Project: White Balance and Overall Colour

The exercise as described was very similar to an exercise in the Art of Photography (described here) so I thought I would do a variation and delve a bit deeper into how my camera treats white balance.

I started with the manual. It described the camera’s approach to setting white balance with an auto setting and six presets for sunshine, cloudy, tungsten and fluorescent lighting, flash and shade. The manual gives the colour temperature corresponding to each preset. There is also the possibility to set a custom white balance or adjust by setting the colour temperature. The latter might be useful if a light source of a know colour temperature is used. The manual gives a warning about calibration differences if using a colour temperature meter.

The Fridge

The first set of pictures is of the kitchen fridge. The lighting was a mixture of cloudy daylight and tungsten halogen, with the daylight dominant. Exposure was maintained at 1/10 sec at f5.6 and ISO800 for all these. The first was with the white balance set to auto:

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Next up was tungsten (3200K):

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Then a custom setting was established by taking a picture of the fridge and using this to establish the white balance:

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Viewed subjectively, the auto and custom settings have produced correct looking pictures, the tungsten version is too cold, indicating that the room lighting was not contributing much to the overall light level.

Punch

This hole punch was placed in the living room window sill, so the dominant lighting was from the cloudy outdoors. This was taken with auto, cloudy settings, then a custom white balance taken on the white woodwork:

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The auto and custom look quite natural whereas the cloudy setting has a slight blue-green cast.

I then tried using different colour temperature settings, starting with 2500, then 6000 and finally 10000:

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as expected the 2500 is very blue (to compensate for the redness that light of that colour temperature would have), 6000 is about right (this is the colour temperature for the cloudy preset) and 10000 is too warm.

Limitation of auto white balance

While studying the Art of Photography, I spotted that the auto setting can be fooled (see here). The next pictures explore this further.

Using the auto setting, I took the following two pictures of the blue punch and a yellow Marmite teapot lid against a green tablecloth. The exposure was the same for both pictures:

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The lighting was from outside with an overcast sky so I selected the cloudy setting for these two:

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This has rendered the green tablecloth much more faithfully and consistently.

The relative proportions also affect how the camera works on auto as the next set demonstrates. The first pair were taken with the auto white balance and the same exposure. The only difference is how much of the frame the green car occupies:

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Then with the white balance set to cloudy:

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This has shown some interesting results, mainly that the auto white balance cannot always be trusted. Not only does the lighting affect the colour of scene, the colours of the scene can affect how the camera processes it.

Probably the most accurate way of setting the camera’s white balance is to use the custom setting. I did this on some white objects in the scene for this exercise. In fact, I deliberately chose scenes with an area of white to set a custom white balance against. An alternative would be to use a grey card. The setting only needs doing once providing the lighting conditions don’t change so it can be set at the start of a shoot.

A scene dominated by bold primaries can fool the auto setting so these should trigger a warning that an alternative setting should be used.

Project: Dynamic Range, Scene Dynamic Range

After discovering the camera’s dynamic range in the previous exercise, the idea here was to investigate the dynamic range 0of various photographic scenes. The course notes said to take five pictures of varied lighting conditions. Here is what I took:

Cutting Down a Tree

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This was taken in sunny conditions (as can be seen from the shadows). There was no highlight clipping in the camera display and spot readings taken showed a highlight at the saw and white parts of the tree stump at1/350 and f6.7 (EV13.9) and a shadow in the shadow of the bush at 1/20 and f6.7 (EV9.8). This was with an ISO setting of 100. This is a fairly modest dynamic range of 4.1, well within the camera’s ability.

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Saw in Wood

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It was cloudy by this time, so I was expecting a more restricted dynamic range. With the ISO set at 200, the highlight here was in the handle of the saw at 1/350 and f5.6 (EV12.4) and the shadow at 1/10 and f5.6 (EV7.3). A dynamic range of 5.1.

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Stump

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It was getting later by this time, the sun was going down and I needed an ISO of 800. The highlight on the lightest parts of the exposed stump was 1/160 at f5.6 (EV9.3). The darkest part turned out to be the area of bark to the right which recorded a spot reading of 1/15 at f5.6 (EV5.9). This results in a dynamic range of 3.4.

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Takara

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This picture of the family pet was taken indoors at late afternoon opposite a west-facing window. ISO was 200 and there was highlight clipping on the couch just behind her head. This gave a spot reading of 1/350 at f5.6 (EV12.4). The lowlight is the dark blanket on the couch at 1/10 at f5.6 (EV7.3). This gives a dynamic range of 5.1.

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Takara Close-up

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At ISO800 the clipped highlight on the left muzzle showed 1/45 at f5.6 (EV7.5) while the shadow rendered 1/8 at f5.6 (EV5.0). This gave a dynamic range of 2.5.

