Seeing things differently since 1894

(Sony) White Balance Woes

By on Jul 6, 2020

Hi all,

Covid lockdown and the ongoing aftermath have wrought havoc on my free time; all I’ll say is that it has been a monumental test of character and resilience entertaining a 2 and 4 year old at home 24/7 whilst the wife works full time.

I have nonetheless managed to pick up the camera again these past few days and re-set up a makeshift flash studio. I have grown increasingly attentive to the colour accuracy coming out of my workflow and would value some of your input from those with a keen eye for colour balance and skin tones…

Context: I switched from Fujifilm to Sony just before lockdown and have been content with the system being able to capture fleeting moments of the kids in action in natural light. I do this purely for immortalising the emotion and the moment, not to create colour-accurate art. However, since diving back into flash portraits, I’ve become somewhat enthusiastic with getting the skin “just right” in the final jpeg. 

Problem: contrary to the glory days of Fujifilm, I’m not too enthused with the colour coming out of this Sony – natural light or flash. I have become increasingly frustrated after countless attempts to tinker with custom white balance in-camera and post-processing in Lightroom. This is time I never needed to spend/waste with Fujifilm – from a business perspective, it’s a time and money drain.

Instead of jumping into the particular flash setup and portraits that are giving me a headache, I thought I’d return to the fundamentals. I’ve attached a trio of SOOC jpeg exports from the Sony A7iii RAW files; an unflattering wide angle selfie with diffuse overcast window light to illustrate the following outputs:

  • LEFT: auto white balance (4750K; tint:+7 magenta)
  • CENTRE: white card custom balance (6950K; tint: -14 green)
  • RIGHT: grey card custom balance (6750K; tint: +5 magenta)

I’ll just clarify that these custom white balances are set with an in-camera function where you hold up the card to the lens and fire the shutter which then saves it to 1 of 3 WB custom slots.

So my first observation is that – to my eyes, my calibrated screen, and an iPad Pro – the custom white balance shots are way off what the auto white balance is achieving. I thought white/grey cards are supposed to bring auto white balance even closer to reality but it seems my example it is having an adverse effect? I do not recall having this problem with Fujifilm.

This “behaviour” extends to my flash setup where skin appears warm/green even using the Lightroom WB dropper on an initial photo with the white/grey cards; liberal manual adjustments to white balance and tint are needed to get the skin looking vaguely human again but it never looks right.

I’m on the verge of buying a used non-Sony body+lens just to check if it’s the tool or my incompetency – or both!

Do any of you have any observations on what is going on here?
Have I misunderstood how custom WB works??
How do you go about securing faithful skin tones in your work?

 

    5 Comments

  1. I’m supposed to be doing school portraits this Friday and I’m pulling my hair out!

    Simon Yau Simon Yau

    06/07/2020

    • Blimey Simon ~ Good luck with that!

      I think Brian’s suggestion is a good workaround if you can’t resolve the issue any other way ~ surely family members are only interested in their children looking cute, a slight colour discrepancy isn’t going to bother the parent even though it might be driving you scatty.

      Another option is to go mono of course! 🙂

      (I can lend you some Canon kit if you want)

      Jo Humberstone Jo Humberstone

      06/07/2020

  2. Simon this would be a possible workflow try..
    Shoot in RAW
    Include a Camera Calibration Taget Card or Neutral Grey Card (18%) in a few shot during a session.
    Then in Lightroom use the Colour temp eye dropper tool to correct any imbalance or to you liking,
    Then Select all then, use Sync to apply to all selected
    Then Export as Jpg’s

    Brian McCarthy Brian McCarthy

    06/07/2020

  3. Thanks for the workflow suggestions.

    I do shoot RAW and use the colour temp dropper tool religiously for natural light shots but it’s just the past few days with my flash that’s giving me colour-related grief. I know that the flash outputs at ~5600K, yet Lightroom boosts the image to ~8500K when using the colour temp dropper on 18% grey card – making the image looking like a bad case of sunburn.

    Taking a step back, “the internet” suggested I uninstall my monitor calibration software and reset GPU colour profiles to factory defaults and… I’m happier with how things look on my screen. It hasn’t fixed the bizarre white balance behaviour in Lightroom but the permanent green cast has almost disappeared that I was moaning about in the first place. Who’d have thought an off-the-shelf colorimeter could do more harm than good…

    I have added a fresh portrait of my daughter to my gallery to mark this momentous occasion.

    Simon Yau Simon Yau

    08/07/2020

  4. Hi Simon. Not sure what’s happening but if you want to send me a raw file shot straight out of camera and I will have a go at processing it on my system.

    Mike Stringer Mike Stringer

    18/07/2020

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