Colour accuracy is one of the most important aspects of photography. A big part of this is getting accurate white balance. White balance relates to the overall colour hue in your images. Even a minor modification of colour tone can mean a huge impact on all your photos.
White balance is important in portraiture because it means accurate skin tones. If you it is not set to an accurate setting then skin tones may seem slightly blue, greenish or pink. It does not matter whether or not skintone is light or dark. If your white balance is inappropriate for your shoot you will find dissatisfying results.
There are different white balance settings on your digital camera. These are called presets. These presets are designed to adjust your photos to a certain hue. For example, there is a preset called daylight. Daylight is designed to reproduce the colour temperature at noon. The light at midday looks very different from the light in the late hours of daylight. If you would like a colour temperature consistent with daylight hue then simply change the white balance preset to the daylight setting. If you like your images to look warm then you may select the cloudy or shade in your white balance presets.
Before I go on any further let me delve a little deeper. White balance is connected with colour temperature. Colour temperature is related to the certain type of hue in your photos. The light at various times of day will give you different hues. Some of these hues are appropriate for particular subjects and not others. That’s why, when you select differences in your white balance presets, your whole photograph looks distinctive to the one before.
Colour temperature does not mean Celsius or Fahrenheit. Colour temperature relates to the colour of light. When the light seems to be fairly white you can say it is reminiscent of daylight colour temperature. Camera manufacturers created a white balance preset to mimic this daylight temperature. Colour temperature simply relates to the colour of the light you are shooting in.
To simplify this let’s just say you are photographing a scene at 2.30 in the afternoon. There is a strong breeze that’s pushing the clouds across the sky quite rapidly. As a result, the light changes every few minutes. One minute you are photographing in full sunlight. The next minute you are working in overcast light. The colour temperature of these two lighting conditions is very different. So how can you get precise colour in different light? The answer is to do a custom white balance.
Custom white balance is designed for the unique light you are photographing in. This will mean that even if you have varying light you can still have very accurate colour. Creating custom white balance is done using the colour checker reference tool such as a gray card. A grey card is simply a small card that communicates to the camera where mid grey is. Once the camera knows where mid grey is then it understands where all the other colours are. By photographing in this way you are telling it to locate all the other colours around this spot. The way to set white balance is to shoot your gray card.
Once you photograph the gray card you can then adjust your white balance setting to custom. The camera will then ask you if you want to use that image as a colour reference for all the photos from now on. Once you select yes the magic begins. You will see authentic colour in all your photos.
Changing your white balance may differ from camera to camera. It’s crucial to check your camera instruction manual to see how to do this. I know where they are on the Canon 5D but I am unfamiliar with where they are on a Nikon. I trust that the process is quite alike from manufacturer to manufacturer.