Perfect white balance with the ClearWhite filter
A workshop and review by German photographer Joerg Dullinger. www.jd-photography.de
User Rating: 5 out of 5
Written by Joerg
"I shoot in RAW, so I do not worry about white balance" ... I read this in relevant online forums several times a day, and I admit even I had the habit of letting my RAW converter determine white balance without worrying about it. I often sat looking at my photographs on the PC and end up cursing, precisely because it is not so easy (especially in skin tones) to get the right color correction without setting an exact white balance reference. To remedy these shortcomings, I tested several white balance tools in the past few years (WB card, small WB tablets, etc.) and ultimately was never very happy, especially because the use of all these tools was very uncomfortable for me. When I recently decided to create my LCC profiles, I ordered the ClearWhite white balance system. I was thrilled with the results of the profiles so I decided to use the tool in accordance with its original purpose: achieving the correct white balance. I am now, surprisingly, an "On-Location-White Balance" fan.
The ClearWhite system in detail
The following four items are included in the system:
- The ClearWhite filter (a milky acrylic plate which is bonded
to rigid black foam with a circular cutout in the center)
In particular I like the instruction manual which really explains in detail how to use the components.
The ClearWhite filter
The heart of the whole system is the ClearWhite filter. Here is how it works:
Unlike tools such as the gray card, which can easily be placed in the picture when photographing, the ClearWhite filter is used to measure the correct white balance by holding it in front of the lens and taking a white balance shot in the direction of the main light source. This white balance shot is now used as a reference exposure and is easily accessed in the camera setup menu to manually set the correct white balance based on the ClearWhite exposure reference shot. All following exposures made under the same lighting conditions now have the correct white balance directly out of the camera. No further white balance adjustment in the RAW converter is required (unless you wish to stylize the image). For a better understanding of the steps, they are (in order):
1. Hold the ClearWhite filter over the lens
Note: Some cameras, such as Sony, have an even easier and faster method of setting the custom white balance using the ClearWhite filter.
Benefits of the ClearWhite filter
The biggest advantage for me is the fact that I can set the correct white balance in the camera, and have all the images record with the proper WB. Photographers who often work under artificial light must know how difficult it is to assess the proper lighting and color. Using the filter and one's best judgment it is easier for others, including customers, to enjoy good, consistent colors on images during the shoot, with a high level of quality and color fidelity, without resorting to post-processing.
In my view, here is also the biggest differentiator to many other tools. Although photographing small WB tablets might be a little faster than the use of the filter, but the correct white balance must be corrected mostly later in post-processing. Thanks to advanced RAW converters and EBV programs, this step is not particularly time-consuming, but it can definitely be saved. When working with people, I also put great emphasis on perfect skin tones, which are heavily influenced by a proper WB. If the WB during the shooting session is correct, then you can immediately and accurately assess the colors when transferring the images to a laptop or large screen. Ultimately, my goal now is to use the ClearWhite filter to get accurate colors straight out of the camera. This is a crucial step to efficiently achieving a perfect end result.
In practice - Landscape Photography
In landscape photography, it is practically a general rule to use a white balance filter to determine the correct white balance because there is usually sufficient time. After setting up the tripod and choosing the optimal image composition, I rotate the camera and point it towards the main light source (but never directly at the sun when shooting in bright sunlight (or other very bright light sources!), I point it at a slight angle away from the sun. Pointing the camera directly to the sun or bright light sources could damage your eyes and/or camera!), and hold the ClearWhite filter in front of the lens. Then I use the following steps with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II:
Open the camera menu and select the second camera-tab (second icon from
the left) "Custom WB"
From now on, the WB is correct for all the shots in the same lighting conditions. On a bright blue summer day this setting will remain accurate and does not need to be changed for quite a while. If clouds cover the sun, or if I shoot an image in the shade, I must create a new custom white balance reference image for that particular lighting condition.
I find it particularly helpful to use the ClearWhite filter when
shooting with a strong neutral density filter. Usually the higher the
exposure factor of the neutral density filter, the warmer the color balance
will be. For much of my shooting I use a 1000x gray filter ( B+W), which
almost always leads to mostly unwanted warm image results, previously
requiring an unconventional correction in the RAW converter. Using the
ClearWhite filter to create a custom white balance with the neutral
gray filter attached, any strong color cast is eliminated, resulting in
a properly color balanced image.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II + Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 ZE + B+W ND 3.0
The difference can be seen clearly here, the use of the ClearWhite filter results in a nearly perfect white balance (the camera's built-in auto white balance, shown after hovering your mouse, results in an image that is too warm in color), so a further correction in the RAW converter is unnecessary.
In practice - Studio Photography
Especially when working in the studio with people I create a proper custom white balance due to the direct effect on the important skin tones. While the "right" skin tone usually depends on subjective perception, I aim for the best possible starting point. Using the ClearWhite filter in the studio is extremely easy. After constructing the light setups and measuring the correct exposure with an exposure meter, I point the camera with the ClearWhite filter towards my main light and release the shutter. I then proceed as described above and select this image as a reference white balance by setting the camera to manual (custom) WB.
The gray card
In addition to the ClearWhite filter, included in the package is a very high quality gray card made from very sturdy, thick plastic. The gray card can be used in a very conventional way to determine the correct WB, but also serves to assist in proper exposure. Furthermore, the card can be used to verify the color neutrality of prints. Since I am of the opinion that a gray card belongs in every photographer's bag of equipment so it is particularly encouraging that the ClearWhite system includes this extremely high quality gray card.
The ClearWhite filter makes my work a lot easier - both in the studio and out in nature. Due to its compact size, it fits easily into any camera bag and its construction promises durability. Unlike other tools, the standard size ClearWhite fits lenses with a diameter of 25mm - 95mm (according to http://www.digitalphotographykits.com/whitebalance.htm), so it's not necessary to buy an extra filter for each lens. Those who want to use the filter for creating LCC profiles with large lenses (as described in my workshop) should consider the larger version, because using the standard size ClearWhite might distort the measurement of light falloff due to possible vignetting in the corners.
The ClearWhite system can currently be purchased from distributors in the USA or directly from the manufacturer, Lynn Radeka (www.digitalphotographykits.com). The price is (valid on the end of February 2013) $59.95 (USD) for the standard version and $89.95 (USD) for the larger version. Note: as of April 1, 2014, the price has been reduced for a limited time to $49.95 (USD) for the standard version and $69.95 (USD) for the larger version. Shipping cost outside the USA is $15 plus any customs duties. My orders were delivered within 1-2 weeks, which in my opinion is normal for an order shipped from the U.S.
At this point, many thanks to Lynn Radeka for permission to use the ClearWhite Product Images!
This user review is based on the German original on www.jd-photography.de and was translated, revised and supplemented by Lynn Radeka.
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