flowers, photography · Techniques

White Balance – is auto good enough?

This week, I’ve been paying more attention to white balance.

Outdoors, I usually bow to auto white balance (wb) but indoors, I usually pay a little more attention to the colour of the lighting and adjust accordingly. However, I’ve been looking deeper into the white balance thing and with the help of a new acquisition, the Expodisc 2, I have concluded that yes, it matters very much. That said, my preferred subject matter is flowers and so it is vitally important to me that I reproduce the colour of the flower as it is, and as it attracted me, rather than accept my camera’s decision on what colour it was. I can see the same would be true of those who are dedicated people photographers to make sure skin tones etc are accurate.

It is said that the eye will compensate for an awful lot and that many shades of white can look pure white – if we have nothing to compare it to. If something is a little off-white, your eye will happily tweak it and make it white for you. And it works pretty well. However, the camera is not quite as accommodating as the eye and so, for this experiment, I chose a ‘white’ flower with a tinge of ‘lilac’. This first shot is using auto white balance. Note that these are raw files straight from the camera so you can see what the camera ‘saw’: (In each case, try to ensure you only have the current shot showing so you are not yet comparing it to the others. The three shots are in a row at the bottom of the post so you can compare them side by side.)

white balance group-6694

Okay – the petals look whiteish with a pinky lilac tinge and the grass looks green. That’s okay.

For the second shot, I used a ‘shade’ white balance since both myself and the flower were in the shade of a large shed:

white balance group-6695

Now – hang on a minute – that’s not white – and the grass is distinctly on the yellow side of green! So in choosing the ‘correct’ white balance for the surrounding light, my camera was way off.

Grand entrance by – ta da – the Expodisc:

The first point I should make about this Expodisc is that it is not cheap!! This cost me the better part of £25 – and that was second hand (in ‘open box’ condition) – a new one is around the £40 mark. But it is very easy to use to set a custom white balance according to the light. The first thing to do is to set your camera to record a custom white balance. Now this will be different on different camera brands, and probably on different models too but on mine (Nikon D750) you press the wb button, spin the dial until you find d-1, let go of the wb button and then press it again until the d-1 flashes and it’s ready to ‘record’. Now you hold the Expodisc over the lens and fire. No need to focus or anything like that – it’s not taking a picture, it’s just recording the light. Also noteworthy is that you need to point it at the light coming in rather than at your subject so you are recording the way the quality and value of the light as it falls on to your subject. If it recorded correctly, your camera will tell you ‘good’. And that’s it. Sounds fiddly but once you’ve done it a couple of times, you can set in up in 3 or 4 seconds. I suggest you consult your manual, or better still, look at one of the many youtube videos on setting white balance, and on the Expodisc and tailor it to your camera. I should add that you can also set the white balance in post-production by taking a shot of an 18% grey card before you take your pics and then once in Lightroom, you can use the eye dropper to set the wb on that shot, and then copy that setting to any shots you took in that same light. My issue with that is that once I am no longer near the plant, I cannot judge whether or not it has altered the wb correctly and achieved the accurate colour of that bloom so I need to be able to do this in the field’ as it were.

Now – after all of that – does it make a difference? Well, here’s the shot:

white balance group-6696

Hmmm – isn’t that the same as the first shot – or is my eye deceiving me and compensating? Let’s put the three shots side by side showing auto, shade and custom balance together:

There is definitely a difference and I can verify that the third shot does indeed reproduce the colour accurately. There’s not much in it but the white has gone from a cold (auto wb), bluish white to a very yellowy white (shade wb) and then to the correct soft white that the flower actually is (custom set with the Expodisc).

To be more sure, I’ll leave out the ‘yellow one and just put the two ‘whiter’ ones side by side:

So, £25 well spent as far as I am concerned. I can feel sure that the camera is capturing the colour of the bloom as it really is rather than the way my camera thinks it should be. By the way, you should notice that if you look at the second shot alone it definitely looks on the yellow side, but you don’t notice it as much until it’s placed in a row with the other two shots at which point it becomes glaringly obvious. Remember – the eye compensates unless it has something to compare with!

