Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Understanding White Balance

Another caffeine fueled, sleepless night is upon me so time to blog again. Especially now that this blog is read by tens of people.

Before I get to the white balance thing, I just wanted to take the time to thank two wonderful people who featured me in their blogs today. The first is Kelly Malouf who creates her own clothes, bead jewelry, accessories and home decor. Her blog is: and of course that's also her website where you can view all her products.

The second blog was done by Jennifer from Jlcstudio She's an Etsy artist and has some fantastic jewelry so please check her out at Great stuff and a really nice person. I'm thankful to both for including me.

Now, the other day when I posted my first blog ever, someone wrote and asked about white balance. Since then on the forums of Etsy I've noticed a lot of people aren't too sure what it is or how to use it. So I thought tonight I'd reprint my response so nobody has to dig for it, and also add a few things.

So....white balance

White balance is basically a way for your camera to figure out the "color temperature" of the light in the scene you are shooting so that your camera records the true colors in the scene.We can look at a white object in the sun, the shade or anything in between and our brains are able to always see it as white.

With cameras, unless they know what type of light is available, they might read it wrong.You've seen shots or maybe taken some, where the entire color of the photo seems to move in one red/orange, too blue or too green. This is because the camera was probably set to the wrong white balance, and the camera thought the subject was lit with one type of light, when in reality it was another.

You will typically see your white balance settings listed as little pictures - the sun, a light bulb, a fluorescent, a flash symbol, Auto, cloudy, shade and perhaps custom.

The spectrum of light is measured in Kelvins. Though you're never going to need this information, I'll give it to you anyway.

1000-2000 K Candlelight
2500-3500 K Tungsten Bulb
3000-4000 K Sunrise/Sunset
4000-5000 K Fluorescent Lamps
5000-5500 K Electronic Flash
5000-6500 K Daylight with Clear Sky (sun overhead)
6500-8000 K Moderately Overcast Sky
9000-10000 K Shade or Heavily Overcast Sky

You don't have to memorize this chart, it just shows you that different types of light have a different color cast. Depending on what the conditions are, you need to change your camera's white balance so that color is recorded correctly.In the days of film cameras, you might have seen multi-colored filters at the camera store to attach to lenses. This was how white balance was handled then.

If it was "cool" light, which would normally produce a blue color, a red or orange "warming" filter was used.Now with digital cameras, this is all done automatically. It's not perfect and you can get situations where it's a little tricky.You will most likely get good results with your camera set to "auto" white balance. It generally does a good job and if you use Photoshop or another editing software you can make minor adjustments.

If you shoot RAW files on a dslr you can completely change the white balance even after you've already taken the photo.I will usually leave the white balance on Auto, or if it's bright and sunny I'll switch to "daylight". Indoors with household bulbs, switching to incandescent really does work well especially at night when bulbs are truly the only source of light.

The trickiest situations are always shade and overcast skies. Even on a cloudy day, sometimes you switch the white balance to "cloudy" thinking you've done the right thing, and the camera compensates too much and the photo looks orange. Same thing for shade. In these two situations it's always best to take a test photo and change the white balance if needed. Most of the consumer point and shoot cameras have a live view LCD screen on the back. You can change the white balance and look at the viewfinder to see what effect each setting has on color.

Because light is a mix of red, green and blue, the ratios vary a lot and so finding the perfect setting on your cam can be tricky sometimes. Sometimes on a sunny day, the "sunlight" setting produces a shot that's too cool and blue. Sometimes on a cloudy day, the cloudy setting renders everything too warm and orange.

I hope that helps people understand what it is and why its important. If it doesn't I can understand that too because it's 3am and my eyelids are starting to sink lower than the US dollar. If you still have questions, feel free to message me here, convo me over at Etsy or email me from my website

In my next blog I'm planning to talk about how to control depth of field. But if there are other topics you think are more important, feel free to let me know.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Easy lighting setup

I was supposed to go to a photography workshop tomorrow but it's been postponed. Not such a bad thing as it's nearly 2am and I'm up, and I was supposed to be there at 8:30am. Note to self - just because you sell coffee and espresso for a living does not mean you need to drink it like water.

