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  • Ed Dozier

Perfect White Balance Preset Creation and Verification

This article will show you how to make, preserve, and verify an accurate white balance preset. If you have a particular lighting setup that you use frequently, then you should save its white balance calibration to be able to return to it later.

Even if you use Raw format and have a photo-editing program that lets you adjust the white balance after the fact, you’ll thank yourself for getting things right before you take the shot. Also, the “Auto” white balance feature of your camera isn’t quite as smart as you might think with non-standard lighting or subjects.

If you’re doing a product shot for a client, they probably won’t remain your client for long if the color in the shots isn’t perfect. As an example, there used to be a term “Kodak Yellow”. If Kodak’s packaging wasn’t reproduced perfectly in photographs (or a magazine page), it would be quickly rejected. (Remember them?)

To create a perfect white balance, you’ll need a grey card. Your goal is to get shot histograms that have the R,G,B peaks that exactly match each other. To achieve this color perfection, you need to calibrate against a subject that is entirely neutral, like a grey card.

I’m going to show you an example using my LED ring light. Under “average” conditions, the color balance is fairly close when using “auto” white balance, but when I am doing macro shots of things like the inside of a flower, the color balance can get awful. This earlier article discusses how “auto” white balance can go terribly wrong.

My example procedures will demonstrate two cameras: the Nikon D610 and the D850. You might think that the procedures would be identical, but remember we’re talking about Nikon here. They’re generally loath to do the same thing twice. I give my white balance presets meaningful names, such as “LEDring” because I’d never be able to remember them otherwise.

Please note that there are some light sources that you cannot successfully calibrate against. An example of this would be sodium vapor street lights, which don’t contain enough of the full light spectrum.

D610 White Balance Preset Procedure



Histogram of a proper white balance

The shot above shows the D610 capture of a grey card using a white balance preset. The preset used here was the “d-2”. The D610 accepts up to 4 presets. The histogram peaks show that the capture was completely neutral, since the R,G,B peaks align perfectly. I used an LED light source, and the “d-2” preset was calibrated to this light. The procedures that follow show you how to achieve this precise calibration.

Note that a non-neutral subject photo can’t be used to verify proper white balance, since the R,G,B histogram feedback won’t show the vertical alignment of color peaks.

Capture Your Preset

Set up your light to illuminate a grey card

Press the WB button (has the ‘?’ on the button)

Spin the “main” (rear) dial to get “PRE” on the control panel

Spin the “sub-command” (front) dial to choose d-1 through d-4

Release and re-press (hold down) the WB button to get “PRE” to blink

Fill the frame with the grey card (it doesn’t have to be in focus)

Press the shutter (within 6 seconds, before PRE stops blinking)

You should see “Good” on the control panel, if it’s successful

You will see “no Gd” if the measurement fails

Name Your Preset

Go to the “Shooting” menu (the camera icon)




Select the White Balance option

Press the selector right-arrow





Select PRE Preset manual

Press the selector right-arrow




Choose the preset you used in the capture step, e.g. “d-2

Press the ISO (the “-“ magnifier) button to select the preset

You’ll note the preset already shows “d-2:LEDring”, because the preset already had a name. This procedure will let you alter any pre-existing preset name. If you inspect both the “d-1” and “d-2” presets above, you’ll see that they have a little “key” icon at their top-right corner. This key indicates that the preset is protected and can’t be accidentally deleted. The steps that follow assume that the “d-2” preset isn’t protected.


Also note that the d-3 and d-4 presets above haven't been assigned anything yet. If they were assigned, a little picture would show behind them.





Select “Edit comment” and press the selector right-arrow





Edit the comment text using the arrows and the Ok button

If you type an incorrect letter, press the “trash can” button

Press the Qual (the “+” magnifier) button to save the name

Protect Your Preset

Select the White Balance | PRE Preset Manual option

Press the selector right-arrow




Select “Protect” and press the selector right-arrow

Note that the screen above shows “Protect OFF”; if it instead it showed “Protect ON”, then you’d know it was already protected.