So, will I be using this Expodisc all of the time from now on? Well, if I am photographing anything for which the correct colour reproduction is vital then hell yes!! So that would, in my case, be flowers, product photography and people shots and I would imagine that it’s a must for wedding photographers. It may be that it doesn’t matter so much in landscape photography – but I’ll bet a landscape photographer can answer that one quicker than I can.

So – give it a try but I strongly suggest you look it up further than my waffled account and see if you think it’s something that matters to you. Remember that the setting is good until the light changes. You don’t have to reset it every time you take a shot, but you do need to reset it if the light changes, or if you move into a different kind of light. As with all of the various gadgets, techniques and tricks, it will work for some and not for others so have fun with it and see if it’s something you find useful, or not.

Until next time when I write of how I discovered that having a digital camera doesn’t render the light meter redundant. Seriously, this ‘hobby’ costs me a fortune!!!

As a final note, I am not in any way affiliated to the Expodisc brand and gain no advantage by writing positively about them – but if they happen to be reading this and want to bestow gifts upon me, who am I to argue!

#expodisc  😉

flowers, photography

Weekly Flower – 7: multiple exposures

This week I had another dahlia burst into bloom in my garden. I can’t recall the name of this one but its an impressive thing, that’s for sure. I’m sure you can see why it immediately made me think of flames! However, it also put me in mind of a technique I had seen in an online course I took recently on creating ‘Painterly’ flower shots with Kathleen Clemons. I thought this might be a good subject to try it out on.

The idea is simple and indeed, I had read about it in an older book in which it described the technique, and detailed how to do it on film cameras. ‘Thank goodness for digital cameras’, is my response to that!

Here’s how it works: look in your camera’s shooting menu and look for something that suggests you can take multiple exposures. If you’re not sure look in your camera manual. Set it to take 3 exposures at first – although some cameras allow many more shots. The idea is that your camera will now take three shots on top of each other and then blend them together. Get ready to take your first shot but before you do, pay attention to where your centre focus cross or square is sitting. Now, take the shot. Assuming that you are using the landscape orientation, turn your camera by 45 degrees – or in other words, halfway between landscape and portrait. Now make sure your central focus square is roughly where it was for the first shot. Take your second shot. Now turn your camera another 45 degrees so that it is fully in portrait orientation. Again, get that focus point in roughly the same area and take your third shot. Once the third shot has been taken, the fairies inside the camera will combine the three shots and give you something fabulous. If not, negotiate with the fairies within and try again. It may be that you haven’t set your camera correctly, or that you accidentally set it for fewer of more than three shots. If you find you cannot take multiple shots in-camera, you can replicate this method in PS or other software programs by duplicating the image so you have three or more copies, and then using the ‘move’ tool to turn the copies a little more each time (you will have to work out how far you need to turn each one to keep it consistent). You will then need to play with opacity of each layer to get it looking right. As a rough guide, try 1/however many copies you are using. If you are using the three, set the opacity of each one to about 33% and work from there. I prefer to capture as much as possible in-camera so my instruction there for PS are very rough and ready.

So, here are three shots to show how it looks when it’s all done. In this case, I think the technique emphasised the flame-like qualities of the flower. You may have to try several subjects to find one that it works well for but have a go – and have fun with it!

Shot 1 – the straight flower shot using a 105mm macro lens

dahlia flames single-

Shot 2 – same lens but using the three exposures to bring out the ‘flames’

dahlia flames single 105-6527

Shot 3 – same flower, different lens. This time I shot the three exposures but with a Lensbaby lens to soften the flames as they reached the edge of the frame

dahlia flames-6517

Now to come up with something fancy-pantsy for next week’s flower of the week 🙂 . . .

flowers, photography

Week 6 Already! Time for a flower shot . . .

