Feature Story

Trick Your Camera to Emulate Film Emulsions

Brittney
Fashion Meets Country
Southern Belle
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Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough, Moab Light
Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough, Moab Light II
Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough

White balance is a subjective decision, and I would suggest not letting the camera make that decision for you--thus, it's best to avoid AWB, or the automatic white balance setting on your camera. In AWB, the scene is analyzed during the exposure and calculations are made by the camera's software, usually in less than a fraction of a second. As a result, you could literally place your camera on a tripod, set it to high motor-drive mode, and squeeze off a dozen frames--only to find that the frames are not identically white balanced. This happens because the end result is based on camera manufacturer proprietary software. This software interprets, or interpolates the light captured as it sees it in that split-second. While this interpolation is usually very good, one problem is that the auto setting can actually neutralize color casts that you want in your photos, such as the sweet, warm qualities of the Golden Hour light.

This is why I normally shoot all my photographs, except maybe the kid's birthday party photos, in manual white balance mode. I like to tell the camera the number of the color temperature, not let the camera tell me what it thinks is best. A camera is made to capture what I create, not to create and capture what it thinks logically is best.

On a normal basis, my camera white balance is set manually at 6000K, or 6000 Kelvin. Kelvin is how we measure color temperature of light, and for most photographers, the only real Kelvin numbers we need to remember are 3200K for tungsten or incandescent light sources; 5000K to 6000K which represents most daylight situations during the middle of the day, and 5400K which is the temperature most top of the line studio flash units produce. When I use the 6000K setting on my digital camera with daylight or studio flash conditions, I'm basically tricking my camera into believing the light is slightly cool, similar to light on a cloudy day or light under shade. This forces the camera just a tad bit more of yellows and reds, or warmth, to compensate for this coolness. All the camera knows is that it must ensure a given standard white, 100 IRE, is reproduced as that given white under any lighting conditions. That's all the camera is doing, making sure white stays white.

By ensuring that my digital camera will introduce this extra warmth in my photographs, I'm basically emulating the days I shot saturated-warm slide film for publication--films like the now discontinued Kodak E100SW professional film. Using this manual white balance setting on my digital camera makes my camera think that I'm using a cool-colored light source. In an attempt to neutralize this, the camera's white balance software will add the complimentary color (yellow and reds). Since I'm actually shooting under neutral lighting, this results in a warmer overall photo. This works great for models or female subjects especially for darker-skinned models and it's especially effective for fair complexions too.

Let's imagine, however, that your model's skin is a bit ruddy. In that situation you might move your manual white balance camera setting more toward 5500K. With ruddy skin, you don't want any more reds, and setting the white balance closer to the more neutral flash or daylight setting will accomplish this (i.e., the camera will not add warmth). This same principal works when shooting with light sources that are not daylight balanced. Starting with the actual color temperature of the light you are shooting under, choose a slightly higher color temperature value to warm your subject's skin tones, or select a slightly lower setting to cool them down a bit.

The scale below provides my personal interpretation of warm to cool, with neutral being normal, noon-to-3 p.m. daylight. For example, look at "Light Overcast Day" on the chart. You'll notice the color temperature is approximately 5800-6000K, or "Cool +1." This means that the light is one "unit of color" cooler than neutral (which is clear, colorless, boring light).

In the days of making color prints in the darkroom, we often referred to color correction of photos in units of color, such as +1, +2 or -1, -2 of cyan, magenta or yellow--or the exact opposites: red, green or blue. With this in mind, a Light Overcast Day is +1 cool, which is almost like +1 cyan (a blue-green color). When I set my camera at 6000K white balance, as I often do, it's the same as telling my camera the light is +1 cyan, so the camera adds the opposite. Again, the camera thinks it's doing what it's programmed to do, bring a known white, back to that standard white, but in reality, it's tricked into warming the entire image.

