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White balance in photos. - I know it's wonky and I don't care [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kake

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White balance in photos. [Jun. 18th, 2007|11:11 pm]
Kake
I recently learned from klwalton about white balance in photos. The basic idea is that things which are white should look white — a simple idea, I'm sure, but something I didn't know about before.

So I've been trying to keep this in mind when post-processing my photos. Now, although there are tools to do this for you, it seems still to be quite a subjective art. This evening I was working on a photo I took of Clapham Common Tube station quite late yesterday evening (around 8:15pm). uon and I disagreed over whether the photo looked better with or without the white balancing; the obvious solution is a poll!

Which photo looks better?

56(73.7%)
6(7.9%)
Neither is better than the other
14(18.4%)
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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: nou
2007-06-18 10:29 pm (UTC)
Yes, great timing, that — it seems to have vanished about 2 minutes ago!
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[User Picture]From: reddragdiva
2007-06-18 10:54 pm (UTC)
Note that "not messed with" really means "only messed with inside the camera", i.e. everything that isn't the raw image from the CCD counts as "messed with" really.

I try to set a suitable white balance when taking the shot, as anything that saves work later is good.
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[User Picture]From: nou
2007-06-18 11:05 pm (UTC)
Hm, yes, maybe "before" and "after" would have been better labels. (I did other things to them as well after they escaped from the camera, but the only difference between the two is the white balance.)

This camera (a loan from uon) doesn't let you set the white balance, unfortunately, or I'd definitely have tried to do that. Though maybe this is a good thing, since rjw1 thinks I take too long over a simple snapshot in any case, and he was along with me since he was the one paying for dinner :)
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[User Picture]From: nou
2007-06-18 11:14 pm (UTC)
I would really have preferred to take the photo earlier in the day, but, well, our dinner reservations were for 8:30pm, around 5 minutes' walk from this station :)
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[User Picture]From: marnameow
2007-06-18 11:00 pm (UTC)
The first one looks better if you're glancing at them, but if you examine them too closely then the second one wins. The luminosity of the traffic lights is biggest main reason that the first one looks wrong - they're shining too brightly for what should be proper daylight (according to the colours of the pavement and the leaves).
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[User Picture]From: nou
2007-06-18 11:09 pm (UTC)
Hm, good catch; I wonder if I could do something about that. Might have a play tomorrow.
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[User Picture]From: ewx
2007-06-18 11:13 pm (UTC)
The unmessed one looks rather cold to my eyes.
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[User Picture]From: dr_lovely
2007-06-18 11:14 pm (UTC)
I think the messed with is a tiny bit better, but the difference is so small it took me about 5 minutes to decide. Do you have gamma correction ? I use it, it often makes things look darker, and therefore the colour look more full and less washed out, and so better. I am not really sure how this happens, and it doesn't always come across as more realistic. It does make things look nicer though.
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[User Picture]From: nou
2007-06-19 02:30 pm (UTC)
I've changed my gamma from the default Mac one, as advised by Bob and the interweb when I was having trouble making a portably-nice colour scheme a while ago.
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[User Picture]From: professorb
2007-06-19 12:31 am (UTC)
The colour-corrected version is definitely less dreary looking and easier on the eyes. Though having not seen the actual station, I have no way of knowing which actually shows it better.
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[User Picture]From: martling
2007-06-19 12:38 am (UTC)
Whilst probably more accurate to reality, I think the corrected one is aesthetically too yellow now, in the same way the original is too blue. I think I would go for something in between.
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[User Picture]From: emmacrew
2007-06-19 01:12 am (UTC)
Yep, it's quite yellow for me as well, and the sky is too bright.
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[User Picture]From: lovingboth
2007-06-19 07:04 am (UTC)
It looks like a photo that's better partly played with - I like the sky in the second, but the whites are better in the first.
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[User Picture]From: nou
2007-06-19 02:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, good idea, yes, I might try that.
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From: rik
2007-06-19 07:42 am (UTC)
The messed with one looks better to my eyes, because it's what I'm expecting to see, which is, of course, completely different to what a camera sees. Since the camera is less sensitive than a human eye, it can't pick up such a dynamic range, and will therefore make different decisions about things like white balance at the time.

This is why it's not a bad thing, nor a big deal to process the white balance afterwards. In fact, many digital SLRs deliberately don't fully focus either, and leave you to sharpen the image the amount you wish to (using unsharp mask, in GIMP). A little unsharpness can hide a multitude of sins, but sharpening up the right shot makes it fantastic. (eg, my hawk. Run it through the unsharp mask, and see what happens...)
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[User Picture]From: peshwengi
2007-06-19 09:59 pm (UTC)
I haven't heard of that... what's the advantage in not fully focussing? Do you know which SLR's do this?
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[User Picture]From: nou
2007-06-19 11:35 pm (UTC)
I'm still trying to get the hang of curves. Levels I can cope with. Sort of :)
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[User Picture]From: catsgomiaow
2007-06-19 08:55 am (UTC)
Hm, I am rubbish at things like this but eventually opted for "messed with" purely because you can see the word "Underground" on the station better.
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[User Picture]From: perlmonger
2007-06-19 12:40 pm (UTC)
it's marginal; to my eye, the "messed with" version is too light, but it's colour balance is better
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[User Picture]From: natf
2007-06-19 10:05 pm (UTC)
If you mean 'better with or without white balancing' i.e. as the human brain would see it because the brain post-processes light rays and the camera/film only sees light rays then I would say so.

If you mean 'messed with' in any other way then I don't know what you mean.

Our brain does automatic white-balance adjustments for us, converting the orange light rays under tungsten lighting to white for us. The camera film/CCD/CMOS does not and nor does the printing process and so photos taken under tungsten light would look orange and not the white that we see.

I do not think that one looks better or worse than the other. Corrected white-balance images look more realistic to us because they look like our brain sees them. However, uncorrected may look good in a surreal/abstract/artistic way. It all depends on whether you are looking for realism, I guess.

Sorry if that got a bit long...
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[User Picture]From: natf
2007-06-19 10:07 pm (UTC)
I forgot to add that I let my camera do auto-white-balance - both the D100 and the little camera. That way the camera is both eyes and brain.
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[User Picture]From: pfig
2007-06-21 01:14 pm (UTC)
the secret to correcting white balance in a quick way: select the white balance tool (this might seem obvious, but i don't know if the gimp has one) and with the colour picker you should get, try to find a pixel which is rgb(55,55,55) - it will be grey. clicky. if you can't find one, shoot for the nearest you can find to these values.

the correct (and longish) way is to find the absolute darkest pixel, set it as black; find the absolute lighter pixel, set it as white, find the absolute middlestest-tone pixel, set it as middle-tone; tell the white balance tool about this. once again, i have no idea if this is possible with the gimp. playing with levels is an easy way to find the darkest and the lighter (move it to the right until you see only 1-ish black pixel clicky as darkest; move it to the left until you see only 1-ish white pixel, clicky as lighter), the midtone is more of a personal preference, try several grey-ish ones and go with the one that you feel gives the picture the more approximate colours to what you remember.

no need for this if you shoot film :)
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