Common misconceptions with white balance & colour correction
People Photography
October 8, 2018

In a world as vast as photography, misconceptions will exist. A world of creative art that it is, it tells us to believe in it without any boundaries or limitations. Solving misconceptions is fun. One of the common topics of misconception in photography comes ashore when the boundary between adjustment of white balance and colour correction is breached. Let us take a look at the differences between the two and try to remove such a confusion from our grey matter for one final time.

1)   White balance versus Colour correction:

White balance is nothing but the setting that tells the camera how to perceive the whites in the image. Colour correction on the contrary is adjustments of the different colour tones present in the image in order to get back the original details or to create something unique. The main reason why people confuse between the two is that change in white balance leads to a change in colour of the overall image since the colour temperature is changed. What we need to understand is that the colour temperature of the whites are only changing which in turn is altering the mood of the image. For example, we are processing an image that has a landscape with mountains, rivers and trees. Let us assume that the original image was shot at a white balance of 5200K. If we change the temperature to around 4000K, the whites of the image will actually turn cooler and this will result in a blue overcast on the image. The entire image will have a bluish overcast to it. Similarly if we increase the white balance to 6500K, the entire image will have an orange tone dominating it. Higher white balance introduces warm or orange tones whereas lower white balance values introduce cool or bluish tones.

Now when we are trying to colour correct the above image, we will be specifically working on certain colours. If we are working on the greens in the image, the impact will be on the greens only. We may try to change the saturation and vibrancy of the green colour in the image. This will lead to a change in the saturation and vibrancy of the trees and other greenish portions in the photograph. Colour correction can also be done on the whole image by using filters. Different colour filters can be used while shooting a particular scene in order to bring about a certain mood to it. While such a filter is actually bringing about a change in the entire colour tone of the image, white balance is actually controlling how the camera sees the true whites.

2)   Grey card versus white card:

You need to understand the concept of camera metering if you want to understand the use of a grey card or exposure card. The camera always analyzes a total scene and tries to balance the exposure to make it 18% grey. This number has been arrived at after years of experimentation and we are in no position to question that as of now! No matter what you are shooting, if the camera is doing the metering for you, it will try to arrive at an image that matches its 18% grey algorithm. In order to get back the actual tonality, you will have to use the exposure compensation option. This will help you in overriding the camera’s decision. 18% grey is actually the perfect mid tone. Take a look at the following metering chart and you will understand the concept of 18% grey and why it is the perfect mid tone. This chart will also help you understand the concept of exposure compensation and why it is extremely important in getting back the original tonality.



So from the above chart we can see that the middle block comprises of the greyish colour tone. This is the 18% grey tone which the cameras always try to arrive at. If you progress on either side you are either darkening or brightening the colour tones. Please check the below stops of light as well which will help you in exposure compensation. A +2 means that the exposure needs to compensated by 2 additional stops of light and so on. White card on the other hand is used to set the custom white balance in the camera. When you navigate to the custom white balance option in the camera, you will actually be guided to take a photograph of the white balance card. The colour tone of the card will depend on the white balance you prefer for all your images. If it is a true white, then the camera will perceive all whites as true whites and you should get the correct white balance. In case you are using a slightly bluish card for white balance, your images will be slightly cooler. So we get to see that a grey or exposure card is used to meter the image or expose the image properly and a white card is used to set the white balance of the image.

A drastic change in white balance actually leads to a change in colours as well. This is the reason for this confusion. An image shot at 5200K and changed to 8000K in processing will look as if it got a complete colour makeover. Although this is what seems, the only thing that actually changed was how the software was told to perceive the white colour. On the contrary, a colour correction involves retouching of all the colour tones, changing the vibrancy of each of the colours, changing the saturation of each of the colours and so on. Colour correction or colour grading may also involve usage of different colours of filters to manipulate the tones in the image.

Now that we have gone through the concepts of white balance and colour correction in details, it is time to put the confusion to rest. White balance and colour correction are not at all similar even though the results might look so to the naked eye!  

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