For someone who loves photographing flowers, this time of year has to be the best for those showy summer blooms. We live fairly close to a one-time stately home with a walled garden, and within that walled garden is the most fabulous herbaceous border – along with other features. Since my partner is still busily rejuvenating the kitchen, it’s easy for me to jump in the car and head off over there for an hour or so. This time, my target was the various coneflowers that I had spotted in bud last time I was there. They have traditional rudbeckia types along with heleniums, echinacea and all manner of wonderful flowers.

It’s usually the case that when I take a photograph, I have some idea of what I want to do with it so I make shooting choices based on what I want the end product to look like. However, the coneflowers are worth snapping just because they’re there. And I’m glad I did snap away with gay abandon because when I got home, I found this little fella complete with a ‘fairy’ hanging off his stem. I added a texture by Jai Johnson and that was that – flower of the week 🙂

rudbeckia and fairy-1

I had left it a couple of weeks in between visits and I think they are more or less past their very best now – but in the far corner, the dahlias are about to spring open!!!

Until then . . .

flowers, photography

Choices, Choices . . .

If I cast my mind back a year or so, I wouldn’t have dreamed of using anything ‘artificial’ on a photograph. I enjoyed getting really sharp shots of flowers so I could see the tiny details.


Then I began to look at work by photographers such as Kathleen Clemons and Denise Love (2 L’il Owls) and there was something about their treatment of flower shots that brought forward the essence of the flower – the romance of the flower. So, I began experimenting with textured finishes and realised that by using various effects, I could produce something far closer to what I had seen through my rose-tinted spectacles. And the more I experiment, the more I like the finished product. However, that doesn’t make any difference to the importance of getting as much as possible right in-camera which includes lens choice, choices of angles, choice of aperture etc etc.

This week’s flower of the week is a dahlia. A particularly striking pink dahlia from my garden. Now, the first thing that struck me about this dahlia was its symmetry – and that the flowers are actually really heavy. In this case, its essence didn’t seem to be about anything fragile or delicate but rather about how bold and striking it was. That being the case, I chose to use a dedicated macro lens, the Sigma 105 macro. I shot at f6.3 to give it some depth of detail and show off that symmetry and I shot at 1/125 second on a fairly still day to keep it sharp. I also chose to face the flower more or less straight at the camera, again to emphasise that symmetry.

deep pink dahlia-1

However, I kept on looking at this flower and as well as being quite striking, it’s still very fragile and delicate. I am always amazed at what can grow from a tiny seed and what the odds must be against that tiny seed managing to grow into something so complicated with so many chances to fail along the way. But, my choices above don’t really show that side of the flower.

For the next shot, I used the same camera and lens but I opened the aperture a little to f4 which meant I needed to slow down the shutter and as the light had also changed in between, I ended up shooting at 1\80. The slightly larger aperture allowed the focus to start falling off noticeably thereby softening the whole image. I also shot from the side to make the flower look less bold and I included the little bud that seems to be shyly dipping its head. Once I had converted the raw file, I then took it into photoshop and added a layer of texture by Jai Johnson in a sympathetic shade to soften everything a little further. I then did a little further work to the blend mode and opacity of the texture until I had found the mood I was trying to create. All in all I felt that by now, the flower looked far more delicate and romantic – far from the very clear and strking image above:


So there you have it: the same flower, same camera, same lens but different creative choices. I did notice that where I have posted these shots online, the first one has drawn comments that note is as ‘striking’ where the texture edit is more often referred to as ‘so pretty’ which sort of tells me I did the job I was trying to do which was to take one object and apply deliberate creative choices to affect the mood of the shot and sway the viewer to a particular way of seeing.

And the other bonus is that when you play around like this, you learn an awful lot about your own gear and what it can do with a few tweaks 🙂

Until next week . . .