Select “On

Press the “Ok” button to finish

The preset selection screen will now have the little “key” icon on the protected preset and you can’t delete it. If you change your mind, then repeat this procedure but select the Protect “Off” choice.


Use Your D610 Preset


Press the WB button (has the ‘?’ on the button)

Spin the “main” (rear) dial to get “PRE” on the control panel

Spin the “sub-command” (front) dial to choose d-1 through d-4

D850 White Balance Preset Procedure



Histogram of a proper white balance

The shot above shows the D850 capture of a grey card using a white balance preset. The preset used here was the “d-2”. The D850 accepts up to 8 presets. The histogram peaks show that the capture was completely neutral, since the R,G,B peaks demonstrate perfect vertical alignment. I used the same LED light source as before, and the “d-2” preset was calibrated to this light. The procedures that follow show you how to achieve this calibration.

Capture Your Preset

Set up your light to illuminate a grey card

Press the WB button on the top left dial (on top of the camera)

Spin the “main” (rear) dial to select PRE

Spin the “sub-command” (front) to select the “d-1” through “d-8”

Release and re-press (hold down) the WB button to get “PRE” to blink

Fill the frame with the grey card (it doesn’t have to be in focus)

Press the shutter (within 6 seconds, before PRE stops blinking)

You should see “Good” on the control panel, if it’s successful

You will see “no Gd” if the measurement fails

Name Your Preset

Go to the “Photo Shooting” menu (the camera icon)




Select the “White Balance” menu

Press the right-arrow on the selector





Select “PRE Preset manual” and press the 'right' multiselector arrow.




Select the “d-2” (used in the capture of the LED light)

Press the “Ok” button

(Note that I had already given this preset a name, which shows when I selected the “d-2” preset).

If you inspect the “d-1” preset above, you’ll see that it has a little “key” icon at its top-right corner. This key indicates that the preset is protected and can’t be accidentally deleted. The “d-2” preset doesn’t have this key showing, so it’s not protected.


Also note that the d-3 through d-8 presets above haven't been assigned anything yet. If they were assigned, a little picture would show behind them.





Select the “Edit comment”

Press the right-arrow on the selector

You’ll note that the screen already displays “d-2: LEDring” since I had already given this preset a name. This procedure lets you change the name of the preset, if you wish.





Use the touch screen to type in the name of the preset

Use the trash can button to fix mistakes

You use the same procedure to modify the preset name

Press the “Ok” button to save the name

Protect Your Preset

Select the White Balance | PRE Preset Manual option

Press the selector right-arrow

Select the “d-2” (used in the capture of the LED light)

Press the “Ok” button





Select the “Protect” option

Press the selector right-arrow

Note in the shot above that the “d-2” preset isn’t yet protected (it says “OFF”. If it instead indicates “ON”, then you know it’s already protected.





Select “On

Press the “Ok” button to finish

Use Your D850 Preset


Press the WB button on the top left dial (on top of the camera)

Spin the “main” (rear) dial to select PRE

Spin the “sub-command” (front) to select the “d-1” through “d-8”


Conclusion

For the occasions where you have a lighting setup that you use regularly, such as a studio, you really should use a calibrated white balance. You don’t want to rely on “auto” white balance, in case your camera sees an unusual scene and makes a poor color decision.

Professional wedding photographers will often scout a venue before the event and save the measured white balance(s) from different rooms. Smart photographers will also tack on a name to these white balances, to minimize mistakes during the shoot. If you consistently use flash instead of ambient lighting, then your preset for the room will probably get overpowered by the flash.

If you intend to use a preset white balance long-term, then it makes good sense to both name and protect that preset against accidental erasure.

Not only will the photo colors be consistently more accurate, but you’ll save a ton of time when you edit your shots.

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