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What Is the Best Way to Control White Balance When Shooting HDR or Enfuse?

Published: 23/08/2017

Charlie in Illinois asks:

I bracket my photos and the white balance of the merged pictures is rarely accurate. I currently don't change the white balance of the RAW files in Lightroom before exporting to Photomatix. Should I? Since each bracketed photo can have a different white balance, I wonder if that's the reason my white balance is off. And no, I don't/won't shoot a flash frame because I shoot many houses in a day and can't take a lot of time on site, and want to avoid Photoshop.

First of all, the HDR process using Photomatix is susceptible to white balance problems, muddy colors, and dirty whites. The LR/Enfuse process is susceptible to these same issues but to a much lesser extent.

The all around best solution for white balance problems when bracketing is to use a single manual flash when shooting brackets. This technique is very simple, takes no extra time when shooting or when post processing, and produces great results. We've done many posts about this technique. Here is one. Nowadays, most real estate photographers that shoot HDR use this technique. There are even flashes that will work with Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB).

Larry Lohrman

14 comments on “What Is the Best Way to Control White Balance When Shooting HDR or Enfuse?”

  1. Flash isn't a deterrent for multiple shoots, I've done 7 homes in a day (to be honest they were side-by-side, but 5 I've done several times with flash). Photomatix - is anyone really still using that?!?

  2. Hi Charlie

    You could just use a grey/gray card in the first frame. It will give you a neutral balance if you aren't changing lighting, but just exposure. Then as you ask, yes definitely, you would need to do a colour balance on that frame in Lightroom, using the grey/gray card of course. Then all you need to do is sync your colour balance setting on all frames before exporting. Simple, 3-4 seconds.
    Having said that, I don't use Photomatix...or don't know if the settings are overwritten, or cancelled, on import.

  3. A simple fix (at least for Enfuse users): Set your white balance in degrees Kelvin. That locks the white balance in for all your brackets. It does mean you will have to learn how to calculate the color temperature of the light in degrees Kelvin and make a judgement call on the average color temperature of each composition you bracket, but the payoff is very little post processing adjustments are needed.

  4. Thanks for the advice on syncing white balance.

    Regarding flash, I drank the Kool-aid and shot my last 6 houses with a flash frame and included it with the ambient brackets in Photomatix (yes, I'm really using it). Yes, it helps.

    Any advice on getting good flash exposures in big rooms without using multiple speedlights? I prefer not to move the flash around the room and deal with it in Photoshop. I shoot a lot of houses each day and don't like staying up late to edit!

  5. When I used photomatix, I would just custom white balance for every shot with a Colorchecker passport. Only takes a few seconds. It definitely helps a lot but there are still color casts from the HDR process. I tried flash with HDR and just perfected off camera flash and blending in an ambient instead.

  6. Charlie, you have hit on the problem with being a run and gun photographer using a third party automated application. If you want a good exposure and good color, you are going to have to spend the time to get it and use the tools such as Photoshop to conquer emergent issues with some rooms. Small rooms like bathrooms and bedrooms can be knocked out with one flash in one exposure. Larger rooms and spaces with mixed or limited lighting are just going to take more time to get finished between principal photography and post production.

    The right customers will pay for a superior product. I limit myself to no more than 3 sessions per day so I have the time on site as well as time to finish and deliver the images on time. If I have a booking for a complex home that will take more time, I will only book 2 sessions that day. I'd rather make more per job and work less. I've never believed that a market area will only support the cheapest photographer. There are a couple of new photographers in my area that charge about half of what I do. It isn't affecting my schedule at all and I'm confident that they will be gone in a month or two. Their work isn't even good enough to call entry level. It's obvious HDR (maybe even in-camera HDR) the compositions are weak and the verticals are off. No reason I should be scared and halve my charge and make up the difference in volume.

  7. I would be curious for anyone using a Sony Alpha system if you can shoot bracketed and include a flash exposure with ease? I have been hesitant on even bothering to test because it just isn't a priority right now to invest in the time researching and testing.

  8. I've been shooting now for 9 years and started with Photomatix for interiors and exteriors. I switched to LR/Enfuse years ago as Photomatix introduces so many negatives issues that have to be overcome (muddy corners, noise, artistic look vs realistic look, etc.).

    I use one on camera bounced flash and automatic exposure bracketing using MagicLantern hack with my Canon 5DMII and 17m T/S lens. I still struggled to get good WB until I applied Auto WB to my RAW images prior to stacking and blending with LR/Enfus. On site, I set my WB to automatic and never think about it (usually).

    This changed my process dramatically and now I rarely need to adjust the WB.

  9. I've been shooting interiors in the UK at for 12 years and find that auto wb works fine. There are often different colour temperatures in individual shots - such as tungsten bulbs making a yellow cast in isolated areas. I find that using Photoshop's Image/Adjustments/Replace Colour, works really well. Make the adjustments in a duplicate layer and use the sliders to select the colour you're trying to neutralise. Desaturate the yellow to taste and you should end up with a nice, white light. Mask out any similar colours that you don't want to be changed.

