Set White Balance out of auto and leave it there, here’s why…
You’ll get more color accuracy, better consistency and it saves you time.
There is only one reasons I can imagine to ever have White Balance in Auto.
You are only taking one exposure in certain light source and don’t have a white balance card.
My basic White Balance workflow
- I leave my camera in the white balance that best guesses an accurate WB from my main light. This is usually cloudy . I leave my WB alone for all the shots.
- If I have my camera bag with me then I shoot a picture of my Color Checker Passport.
- Take pictures not worrying about WB.
- In post I fix one for WB so the skin looks right.
- I fix the WB of one picture only, usually one in the middle of my set.
- If I had the color checker then I use it’s grey.
- If I didn’t have the color checker I take a reading using Aperture 3.3′s new skin tone dropper. In Adobe Camera RAW (ACR), Lightroom (LR) of Photoshop (PS) I use this technique. It’s called the CYM % rule. It’s based on the fact that each caucasians skin has the same ratios of CYM. Different ethnicities do also, just with a slightly different formula.
- I adjust this accurate WB for mood, style story etc…
- I apply this WB to the rest of the shots
It saves time.
It saves you time while shooting since you don’t have to worry about the color of the light and continually change you WB.
Since the camera will stay in one WB setting if you take multiple in on light color then it very fast to fix multiple pictures at once. (Can you imagine shooting a 1400 picture time-lapse with the WB shifting around because you left it in AWB)
You’ll get more color accuracy or consistency.
The camera doesn’t know what the subject is. This matters most when varying color light may be present in a setting but only one color on the subject. Spend the time you would have on all the pictures with varying color getting one just right and then make them all the same.
Artsy note for those who think in Kelvin
When making artistic changes I like to see the Kelvin scale since I learned color shooting in a studio and taught my brain to see in Kelvin. In Aperture the Kelvin scale is available by changing the drop down to “Temperature and Tint”.
A couple notes on choosing color. (AKA Color Grading)
Does a warm or cool color convey more of the vision you had when you framed the shot in your mind? Does it communicate better your message? You’ll still save time since you only have to do it once, pushing this correction out to the others.
Using a white balance card makes everything easier
Here’s a couple tips for using the grey card. Make sure you hold the card at the correct angle so that the light that will later hit your subject it hitting the card in the same way. During post use it for your neutral grey. This gives you an accurate color. This is like a scientist sitting next to you saying, ok here is the actual color. As an artist feel free to tweak (As I mention above). I find my artist vision is more precise when I start from a true color, I think you may as well.
Please don’t think these this neutral grey trick works by simply finding something white in the photo. You won’t get an accurate color by clicking on a white T-Shirt or cloud or wall. I’ve tried with usual disastrous results.
Starting with RAW is best but not by much.
It’s absolutely true that RAW captures more color. It’s also true that if you shoot in RAW a benefit is that the color space isn’t chosen. That being said it doesn’t help that much in getting a better color. This thought process is from the old days when changing the color was only possible if you shoot in RAW and use Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). That is no longer true. No modern photo editing software imposes that limitation.
OK so how about the negatives of leaving WB out of auto and don’t touch it?
Loss of data
It’s possible that in cloudy by shooting something very red you may clip out the highlights more readily than if it was properly balanced. The effect would be more pronounced in red light. So lets say for instance you were shooting a red tulip field during the magic hour you may very well lose some information during capture. This is kind of a perfect storm scenario and not very likely. I look at the 3 color histogram of all my photos in after shooting and I’ve never noticed it. Of course this means you’re a little safer from losing data when capturing blue.