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Setting Your White Balance Correctly Using a White Coffee Cup Lid

by G Servo on 10/22/2011

While hunched over a coffee cup and mentally composing an image, I realize the light is weird. I am seeing multiple light bulbs casting different colors of light. I realize the best image result will come from my setting the white balance, but I do not have an Expodisc or a grey card available. Not all is lost however. I do have a coffee cup lid. With that, white balance can be set. I usually keep my camera on auto white balance and make note of the light to adjust things later. That way, I can get a decent white balance setting. There are many ways to set the white balance. Here are some examples.

On White Balance

White balance is a calculation of the temperature of the light source. It’s also the way to get the most accurate colors out of your camera. If the white balance is wrong, your camera will produce unappealing colors. Most DSLRs have different ways of setting the white balance. If you don’t know how to set your particular camera’s white balance, refer to the manual.

Do you always have to set the white balance? No, but it can make your post processing work much faster in certain situations.

On Metering

Metering is very important to achieving the correct white balance because it helps the camera measure the light of the image. “Light metering is one of the black arts of photography: one of those mysterious skills possessed only by the elite of the photographers who understand the yin and yang of light and shade…or at least that’s what some would have you believe. It’s simply not true, and the basics of light metering are pretty simple.” You can read more about it here in the The Dark Art of Metering on this very site.

Grey Cards

A grey card - with color patches and Gray scale attached – gives very accurate readings and is also very helpful with post production.

A grey card is exactly what it sounds like. Generally it’s an 18% grey rectangle, usually made of hard plastic or a durable paper that is used as a reference point to help in setting the appropriate image exposure. Some great examples are Opteka Pocket-Sized Reference Color & White Balance Grey Card  and GENUINE WhiBal G7 Certified Neutral White Balance Card. To use a grey card, you place it in the scene you want to photograph. Set the camera to manual. Defocus a bit and take a shot. When you import your images, use this one as reference. Set your camera to the metering setting you would like to use and set your balance are great examples of grey cards

Lens Caps

This is my favorite tool for setting white balance. They are placed in front of a lens, or attached to the lens filter. You point them at the light source or at the subject if it is bright. White balance lens caps help to avoid inconsistencies caused by other light sources.  They range in price from $99.95 for ExpoImaging ExpoDisc 77mm Digital White Balance Filter to around $7 for Universal 77mm White Balance Lens Cap Disk. They are convenient and fit in any bag.

 DIY Methods

I read about this on DIY Photography. While not perfect, white coffee cup lids works great in an emergency. You use them as you would use a white balance lens cap and they are everywhere. Similar to the Expodisk its placed in front of a lens, and pointed  at the light source or at the subject if it is bright. Also on DIY Photography, there is a great article on making your own grey cards.

Take Out The Guess Work

If you are a photographer, working in a studio or out in a state park, setting your white balance will speed up your post work. There are more than enough tools to make it easier.

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