing is a bit wonky to me as I come from a painterly background and know the primary colors as red, blue, yellow.
Coming from a physical media background too, I've never quite got it either but what you've written so far Brian really clears it up for me. I've spent years with photoshop doing colour correction by eye and while I'm not bad at it, I've never understood how it works and done it with informed direction. It's just been sliding sliders for me till now.
 

rizole

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If I had to think of this photographic color wheel and try to edit with that in mind
Not that I disagree but now I have a proper understanding of what's going wrong when it does go wrong I think I'm in a much better position to correct it, either in post processing or in settings, before I take the photo. The times my phone has failed on red objects.....
 

rizole

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Very informative FundyBrian. Not that you usually arne't but I got a lot from this thank you.
agravating.jpg

So here's my camera on Auto and with the 4000k florescent lighting preset for comparison. The colour was still not quite what I was seeing so the last one is a manual correction in snapseed where I shifted the tint from red to green. I did this by laying my phone next to the pad so i had the reference at gun point. It clearly shows the preset wasn't quite there but much better than auto.
 
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rizole

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Ok help me out here as I don't really get it, is it purely for your own peace of mind that the image looks as close to what it is in reality?
To the casual viewer both images look perfectly acceptable.
Well in the context of this thread for me its about learning and exploring something about white balance I didn't previously understand and wasn't previously able to handle effectively.
I learnt a thing, I'm not sure what else there is to get apart from that.
 

FundyBrian

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I totally agree with RoseCat, her description of a typical mobile phone photographer is right when she says "un-photographer-like".
I'm not sure the old rules apply anymore do they? How does this help me if I'm into street photography for instance?

WB I'd say only really matters if you want an exact replica of the scene, but by the time we've snapseeded, vsco'ed hipsta'ed etc who can say what was realistic?
Sure if you want to shoot lots of nature photographs then I can see the point in getting the colours exactly right. But then you'd have a DSLR with a huge lens not a mobile phone wouldn't you?

I'm sorry Brian, I'm being negative again and it's usually on your threads :notworthy:. I'm conflicted between technical and artistic, but I do know fstops white balance and focussing do not inspire me to make photographs, maybe I'm more organic than I thought I was :rolleyes: (and definitely a bad student in Catherine's class :lol: )

Lets all ponder on the shade of Ann's slippers awhile :sneaky:
This is where John gets me to prove my points. He has to test to see if I know what I’m talking about. Why should anyone care about all this, etc. It is a common ploy to try to discredit unwanted facts by trying to assign them to history.

Everyone resists change, even if it might help them do something quicker and easier. Unless you are easily swayed by every sales pitch that comes along you are right to be cynical. But be aware of your own resistance before you make any snap judgements. Keep an open mind. Do not be a biased jury member. Perhaps you find it uncomfortable to discover there are things you don’t know when you thought you had a pretty good grasp of things. Perhaps you think you can get by knowing as little as possible, but eventually realize this is self limiting. Maybe you discover that in order to make use of this new information you might have to change the way you work and you don’t want to know or do anything new. Or maybe you discover the camera you have is simply not up to the task and that annoys you. You don’t want to be disenchanted with the way you are comfortable doing thing. That causes natural resistance. Better to bury your head in the sand.

Here’s an important point I want to make. White balance is not some esoteric advanced technique used only by professional photographers. It is part of the photography basics that every photographer should understand. Any course for beginner photographers would cover white balance. Do you want to know less than a beginner photographer?

With respect to nature photography, it would indeed be easier to do it the traditional way with a “real” camera, or at least a good old fashioned DSLR, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. Even when it is harder, or requires more skill than taking the easy way out by using a DSLR, I still try to squeeze what I want out of a reluctant cell phone camera. Yes, it’s like beating my head against the wall but I still do it. I still see mobile photography as representing the future of photography and not just emulating the past with toy camera effects. Everyone knows it is much easier to degrade an image than it is to make it better.