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This was an interesting and useful exercise for a number of reasons. It is clear that my subjective assessment of the contrast range of a scene is not very accurate. The first image, which I considered at the time to have a high range turned out to be fairly modest. The subsequent image, which I thought was flatter, had a higher range. Also, the tonal range showed by many of the histograms do not match the measured dynamic range.

Secondly, my judgement of which part of the scene is the highlight and which is the deepest shadow in inaccurate and probably the measurement of the exposure value is not as precise as it could be.

This exercise proved very instructive and I intend to repeat it to continue to develop my eye and ability to recognise tonal ranges in a scene.

The Digital SLR Handbook

This book has a broad sweep. In it Michael Freeman attempts to cover the whole digital workflow from capture to delivery. In about 250 pages, this is no easy task.

He starts with a discussion on the changeover from film to digital, then heads into a technical description of the digital camera. This gets a thorough treatment as he discusses the points of lens design for digital, sensor technology, camera profiling, exposure measurement, noise, file formats and compression and their effect on image quality. There are pages devoted to more practical matters like batteries and chargers and using them overseas. Parts of the whole ‘picture taking’ system that are not unique to digital like tripods and flash also get a mention.

He then goes on to describe the image workflow after capture, and this section includes computers, monitors and storage. He describes colour management and monitor calibration and then goes on to describe the techniques involved in image optimisation, using processed and raw images. This section closes with some pages about printing. Between them, these first two section occupy about two-thirds of the book

The next section is on image editing. Editing can mean different things depending on context, but the author here is referring to more radical software manipulation; whereas the previous section can be thought of as bringing out the best of the image, editing here refers to making sunstantial content changes. He discusses Colour in more detail, making dust and noise repairs, extending the depth of focus and dynamic range amongst other topics.

The book closes with two fairly short sections on scanning and delivery.

In terms of breadth, it’s hard to imagine any topic that does not get a mention. In this respect the book is notable for its thorough approach. The presentation is also worthy of praise. Each topic gets its own page, some extend over a number of pages but they are then broken down into page length discrete chunks. This, together with the well-planned contents pages, make it a useful and accessible reference source.

However, the necessary brevity of description of each topic to cram so much into the book, renders it little more than an appetiser, a scratch of the surface of a very big subject. There was an attempt at detail. Many workflow processes are described but because of the need to save space this detail was not very well described. The descriptions of some of the processes relied on a knowledge of not only Photoshop, but a specific version of it. It would have been nice if there had been at least some acknowledgement that there are alternatives. Against this objection, there was much useful discussion of other software and plug-ins, not so well known as the Adobe powerhouse, but useful for specific purposes.

In summary, I thought the value of this book lay in it being a thorough introduction and a helpful reference but it is not really detailed enough to provide useful practical guidance.

Project: Dynamic Range, Your Camera’s Dynamic Range

This exercise was to measure the camera’s dynamic range by capturing a scene with a high enough dynamic range to exceed the camera’s limits. I waited for a sunny day then did as was suggested in the course notes. A large piece of what card was placed in direct sunlight by my front door, this provided the highlight and the low end would be provided by the dark door and/or the less well lit interior of the house. The upper limit of dynamic range would be indicated by a spot metered reading on the white card and I took a number of spot metered readings of the door and interior.

A number of exposures were taken, all at f6.7 and starting with 1/90 sec shutter speed, reducing until the card showed no clipping. This occurred at 1/350 sec. This was taken as the working shot and is shown here with the spotmeter readings:

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Photoshop pixel dropper was used on the card to show that the exposure was just below the clipping point.

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Values of R-253, G-252 and B-250 are satisfactory

The dark area was lightened and zoomed to pixel level to evaluate the noise:

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It is apparent that it is all fairly noisy, although it is difficult to determine what is the limiting noise as far as dynamic range is concerned; there is not a lot of detail to compare it with. Nevertheless, the bottom limit can be taken as the door.

Based on this, admittedly crude, experiment, the dynamic range of the camera is about 7.1 EV. This is a bit disappointing and does not compare particularly well with the result published by DxO for the same camera (http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Cameras/Camera-Sensor-Database/Canon/EOS-40D) of 11.3 EV.

There are a number of things to be learnt from this:

1. This is not a very accurate way of measuring the dynamic range. The highlight is fairly accurate. Although the exposyres were half a stop apart, checking the levels of the three channels showed that it was not far from full white. The lower level was more subjective. Determining the noise/detail threshold is subjective anyway, but as it happened and due to the choice of scene, there was not a lot of detail to help make the choice.

2. Despite this, the exercise was another step towards understanding how a digital camera responds to light, especially at the extremes,

3. With this understanding, it should help to evaluate a scene with a view to how the camera will capture it. This is more the subject of the next exercise.