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What Workflow Do Real Estate Photographers Use For White Balance?

Published: 21/08/2015
By: larry

WhiteBalancePatrick asked:

I am wondering what people are doing for white balance? Is it Auto all the way? That's what I am doing pretty much : auto on camera, auto on Lightroom import, and another auto after enfuse blend. I still have to tweak the warmth a bit but it is pretty good.

Here is what I do:

  1. Shoot Raw - because it gives you the most flexibility for correcting the image, including white balance, in post-processing.
  2. Set Auto white balance on camera. My Canon 5DMkII does a great job with auto white balance. I've never taken it off Auto WB since I got in 2009.
  3. Tweak it to your taste in Lightroom - For the details of adjusting white balance in Lightroom see this tutorial.

For a totally Photoshop approach see this White Balance trick from the Graphics Geeks.

It is also worth mentioning that John McBay has several videos in his Image Editing For Real Estate video series that deal with all the classic mixed white balance issues that we run into in interiors.

What workflow do others use for White Balance?

10 comments on “What Workflow Do Real Estate Photographers Use For White Balance?”

  1. Good question. I do the same as Larry. Back in the days of film, I had a couple of color meters and used Kodak jells to correct for balance from tungsten or flourescent. But with today's camera technology, I find I can rely on the auto feature for 90% of in camera correction. But if I have a completely tungsten lit interior, I dial over to the tungsten setting. I have found it is more successful in Photoshopt to warm up a shot than it is to cool it down. And generally I find that a warmer than neutral color seems to also warm up an environment. Less when the environment is done is shades of neutral of course.

    But then in post, I pretty much always tinker with the color balance. I like to have a control color look and then match other rooms that have the same paint color to the control color. We have discussed here before the more European look of available day light to light interiors. But indirect daylight is also subject to color changes depending on whether it is direct sunlight, or sunlight bounced off walls. Then the color of the bounce walls changes the color of the light that illuminates the room. So I make an exposure using a pure white or better yet a Kodak grey card to set the neutral control color. Then since I use a very accurate monitor, I rely on my eye to get the overall color balance I want. I say overall since often there are areas in a room that I want to bring into the color look that may have picked up some blue from the sky light coming in a window, or retreated into shade in a far corner.

    All this makes for me a reason I never can gang adjust images from a shoot. I have never been able to put quantity over quality. Every image for me needs individual massage. Not good for the bottom line but good for my brand.

    So is there really an answer? The only one I can think of is the photographer's knowledge of exactly what his/her equipment will do right and where it is necessary to step in and make adjustments manually. Both during and after the shoot. No one rule; rather a bunch of them. Its the photographer's skill that mixes the blend.

  2. For me much the same as Larry.

    Shoot in RAW and set to auto white bite balance.

    For each different room will take one photo with a white/grey card in the frame, then use this later to batch set the white balance in lightroom.

  3. I always use my trusty ColorChecker Passport for every interior shot (sorry, but auto white balance is almost never accurate indoors) and set the custom white balance for each shot in camera.

    Why? Two reasons:
    1) Auto WB is almost never accurate for interior shots & lighting changes from room to room (even different in separate areas of rooms depending on lightbulbs/windows). The only way to get a true color balance is to have a white/grey card, Expodisk, or ColorChecker Passport to set the custom white balance in camera.

    2) TIME saver. Unless you want to sit there afterwards tweaking each shot in Lightroom or Photoshop - you set it before you take the shot. It takes less than 10 seconds per shot to set the custom balance for each photo beforehand & is dead accurate each time. Especially when you are working with rooms that have mixed light sources...big time savings.

    I've tried every method under the sun (no pun intended):
    - Expodisk & Gary Fong domes are great, but you need to remember to go to where your main subject is & take the reading aimed back towards your tripod to get a true read.
    - Trying to use Lightroom later & find something white (like trim or wall faceplate) - this was insanity, because seldom is anything in the room a pure-neutral white or 50% grey.
    - My current best method (using Sony A7r II and/or a6000 - just sold all my Canon gear and switched over) is to use the custom balance tool on the ColorChecker Passport before taking the shot. This method gives perfect color balance, takes only seconds as I set up the shot, and requires no post processing. I used the same method on my Canon's - but Canon required about 6 button pushes per shot & Sony only takes 2 (getting lazy in old age).

  4. 1) Set Auto WB in camera
    2) Shoot Raw. This ignores the WB setting but takes note of it in the exif and applies it to the preview. This is very accurate in the Sony Gear I use.
    3) Process in LR with Auto WB as preset. This sometimes makes minor adjustments from as shot in the exif but gets it real close. It take only a few seconds (less than gray cards) to get the WB as close as possible given the conditions of so many variable light sources.

    Since I use all natural + ambient fixture light there is nothing I can figure that a gray card could do for me that one click on the camera and reviewing the image in preview could not do. I look at the room and my preview. If the colors look close it's a keeper. It's RE photography, not Architectural Digest. So my workflow only applies to normal RE photography.