Since I'm up and tomorrow I can sleep in, I thought I'd take a few minutes to talk about something I see a lot on the forums on That is, how to get decent lighting for product photography when you don't have professional lights or a great camera.

Every product is going to be different of course but I think I can come up with some basics that most people can use effectively for better shots. The size of your product, the color, the shape, etc is all going to play a part but this should give decent results.

First, if you're using a typical point and shoot digital camera like a Nikon Coolpix or a Canon Powershot, forget the flash. On-camera flashes produce flat, harsh light and you'll most likely get a nasty looking hot spot on your product or background.

Shooting with natural light will give you colors that are more true to real life than if you shot with tungsten (regular household lamps) or fluerescent. I spelled that wrong, I never could spell it.

All natural light is not the same though. Try your best to wait for a day that is completely overcast but still very bright. One of those "white sky" days. They make your vacation shots look boring but that's the kind of sky that's really going to help your product shots. The cloud cover acts as one giant softbox, diffusing and softening the light. If you shoot on a bright, sunny day you are going to get harsh light, hot spots and bad shadows.

Position your product close to the window at about a 45 degree angle so the light is coming from a bit in front and above. set up your camera and try out different angles and set ups, depending what you are photographing.

On the opposite side of your product, place something large, white and reflective. If you go to a craft store you can usually find a big piece of white foam-core board. That's perfect. It will reflect some of the light from the window back onto your product and fill in those shadows.

Your background really depends what you're trying to achieve. If you want to include as a real element of the photo and have it in focus, place the background close to your product. If you want it to be less intrusive and out of focus, place it farther back.

Here is the basic set up in a shoddy little diagram I drew:

If you are shooting outside, try to shoot in the same type of conditions - bright but overcast. you may want to then try to move your background very far back to give it a nice blur. Try to choose a background with colors that compliment your product and you can create a nice blurred paint-like look.

Remember to check the white balance setting on your camera before you shoot. Most cameras will do OK with the white balance set to auto. If you are using window light or are outside in overcast conditions, typically the daylight setting still works better than the "cloudy" setting. Try both, but the cloudy setting might produce an orange color.

I hope this helped. If anyone has questions or suggestions, feel free to chime in.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Always learning..

Okay, I'm finally getting around to a second installment of my blog. I have a bit of news before I move on to tonight's topic. I'll list it with numbers so that it seems more important than it actually is.

1. My website is officially live. (I think). It seems to be, though in a slightly different form than I originally anticipated. I have opened only 50% of the website which shows much of my nature photography and gives all my contact info, etc.

The second part of the website will show commercial photography I have done and will be doing for individuals and companies. That part of the site I hope to have up in the spring after I finish some more projects.

So, here it is: Let me know your thoughts!

2. I am currently published in PhotoLife magazine. One of my photos, Sentinels, took 8th in the Nature/Landscape category of their annual Image International competition. The bad news is that I spelled Sentinels wrong when I sent in the image, and spelled it "Sentinals". Nice going.

This is the image:

3. I was accepted to which is a juried, online gallery to showcase your artwork to retailers, designers, etc. I know some people have gotten some wonderful exposure from that site so I'm banking everything on this. Well, no not really but it's still nice.

Now you might be wondering when I'm going to get around to a topic even remotely resembling the Blog title. Well, that time is now.

One thing I've learned in my 36 years of existence is that there is something to learn from everyone. Of course, that can really, really vary greatly depending on who we're talking about, but even people who seem to offer up nothing in this world can teach you something if you take the time to think about it.

What you know is all relative depending on who you are comparing yourself with. I know a bit about photography but there are tons of people who know less than me, and tons who know more. I'm fine with that and I'm open not only to learning from people who know more, but even people who know less. Why not?