    I've also moved from LR/HDR to Lightroom's native HDR as I've been achieving marginally better results, faster. Enfuse GUI is another excellent choice as you'll be able to batch process your bracketed exposures very quickly. I never enjoyed Photomatix, much preferring the completely natural-looking results achieved with the other softwares mentioned. Hope that helps.

  10. Charlie should just turn out all the lights and shoot in Daylight light balace if he is shooting run-n-gun like this.

    Run-n-gun usually means lower pricesand lower prices means that customers do not care about razor-sharp-accuracy on color balance. So lights off and Daylight light balance will get you accurate results in most shots where daylight is the only light preset.

    Charlie should also be shooting in JPG and he should be usinh the EnfuseGUI app to batch merge his files. It is 2 to 3 times faster than loading RAWs into LR and then jsing any other tool to do the HDR merge. This is because the various softwares are essentially exporting the files to JPG in the background and then merging. It is the exporting to JPG step that slows things down so if you shoot in JPG then you eliminate that side of things completely

    Finally, I want to say that seeking perfect color with all ambient light shooting in a run-n-gun business model is a fools errand.

    If you shoot lights of and daylight white balance (cloudy wb on cloudy days if you wish) then the only light coming in is daylight. So your camera setting will accurately match the color of the only available light present, but you STILL will not get the "accurate color" you want. This is because of color polution.

    My ambiemt HDR layer almost always has green and (especially) yellow showimg up in the walls and white trim. This is because the light coming into the room is flowing through a light filter called "leaves and trees". So how to combat this?

    Well, you could start using flash. But Charlie is on run-n-gun so he doesn't want to do that.

    He could merge his files then (re)import them into Lightroom then select each merged frame and boist the green saturation and yellow saturation sliders to 100% to see where the polution is showimg up and by how much then desauturating and lowering the hue for those colors as needed to "suck out" the problem color tint.

    He could do that...but on a ru-n-gun model where doing some flash to clean up color takes too much time, how is the process I outlined above going to be seen as acceptable from a time efficiency perspective? It probably will not be.

    Here is the bottom line: the run-n-gun shooter wants something that doesn't exist. A magic wand. A magic tool, camera setting, or post processing script that will allow them to still just pointbthe camera, push a button, and have everything come out perfect. With extra time per shoot amounting to nothing more than 5 seconds. The time it takes to highlight all images in a set and apply a LR preset.

    It is not out there. How do we know this? Because of higher priced, higher quality photographers. Accurate color is one of the benefits that premium photographers provide to their customers. That difference is there and recognizeable and customers are willing to pay for it. If there were no difference (because HDR photogs had a magic no-time-required wand to true color) then people would never choose to pay for premium, takes-more-time-to-produce photography.

    So we all have a choice, go all ambient images at low prices and $150 customers can be told "you get what you get don't throw a fit"....or...we can raise prices, buy some flash gear, and start producing higher quality images.

  11. @Brian Kurtz - Brian, honestly, your post comes off as being very bitter. I'm not saying your points are valid, but that's how it reads to me.

    We had switched about 18 months ago from HDR to Flambient and we've started losing market share. We're the largest photography company in our area and the complaint we're getting constantly is that the HDR photographers, such as Virtuance, are providing photos with more "pop." At the high end the client's really want accurate colors and everything perfect, but the majority of agent's seem to want photos that jump off the screen, even if that means the colors are wrong. We've been shown our photos which have white ceilings, accurate shadwoing due great white balance, and then have had HDR companies "reshoot" and agent's like the HDR.

    As a photographer I have come to loathe HDR, as a businessman I am now offering the option of HDR or Flash to my clients and am letting them decide.

  12. Brian - are you always so condescending? Yes, I’m run and gun. I’ve been in the biz 2 years and am constantly trying to improve. I’ve moved on to flambient, which seems like the logical step from pure hdr. I’m getting better with flash and look forward to the day when I can mix some luxury homes with my run and guns.

  13. Hello, I offer both run n gun and high end. I use the sony alpha system. Flambiant and long exp. ambient with quick lightroom presets. Due to the high turnover rate agencies not willing to pay the premium but interior designers, architects, builders and home owners are happy to pay the premium. great to be able to cater for both. A 5 bedroom country house can take the full day of shooting and probably more to edit the photos. Great to get these jobs but I prefer the run n gun 3/4 jobs a day 1 hr to shoot 30 mins to edit= $$$.

    However, always looking to improve and get better, shoot better and looking for that magic wand! 🙂 Not a big fan of over complicating the process for very minor gain on the results. And imo HDRs are complicated and do not offer enough flexibility.

    Regarding the WB- I do my flash shots on AWB on sony and ambient on manual WB on camera while shooting as I have WB set to one of the custom button and takes not more than seconds to select. I mostly shoot tethered with my i-pad very easy to change on the i pad just 2 taps.

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