Perfect White Balance, Perfect Color

I've always had an eye for color. Fresh out of art school, I was hired by 20th Century Fox to work as a colorist on their film Titan A.E. Coloring frame by frame, the job was grueling but I was young and hungry to get my career going. I was on a team of 8 or so people coloring every frame of that film. To give you an idea, at 12 frames per second (traditional animation is recorded at 15fps) a two-hour movie comes in around 86,000 frames.  That's like a freaking giant coloring book. Besides learning how to work fast I got really good at color. After Titan was wrapped up I was asked to work on another film called Africa that was going to be animated on 1's meaning the film would weigh in around 180,000 frames. Sadly, the studio closed down to move operations to China where people work for peanuts but that's the story for another post.

1999 at Fox Animation Studios, Phoenix.

1999 at Fox Animation Studios, Phoenix.

I was far more into photography than animation so what I learned as a colorist I was applying to photography (film at the time). In the early 2000's I was heavy into digital rocking a 2mega pixel camera, then three and so on.  The one thing I learned early on about digital photography was the importance of white balance. Regardless of the camera, you the file needs good white balance to make good color. Good color is will make or break a photo but the crappy thing is that far too often we live with shitty color. 

Crappy Color is Sneaky

We've all had photos where the color is just missing something but we use it anyway because there's something about the shot that's good enough but in the back of our mind we know there's something missing. That's most likely white balance. Since the white balance influences, all the colors your camera captures, getting a white balance that's slightly off can be frustrating. Making matters worse, nearly every indoor location has mixed lighting and if you like bold colors like I do, white balance that is not right just ruins the shot.

My neighbor has this sweet vintage Corvette that when I saw I had to photograph. He was nice enough to let me do so (I would have anyways lol) but holy crap the orange in the paint and the green grass in the background threw off my cameras white balance to the point where I'm not showing the images with an exception for educational purposes.

White balance, out of balance and it murdered this shot.

White balance, out of balance and it murdered this shot.

Most of the time, however, when white balance is off it's slightly off so little that we might not see it and as I mentioned the photo just seems not right. A quick search online will give you loads of misinformation or expensive products to help you get the white balance right. Some of the products are fine but I want you to see one I purchase for next to nothing on Amazon and best of all it works!

A super simple fix for good white balance

Check out this photo of my son Roman. The color pop without being overly saturated, his skin looks normal and healthy and yet this was shot in mixed lighting.


Here's the same shot with auto white balance. See how it's just slightly off? His skin is kinda yellowish and unhealthy looking.


I'm showing you a family snapshot because if you can get proper color with the pics of your daily life, capturing perfect white balance with your serious work is a snap.

I got this Kiora white balance filter from Amazon after dealing with grey cards for years. Thing is about grey cards is that you have to have them in the same light as your subject which sometimes is not possible. With this white balance filter, aiming the camera at the subject I simply place it in front of my camera's lens, do a custom white balance and I'm set. As a bonus, I can also set my exposure too since what these filters do is blend all colors and light across the frame of your camera.


Kiora White Balance Kit


The downside is that you need to take it with but I do that by putting the Kiora white balance filter in my camera bag or diaper bag and for the price, having multiples is no problem.

Too often, photographers leave white balance up to the camera which is a huge mistake. Personally, I'll leave the exposure up to the camera before I do white balance. I'm shooting with a mirrorless camera so using the live histogram I can see the exposure before I capture the image. I can't do that with white balance.