  5. I do not normally chip in again, but for someone asking this question, and it is a good one, there will always be a divergence of opinions. So I would like to add, after reading Jay's comments above which in theory I would agree with, there are other considerations as well. I would suggest that there is no accurate color. We are dealing with digital images that will be viewed on monitors all of which vary in color representation, quality and color balance. In addition, color is not scientific only, it is also communicative. Color has strong emotional responses in viewers. So a perfect representation on one persons camera and computer is likely to be different on some elses. This is the sad reality of our computer and internet publishing world. Which is why I would propose that color is subjective since quite apart from the differences in how people will be presented the colors, people see color differently as well. After all, it is not our eyes that see color, it is our how our brains interpret the nerve impulses coming from our eyes.

    All this to suggest that, to be sure, we all want to get the best color balance when we capture the image, but that is really the start of the process. It is when we present the image for publishing that I believe we should then interpret how the color should be presented, knowing that others will see it each in their own way. For example, if a house is filled with warm wood furniture and even warm wood paneling, I would tend to warm up the image to enhance the feeling of organic materials and let their spirit through. If the interior/exterior is crisp and modern with neutral or cool colors and materials, with strongly linear design and not the fuzzy warm ambiance inherent in homey homes, I would tend to cool the colors in accordance with the type of look and feel the architect and interior designer built into the structure. So while I would agree that you want to expose at the best balance you can, I would rather put the time into the image processing than spend that time up front since we can shoot in RAW and our real control is inherent in what we do with the RAW image. Our changes at exposure is really just an extra file that directs that RAW image.

    Color is both objective and subjective in my opinion.

  6. I usually use auto WB on my camera (Sony a7ii), but found that to be problematic a lot. My camera tends to balance on whatever light is the brightest, which is usually the outdoor light. When photographing ambient + home lighting, this can be a nightmare -- incandescent + fluorescent + sunlight = white balance nightmare. I typically WB for the most prominent indoor light and do individual color adjustments to compensate for conflicting light temperatures.

  7. I always shoot at Auto White Balance while manually shooting multiple exposures (Histogram guided) for my interiors. After using HDR Blend in LRCC I lean heavily on the White Balance Selector/Eye Dropper for my starter balance of the shot. There is 99.9% of the time something white/grey/black in the scene to use the eyedropper on. Then the fine tuning begins.

  8. I guess I'm following most of the crowd on this one.

    - Canon 5DmkIII set Auto WB
    - I shoot for HDR/flash hybrid
    - Auto WB on import in Lightroom
    - LR/Enfuse images
    - select WB dropper and pick something in the room (white/grey/black)
    - minor temp adjustments
    - adjust yellow and orange saturation to control tungsten.

    Sounds like a long process, but its the fastest, most accurate method I've come up with.

    I've tried using my color checker passport and other grey card devices, but the time in field was just that... more time. I still had to make the same adjustments in post. In a rare case where I have nothing white, grey or black in an image, then I will resort to a target.

  9. I use a little different approach! First, I never use Auto White Balance (or Auto anything), but shoot everything in RAW. I do check each environment for true white color in a prominent location. I carry a white balance card with me at all times and either place it in the shot or use it to search out true white somewhere in the room. I can then adjust white balance with DXO (as I use it to correct perspective and convert RAW to JPG). I can correct WB on 10-20 different shots in a few seconds and then make small adjustments in DXO if I feel the scene needs warming or cooling. Of course this is for interiors only as I use a standard daylight WB for all outdoor shots (if sunlit anyway). I have found that DXO is probably the most useful software I have purchased for real estate photography! I use the batch output to then fuse into the single image, even with panoramas.

  10. I have researched color and my workflow is a little more involved. Everything that is important I shoot RAW... and everything is IMPORTANT.
    I have invested in the x-rite color checker passport system, including the Colormunki monitor calibration system. I have two cameras that I use for my professional projects: Nikon D7100 and NikonD810. I have found that the AutoWB on the D810 is right on but the D7100 requires calibration.
    To have accurate color your camera and monitor need to be calibrated to standard color. (if you print then your printer also need to be calibrated).
    Then when you are doing a project, you shoot a test of the "color checker passport so you can set up a calibrated profile for your camera, lens, and the type of lighting involved in the particular scene - Skylight, Shade, interior incidental, Strobe, Fluorescent, etc. This way you can not only get accurate whites but all the other colors of the rainbow as well. The system allows for "creative adjustments" as well.
    Here's a link to their web that explains the system. I really believe that color is a major reason that brokers should pay more for me. Color is that important. In one condo that has extra large window showing a killer Columbia River View, incandescent as the main source and fluorescent under the cabinets in the kitchen, I ended up shooting each light source individually then balancing the the fluorescent to skylight, and finally blending the three together in Photoshop. Maybe this is overkill but my business philosophy and mission requires that I be... "Recognized for Images that WORK!"™

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