As I pulled into my driveway this evening after dinner, I turned off the car and sat deep in thought while rain lightly splashed off my car’s hood. A couple holding an umbrella and being trailed by a child with a smaller umbrella walked past my car and I instantly wanted to rush out and capture this scene with my camera.
I got a few decent shots, but the background wasn’t complementary to the scene and the man was too far removed from his wife and daughter in the frames I captured. Alas, even though I didn’t get the shot I wanted, I continued to wander through Golden trying to capture photos of people going about their everyday business.
The image above was a test of how much I could push my new Canon 7D’s ISO sensitivity while still maintaining a workable image. It was taken two minutes before 8 p.m., handheld, from a relatively long distance and with a longer focal length. At 5,000 ISO, my old 50D body would cringe and produce, at best, an intensely grainy photo; however, the 7D performed admirably and, while the shot is not great, the couple visible inside the restaurant does elicit some visual interest.
On to the the topic at hand. The image at left is a .jpeg of the unprocessed RAW .cr2 file my 7D produced. Besides being flat and needing a levels and/or curves adjustment, the white balance of the image is off.
Using an automatic white balance in Camera Raw yielded the second result to the left. In it, the yellows are even more accentuated and the tone is hardly more pleasing. Rather than rely on automatic adjustment, I had to tackle the balance manually by using Photoshop’s “Channel Mixer” feature. Though this tool is most often used for converting adjusting the conversion of poly- to monochromatic images, it allows users to independently manipulate the three channels (RGB) of any digital image.
By doing so, I was able to achieve a more natural tone and reproduce more of what my eyes saw earlier during the evening’s twilight hours.
Another way to manually adjust an image’s white balance in post production is to use Camera Raw’s “White Balance [Eyedropper] Tool.” This bad boy allows the user to click on any tone and adjust the white balance based on the selected area.
If you choose from one of three tonal ranges [whites, blacks, and grays], you have the best chance of accurately nailing the color balance. Simply click on an area that is supposed to be white [or the lightest color available in the image], black, or gray, and the tones will adjust based on that area assuming polar values of an extreme light, dark, or neutral.
Feel free to adjust the white balance settings in-camera as well; however, just realize that it takes extra time and time isn’t a luxury often afforded in photojournalism. Thus, I recommend shooting in RAW format and sacrificing post-production time for time spent in the field fiddling with camera settings.