(Sony) White Balance Woes
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?