Have you ever taken a photo before, and the rich colors of the moment end up looking more like something shot underwater at your local swimming pool?
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about don’t you?
I know that you’ve taken your share of these types of photos; to your utter dismay, you may have tried to fix them with your favorite photo editing software, and they still looked terrible. Maybe you converted them to black and white images, or perhaps you trashed them and found yourself frustrated that the camera didn’t work right in the first place.
…that stupid piece of technology.
Am I right?
Well, I know that in the past I’ve taken my share of photos in the shade, inside a building without a flash – heck, sometimes even in bright sunlight – and experienced a bluish cast over the images, and I’ve found myself throwing my hands up in the air with frustration (well, figuratively…despite that really cool Taio Cruz song. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever thrown my hands up in the air before because of a photo, it just sounded cool to say that).
But why does this happen? I mean technology has come so far over the years, why can’t cameras always take a decent photo?
I’m so glad you asked.
For starters, one thing you need to realize is that the best camera sensor in the world will never be as good as the sensor in your eye at balancing color, adjusting for hues, focusing, and everything else. Technology is good, but let’s face it…your eyes and brain are simply better. The reason for this is that digital cameras are color blind in a sense…they have a hard time automatically adjusting white balance all the time, this will often be evidenced by those wonderful bluish or orangeish casts you sometimes see in your pictures.
You know the types of photos I’m talking about.
A good example of how amazing your brain and eyes adjust is when you walk outside your house on a sunny day, the light is immensely brighter and your eyes automatically compensate. Also, they allow everything to be balanced as for light – the sky AND the landscape around you.
Cameras? Not always the case.
Now, I’m going to cut about 95% of the technical gunk out of this lesson to make it as simplified as I can, deal?
To begin with, it’s important to understand that different objects look different with different light sources. (Wow, I used the word ‘different’ three times in that last sentence…go me). You see, I used to own this shirt that I always wore to school, and some of my students swore was an olive green color, other students were positive that it was brown. Well, they were both right. If I were standing in the classroom under the fluorescent lights, the shirt had an olive hue to it, but in bright sunlight, it was more of a distinct brown.
My point with this is that a camera can’t always tell the difference with color and light; your eye can.
Taking this further, in different types of light, things can look tainted. The type of light you have changes everything in a photo, and in the full AUTO mode your camera takes its best guess at what the settings for the photo should be; however, it usually assumes you are either using the flash OR are taking the shot in bright sunlight.
Not always what you want your camera doing for that award-winning image, is it?
Now, many times your camera does a fine job with the full auto setting for everyday use; however, if you don’t take anything else from this particular lesson, let what you do take be this little gem: sometimes your camera needs just a little bit of help.
So, how do you help your camera know the type of light that is being used at a particular moment?
Well for starters, you’ll need to pick your own white balance. Now, don’t get scared…this isn’t a big deal, all you have to do is change your camera to a mode that is NOT FULL AUTO. Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to and find the white balance setting in your camera’s menu (don’t be afraid to consult your user’s manual). Now, this shouldn’t be too difficult to find, and your camera should give you a few options that look something like this:
Did I hear your head explode just a little bit on the inside?
I thought so; let me break it down…
On a cloudy day, if you were to shoot using the Cloudy setting, it automatically adds warmer colors to your image so it isn’t too ‘cold,’ or blue. Using the Shade setting does a similar action and helps you to avoid that ‘underwater’ look you find far too often from non-flash shade pictures. Using the Daylight setting compensates by adding cooler colors so that the image doesn’t have a too warm of look overall. The Incandescent (Tungsten) and Fluorescent settings will add in the necessary warmth or coolness to your shots so that the people in them don’t look like zombies fresh from the grave, or people affected with jaundice.
But wait, Teachinfourth, I've seen your camera and it's fancy. How can you expect me to change up settings with my little point-and-shoot and take good pictures? That's not really fair!
You know, here's a funny thing about fairness. I went on a trip with a good friend of mine up to Park City not too long ago. I didn't feel like hauling out my big camera, so I instead pulled out my little Canon point-and-shoot. While standing in the shade of the building, I quickly snapped a shot for my friend...after all, she claims she's the queen.
As you can see, because we were standing in the shade of the building the camera really didn't know what to do; therefore, it looks an awful lot like my friend is swimming in a smoke-ridden haze. However, after a quick visit to the setting menu and a change to the "Shade" option, the second shot was taken which shows the lighting as it truly looked.
Now, neither of these photos has been color corrected, and the color is exactly how it looked straight out of my 'cheap' point-and-shoot camera. How is that for fairness?
Also, just to prove my point on adjusting for color, your eye would have automatically adjusted for in the shade AND the sunlight in the street. Both would have been easily visible and there wouldn't have been a blue cast at all - unless perhaps you have cataracts.
So, there you have it.
And once-again, in a nutshell:
- Switch to a mode that is not Full Auto.
- Find the White Balance in the menu of your camera.
- Pick the balance setting that best matches your lighting conditions.
Just like putting away your toys when you’re done with them.
Until next time; shoot ‘til you get it.
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: About Your Camera
Part 3: Aperture
Part 4: Shutter Speed
Part 5: White Balance
Part 6: ISO
Part 7: The Breath
Part 8: The Rule of Thirds