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06-20-2013, 11:53 PM   #1
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Mustard yellow walls and incandescent light

Hi there! I occasionally get suckered into photographing events for non-profits, and it seems like no matter where they hold them, one thing holds true:

The rooms are painted in some yellow/orange tone, and the lighting is either yellowish incandescent, or a mix of incandescent and fluorescent and natural light, and the floor is often in the yellow-brown range.

Even shooting in raw I can never seem to get a good white balance out of it. I tend to avoid flash since it distracts people, which leaves me working with varying shades of yellow light.

I'm attaching a couple random crowd shots from one such location.

How do you folks handle this sort of environment? I'm starting to wonder if I should slap an 80A filter on and see if that makes things less painful or just gives me a new set of problems.

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06-21-2013, 12:07 AM   #2
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For future reference, I would use a white balance tool on the scene, and never ever use auto white balance. My personal weapon of choice is the Xrite Colorchecker Passport. It's a little more expensive than a cheap gray card, but it will also profile and correct your sensor's output. But to fix this photo I would just use the white balance dropper in your raw converter on one of those tablecloths. Anything you know should be white in real life will be fine, but try not to use the light sources themselves as they may be blown out.
06-21-2013, 03:07 AM   #3
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In some extreme situations like yours a filter might be the thing to do. But you will lose light and you will have to increase ISO. With digital camera I would go for something less extreme like 80B or 80C.
With this colour schemes you just might not be getting enough blue and filter will balance that.
Also I suggest getting one of chose colorchecker cards as well.

Anyway, here's a copy fixed with LR dropper. I've used the values from the white piece of paper and the water in the corner. Then I've chose an average of this values to get this:

Last edited by Nuff; 09-16-2014 at 10:40 PM.
06-21-2013, 07:32 AM   #4
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Been there, those rooms are awful. Maybe not as sophisticated as the color checkers but I just carry a small plastic gray card in my kit. I take a few shots of the card in varying locations within the room before things get started. Then just use the eyedropper WB tool in Lightroom. Tweak if needed but usually that is good enough.

Never tried a filter which might be interesting but I'm usually so short on light in that environment that I hate to lose any.

Oh, and never use AWB! Just pick flash or whatever as long as all images are the same they can be corrected in Lightroom in one step.

06-21-2013, 08:26 AM   #5
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There is one of the many reasons why you would want to use flash in those situations. If done probably, it would add some colour to the scene other than the dull mustard colour (WB will be set to flash).
06-21-2013, 09:30 AM   #6
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Those images can't be accurately balanced in post, white balance will not work on those. The issue is the many different light sources/types, @Nuff 's work on your image shows what you will run into - look at the fluorescents. These are un-fixable via white balance and have to be taken properly at time of exposure. A flash with a CTO gel will solve your issue if you run into this problem again...
06-21-2013, 09:47 AM   #7
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I picked those in part because I hadn't altered the white balance - they were from the rejects (and they were taken over a year ago). Changing the white balance in lightroom is simple enough, but it doesn't compensate all that well. In the final ones, I ended up doing that, of course, but also slightly desaturating the warmer tones in some cases, and converting to black and white in others.

I picked up a "lollycap" a while back, which is supposed to work like an expodisk to set white balance, but it doesn't really work all that well so I haven't used it lately. I suppose I could try bringing that next time I'm in mustard-land.

I mentioned 80A mostly because I have a couple of them sitting around from a craigslist purchase of a vintage camera bag with a bunch of random filters thrown in for free (camera bag was a horrible investment... the foam under the cloth liner disintegrated once I started using it, and got horrible dust all over all the stuff inside it... which fortunately didn't get into my old camera). They are pretty dark, though, so I'll look at one of the others.

I remember someone showing me the link for the color passport before, but we were talking about studio lighting for product shots where colors had to be very accurate. How does it work in a setting like this? You set it against something and snap a photo of it in every part of the room you walk through (since the lighting is different across the room... less or more bounce from walls, outside light coming in, etc)? And then there's some software that you can run that'll detect the card and build a color profile from that which you can apply to the other raw images? Does it plug in to lightroom, or is it an external program you use before importing (I try to avoid those... I end up spending so much time moving files. Putting photos from one day of shooting through dxo nearly made me throw the PC out the window). I'd definitely consider it since it seems to do more than just correct for white balance.

And yeah, I should use the flash, but when the ceiling is so high I can't bounce it, and the walls are so yellow that bouncing it from the side would just make it worse, and I'm mostly taking candids and trying not to distract people... tried putting a little softbox accessory on my speed light, but that ended up really distracting people because they had to ask me about it.

On the plus side, since one of the groups I get suckered into photographing is finally finishing their own meeting space, I convinced them that if they use a nice neutral grey color on the walls and stick to only one color of lightbulb, their photos would be much better.

Thanks, everyone, for all your advice
06-21-2013, 10:03 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by narual Quote
I remember someone showing me the link for the color passport before, but we were talking about studio lighting for product shots where colors had to be very accurate. How does it work in a setting like this? You set it against something and snap a photo of it in every part of the room you walk through (since the lighting is different across the room... less or more bounce from walls, outside light coming in, etc)? And then there's some software that you can run that'll detect the card and build a color profile from that which you can apply to the other raw images? Does it plug in to lightroom, or is it an external program you use before importing (I try to avoid those... I end up spending so much time moving files. Putting photos from one day of shooting through dxo nearly made me throw the PC out the window). I'd definitely consider it since it seems to do more than just correct for white balance.
You pretty much nailed the description of how the colorchecker passport works. It does plug into lightroom, although there is a stand alone application for folks who don't use LR. The stand alone will also build what Xrite calls a "Dual illumination profile" which is like an average response curve under different types of light, fluorescent and daylight for example. Here, it's probably easier just to see it in action. This is from the Mac Group's YouTube channel, the distributors of the colorchecker.



06-21-2013, 11:04 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by maxfield_photo Quote
You pretty much nailed the description of how the colorchecker passport works. It does plug into lightroom, although there is a stand alone application for folks who don't use LR. The stand alone will also build what Xrite calls a "Dual illumination profile" which is like an average response curve under different types of light, fluorescent and daylight for example. Here, it's probably easier just to see it in action. This is from the Mac Group's YouTube channel, the distributors of the colorchecker.

ColorChecker Passport - Lightroom - YouTube
That is really cool, Maxfield. I may just have to pick that up. Thanks!
06-21-2013, 12:01 PM   #10
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Actually, I think those photos are pretty cool, with that kind of orange brown colour range. I used to fiddle with WB a lot to try to get the "best" one, sometimes even trying layers in PS. But honestly, these days I just convert to black and white or try to make the colours look esthetic instead of 'right'
06-21-2013, 03:00 PM   #11
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I'll echo those saying "Get a color checker"

So, my experience is that these rooms...tend to be "homogenously weird" lightning-wise. That's a good thing. I also, occasionally, have to take photos in these conditions, and I suffered until....

...I discovered the Xrite Colorchecker Passport, which has a set of color swaths and "white/gray" swaths. When setting up, I take a test-picture of that in the typical light of the room, then "shoot away" (btw., on the shot that you show, you're far from close enough...).

At home, the simple approach is to open the test-picture in Aperture, hit the white balance tool and use it in "probe"/pipette mode on the neutral-white swath. Now the color balance is set. Lift that setting using the lift&Stamp tool, and stamp it on all the other photos you took. This takes a full 60s, and gets pretty good results

I love the Xrite ColorChecker, which I bought when my previous one was worn out. Clever and robust case, easy to schlep around and little risk of it being damaged/folded.
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