Condition.............................................Kelvin Temperature........Warm vs Cool

Sunrise & Sunset......................................1600K to 4300K..........Warm +3 to +.5

Average Candlelight.................................1800K to 1900K..........Warm +3

Sodium Mercury Vapor Street Lights..........2300K..........,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Warm +2.5

Average Household Bulb (Incandescent)....2800K to 3200K...,,....Warm +2 to +1.5

Professional Tungesten.............................3200K........................Warm +1.5

One hour after Sunrise..............................3500K........................Warm +1

Mid-Morning Daylight..............................4300K to 4500K..........Warm

Daylight at 12 noon..................................5000K to 6000K, average 5400K..........Neutral

Pro Print Viewing Lamps............................5000K.......................Neutral light standard

Average Electronic Flash............................5400K.......................Neutral

Light Overcast Day....................................5800 to 6000K..........Cool +1

Heavy Overcast Day...................................6500K.......................Cool +1.5

Shade.............................5800 to 10000K, average 8000K..........Cool +1 to +3, average +2

Daylight Fluorescent Bulb, Consumer.........6500K.......................Cool + 1

Color Temperature Kelvin Scale Based on Warmth vs Cool

*Kelvin Scale notes: Kelvin temperature of light will fluctuate based on many conditions. Some conditions include the actual location of the shoot in longitude and latitude, pollution, atmospheric conditions, time of day, time of year (angle of light), etc., when it comes to natural light. In the case of artificial light, age of a bulb, voltage drops, and various brands of lamps alone will cause the color temperature output to vary. The only precise way to measure the actual color temperature of light is with a calibrated color temperature meter. Because of this, this scale includes approximate values.

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thought you might like this story!

http://jpgmag.com/stories/16064

Thanks,
—The JPG team

22 responses

  • Brad Paro

    Brad Paro gave props (9 Jul 2010):

    Thanks for sharing this wealth of information...voted!!

  • Jose Antonio González

    Jose Antonio González gave props (9 Jul 2010):

    Thanks, thanks & thanks!

  • Toby Morrison

    Toby Morrison   gave props (9 Jul 2010):

    Outstanding!

  • Thad Zajdowicz

    Thad Zajdowicz   gave props (9 Jul 2010):

    Outstanding story -- thanks!

  • Orlando Emmanuelli

    Orlando Emmanuelli   gave props (9 Jul 2010):

    very cool. voted as well.

  • Gary Benefield

    Gary Benefield said (13 Jul 2010):

    great info, thank you Mr. G.

  • Michael Rowland

    Michael Rowland said (13 Jul 2010):

    By all means, publish it. But pass it by a good copyeditor first.

  • Mike Melnotte

    Mike Melnotte gave props (13 Jul 2010):

    This is excellent info. Thanks so much...

  • Warren ~Mangione~

    Warren ~Mangione~ gave props (13 Jul 2010):

    Very instructional and valuable information. Well written and love the scale. Thanks My vote!

  • Philipp Michel

    Philipp Michel gave props (14 Jul 2010):

    my vote!

  • Mark Stanley

    Mark Stanley gave props (16 Jul 2010):

    Thank our for the info, voted!

  • Zapata Juan P

    Zapata Juan P gave props (18 Jul 2010):

    Thanks x the info ... Interesting

  • J.C. Collier

    J.C. Collier gave props (18 Jul 2010):

    Good stuff. I also use a PhotoShop plugin post-prod to change balance and emulate film emulsions.

  • Enrique Gomez

    Enrique Gomez said (19 Jul 2010):

    Great information, thanks for sharing... Voted!!

  • abel

    abel gave props (19 Jul 2010):

    I agree, got my vote.

  • Emily Cook-Asaro

    Emily Cook-Asaro gave props (20 Jul 2010):

    Very easy to read and understand.

  • BliscoO

    BliscoO said (3 Feb 2011):

    thank you very much
    information is very useful to understand the basics of photography.
    I own an Olympus E-1 and have been testing these tips, achieving great results which I will in the future my jpg magazine profile. Greetings

  • Pilar Coll i Gatells

    Pilar Coll i Gatells said (22 Jun 2011):

    my vote. . .!

  • Jarno Antila

    Jarno Antila gave props (23 Jun 2011):

    my vote... definately benefitted

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes   said (11 Aug 2011):

    It cleared some points, thank you for that, simple explanations are always better than complicated stories, voted!

  • Jason Platt

    Jason Platt   gave props (18 Apr 2012):

    all over this!

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (17 Nov 2012):

    Fabulous shots and narration... .... Vote!!!

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