From your message above I noted “I’m conflicted between technical and artistic, but I do know ƒ-stops white balance and focusing do not inspire me to make photographs...”
It isn’t any part of photography that inspires you to make photographs. It is the subject matter, what you see and what is in your imagination. Understanding how photography works only comes into play when you decide you want to make a photograph to express whatever inspired you to make a picture. It is entirely possible to make a picture and it completely fails to convey what you wanted.

First there is the inspiration, then things like ƒ-stops (cell phones don’t have ƒ-stops), focus, white balance, composition, depth of field, etc., are just tools at your disposal that help you bring your idea into reality. You can skip all that part and mindlessly just press the shutter button but your chances of success are greatly reduced. It is completely pointless to make a photo of your inspiration and then discover your efforts have been thwarted because the image is out of focus or poorly exposed.

There is no division between technical and artistic. You need both in good balance. Photography is a highly technical art form. To do artistic work you need to know what you’re doing. Perhaps you can accidentally make something artistic on occasion but to do it consistently it really helps if you know what you’re doing. Photography is appealing to many because it appears as though you can make art without knowing anything about it. That isn’t true in any art form. The more you know about how your art form works the better you can use it to express yourself.

I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I’m providing additional tools for your toolbox. I’m attempting to expand your awareness. You know that expression “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” What if you had some more tools? There’s no need to abandon your familiar way of working, but sometimes you might recognize there is an easier or better way to do it.

What I’m describing here is not my invention, or even my impression, not my idea of how you personally should do things. I’m describing how photography works. I’m conveying facts about the photographic process. You can ignore reality if you want but that doesn’t make it go away. The truth can set you free, etc. Understanding how photography works can only help make your life easier when it comes to getting what you want out of an image. Lacking the keys to the photographic processes you end up stumbling around making uninformed choices. Intuition only goes so far, especially if it isn’t grounded in a good understanding of how things work. Yes, understanding how photography works can even make you a better photographer. And unless I am mistaken, we all want to learn more and improve our skills.

Not every situation requires colour control, especially if you plan to alter the image significantly later on. Not everyone cares if the colours that appear in their photographs are realistic. But let’s suppose you do encounter a situation where you really would like to show the amazing colour in a flower or some other thing and you discover no matter what you do it doesn’t come out right. You might wonder, why doesn’t it turn out the way I see it? It’s right there in front of me yet when I make a picture what I saw is not there.

What if you did come across a situation where you wanted to have a consistency of colour for a slide show or photo essay. How would you do it?
In the case of your street photography example. You are aware from reading this colour info that the colour you get in your pictures can vary wildly depending on the colours in the subject. You know you are being jerked around by an unintelligent automatic process. What you see is automatically not what you get. What if you wanted to capture the real grittyness of the street colours and not have to try to make them up later?
What if you wanted to show how some street art or graffiti is really well done and don’t want to degrade the artist’s expression by poorly documenting the colours? What if you wanted to assemble your photos in a photo essay and show them as a set. Yet the same sidewalk or building in subsequent pictures is not even close to being the same colour. Could you make your photos look like they belong together?

There is no such thing as being able to capture the colours you see exactly how the human eye perceives them. With all the advances in photography, even in top end cameras, so far that is impossible. The photographic process has a number of deficiencies. Understanding the limitations can help you get what you want, or at least have more realistic expectations. One significant problem is that there are colours that lie outside the range, or gamut, that the camera can record. This is especially true since the sRGB gamut we are using is the smallest one in common use. The next bigger would be Adobe RGB, and even bigger is ProPhoto RGB. Yet even the widest gamut available does not record what is actually there. The wide colour P3 gamut on newer devices is close to Adobe RGB. But if you are going to record wide gamut images then you also need a wide gamut screen to view them. Looking at wide gamut images is a waste of time on an sRGB monitor. You cannot even see the colours the image contains. So, we just do the best we can with the technology available to us at the moment.