The idea for this blog today came from an experience I had awhile back. I had purchased my first set of studio lights from Alienbee (great lights by the way) and to be honest, was not very good with them. The vast majority of my photography was always outdoors in natural light, but studio strobes was a whole different animal.

So, thinking I could get some friendly help, I went to a pretty famous website for help on their photographer's blog in the "lighting techniques" section. I kindly explained I was new, I had a certain problem and could someone kindly offer up some advice.

Well, what I got was a bunch of guys making fun of me, rolling their cyber eyes at the stupid question I had asked, and basically tried to make me feel stupid. I can only assume from their reaction that the first day they bought their studio lighting 20 years ago, they knew everything as soon as they opened the box, never needed to ask questions and were perfect photographers right from the start. (actually I checked their galleries, they had very little to be pompous about)
I laughed it off and they didn't bother or discourage me at all as I don't really pay much attention to idiots like that. But I know a lot of people do. If you're just beginning, don't think that a question is stupid. Whatever you are confused about, ALL of us had to learn it at some point too.

Over the next few months I practiced with the lights and got quite good. I don't really NEED help anymore, but this Sunday I'll be attending a lighting seminar in New Jersy with a photographer who has more experience than me. Why not? Chances are, even though i know a lot, I'm going to know more when I'm done and be a better photographer for it.

You might be struggling with some very basic problems and you just can't figure out what to do. Maybe your shots are all blurry, maybe they are weird colors or maybe you want to sell things on the internet but you just can't figure out how to get the shots to look good.

There are two things I'd like to see on my blog. (I'll use numbers again, this is important)
1. People with less photography experience and knowledge should be totally unafraid to ask questions and seek help.
2. Photographers with a lot of experience who happen by should lose the air of superiority and help out those who need to pick your brain.

If these two things happen, this should eventually turn out to be a fun and helpful place to be. So, what I'm thinking is if there are people who have some questions or problems, I can turn the answers into future blogs and we can all learn from each other. (that also saves me having to think too much for ideas).

Thanks for listening, and remember to buy 20 or 30 of my prints.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The First - and Welcome

Talk about a late start. So this is the first time I have ever written a blog or had any interest in doing so. It seems I'm among the last but better late than never. So welcome, I hope you are of a like mind and will stop back again in the future and participate.

I'm creating this blog for a few reasons. One, as a place where photographers and lovers of photography can enjoy my occassional ramblings on the subject, as well as discuss products, talk about fantastic places to shoot, offer tips and guidance, and share any interesting news related to photography.

Another far more sinister reason is to shamelessly promote myself, my prints for sale, and my services as a photographer. But what would a blog be without shameless self promotion anyway? But I'll try to keep that part of the blog as easy to swallow as possible.

Just to give you a bit of my background, I'm 36 and live in New Jersey with my wonderful better half, Francesca. I have been interested in photography for years - I think the first time I used a camera I had to be under 10 years old when my mother gave me her Pentax K1000 to use. I took it to Arizona to visit my grandmother and it seems that's all I wanted to do was take pictures. I could not wait to get back and make enlargements and photo albums.

Unfortunately, I only dabbled in photography after that. I shot in highschool, some in college, and then it wasn't until several years ago in the late 90's that I began to get the shooting bug again. Eventually I purchased a Nikon F100 and then a Nikon D70, which hooked me on shooting digitally.

Over the past several years I've been shooting mostly nature and wildlife photography, with some commercial projects along the way, which I've very much enjoyed. Recently I upgraded to the Nikon D300 which is probably the most phenomenal camera I've owned and has allowed me to expand both creatively and professionally and has certainly made the commercial work much easier and pleasant.

Recently I have begun to sell prints, but locally in shops and on the internet. The latest venue is on Etsy. For those of you who have never been there, that really is a fantastic website. It's dedicated to artists and craftspeople, selling their handmade items from around the world. My shop can be found at
Self promotion on the very first blog....criminal.

I hope to hear from lots of different people so please feel free to suggest topics to talk about, ask questions if you're a beginner, etc...the blog will shape itself I'm sure.

Thanks for reading and I will publish more very soon!