Some people develop a consistency of style that depicts colours in a particular way. It is their “look” so to speak. You can be sure that doesn’t come about by simply applying a particular filter, because filters don’t always provide the same results when the originals are quite different. It requires a deeper understanding of how photography works to make that happen. However, if your originals themselves had some colour consistency you would be that much closer to getting them look you want.


Understanding how white balance works can help you in a few ways:
• You will be aware of potential problems before you make your picture and be able to find a solution.
• You will no longer be jerked around by a system that doesn’t work very well.
• When you want to record colours well you will know how to do it.
• When editing your pictures you can more quickly arrive at the results you want because you will know how things really work, not how you intuit them to work.
• When you can’t get the results you want you will at least understand why.
 

FundyBrian

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Very informative FundyBrian. Not that you usually arne't but I got a lot from this thank you.
View attachment 119579
So here's my camera on Auto and with the 4000k florescent lighting preset for comparison. The colour was still not quite what I was seeing so the last one is a manual correction in snapseed where I shifted the tint from red to green. I did this by laying my phone next to the pad so i had the reference at gun point. It clearly shows the preset wasn't quite there but much better than auto.
A good experiment. It might help to include small samples of white or neutral gray in a colour test.
Fluorescent lighting is a difficult type of lighting to correct. A simple red-green slider can’t do it. For one thing there are many different types of colour renditions in an attempt to make the light form them look pleasing. There are probably at least 8 different colour renditions so a single fluorescent preset is only going to be a rough approximation.
Another important thing about fluorescent lighting is that it has a discontinuous spectrum. In other words it doesn’t have a continuous spectrum the way daylight or some other light sources do. When you see the output spectrum from a fluorescent bulb and notice the gaps in the colour spectrum it seems amazing things look as good as they do.
 

FundyBrian

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Ok help me out here as I don't really get it, is it purely for your own peace of mind that the image looks as close to what it is in reality?
To the casual viewer both images look perfectly acceptable.
That depends on your objective. If you’re an artist wanting to show what your creation looks like then yes it really does matter. If you make a picture saying, here’s the grey sweater my sweetie pie gave me for Christmas, and it is nowhere close to grey, then your abilities as a photographer come into question. If the colour isn’t important in your image then perhaps it would look better in B&W. The colour difference in rizole’s pictures are quite dramatic. Is that wide a discrepancy acceptable to you? Do you find those colours hard to differentiate?
 

FundyBrian

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And another on auto (inset) and florescent preset. Even with the grey cardigan for reference the auto doesn't pull it off.
View attachment 119582
Look up the colour output spectrum of fluorescent lights. It might help explain the difficulties.
Another interesting thing about lighting is that many types emit energy outside the range of human vision but the camera may not be correctly filtered to exclude spikes on non-visible light. A regular tungsten bulb, for instance, emits a greater part of its energy beyond the light spectrum into the heat spectrum. That’s what makes them so inefficient as light bulbs.
Try a similar test with something other than fluorescent lighting.
We are mostly making general experiments here to see what happens and no matter what our chosen subject there results will tell us something interesting. Using a subject with easily comparable colours brings us closer to having quantifiable results.
At the risk of upsetting sinnerjohn with more technical jumbo jumbo here is a typical test target used for making colour tests. The patches are known values and using a colour eyedropper tool you can sample each patch and see how its RGB values compare to what they should be.
7F549843-4B67-45E2-8A81-24E109380D4A.jpeg

One thing I notice in this photo is that this same picture looks less dull when seen in my camera roll than when it is posted here. Viewed on the same device.
 

sinnerjohn

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That depends on your objective.
Exactly, if rizole is showing us a grey cardigan and he wants to show us that it is that exact shade of grey, then the wb is obviously failing.

If the scene is of a woolen cardigan on a chair and that is purely the objective, surely the colour isn't that important?

For advertising or any kind of product sale I'd totally agree that exact colour was extremely important. With others types of photography especially those with artistic licence, I'd say having the exact colour was not so important (unless my skin is purple and my hair is green).

I guess there's also the thorny issue of monitor calibration as well :(
 
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