And What the Heck is a Grey Card?
I talk to photographers all the time who shoot completely in manual mode, take time to perfect the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO of their photos, yet they leave the white balance set to auto. White balance is a key component in all photography, and is essential when capturing accurate recreations of a scene and keeping it as realistic as possible. Auto white balance does a pretty good job of balancing color temperatures in most lighting scenarios, and that’s why people tend to forget about it. It is one of those things that, when correct, goes unnoticed, but when incorrect, is quite obvious and can ruin a photo or video. It takes more than simply owning an expensive, new drone to take great aerial photos, you must know how to use all of its features to your advantage.
What exactly is white balance?
Simply, white balance is the temperature of your photo, or how warm or cool the colors appear. It is measured in units called Kelvin, after Lord Kelvin, a mathematical physicist and engineer, who researched first and second laws of thermodynamics. As photographers, we don’t necessarily need to understand all of the science behind this, but we do need to know what types of lights are warmer, and what types of lights are cooler. The number is somewhere between roughly 1,000 and 10,000, with lower numbers representing cooler temperatures, and higher numbers representing warmer temperatures. The goal when setting manual white balance is to get the temperature as close to neutral as possible. So if your photo is too warm, cool it off by lowering the temperature, and if your photo is too cool, warm it up by raising the temperature. This chart shows roughly the numeric values of different light sources. At this value, the light will appear neutral. With drone photography, we will almost always be shooting outdoors, so pay close attention to the values for clear blue sky, cloudy sky, daylight, morning/evening sun, and sunrise/sunset. The temperature of the light from the sun changes drastically depending on the time of day.
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Why use manual white balance, not auto?
All light sources have different temperatures, and no two lighting scenarios are exactly the same. Automatic white balance can get you pretty close, but we can do better. Especially when shooting videos, as you pan across a landscape, the lighting conditions can change, and the auto white balance will correct itself. But ideally, we need to keep it consistent for the entire video. By using manual white balance, we can really fine-tune the colors and tone of our drone photos and videos, and keep them consistent throughout an entire shoot.
To set auto white balance before you shoot, open up the DJI app, go to camera settings, and make sure you are shooting in manual mode. Here you can choose from a variety of settings. Drones, along with most cameras, have several automatic settings: auto, sunny, cloudy, incandescent, and neon. These can be a good starting point, but are not precise. Choose “Custom,” which allows you to choose any value for temperature. This is when your grey card comes in. A grey card is just a piece of thick paper that is a specific shade of grey (18%), which is going to be the foundation on which we choose our color temperature. If you can get the neutrals white balance correctly, the entire photo will be white balanced correctly. If you don’t have a grey card, you can do this with just a white piece of paper. Place your grey card (or white paper) in front of whatever your subject is going to be, and point your drone at it. The idea is to replicate the lighting scenario when you are flying so that it is consistent the entire time you are shooting. Now adjust the temperature of the white balance. Move the slider back and forth until the piece of paper looks perfectly white, or the grey card looks completely neutral. Now fly and shoot as normal!
In Post Production
If you forgot to set your white balance before shooting, don’t worry! If you shot in RAW, you can easily fix this in post production. Also, sometimes, even if we manually adjust the white balance before shooting, it still might not be perfect. So make sure to take a quick photo of your grey card or white sheet of paper before shooting, and we can use that photo to really fine tune the rest of the shoot in post production.
In Lightroom, you can adjust the white balance manually by moving the sliders labeled “Temp” and “Tint.” Or, select the eyedropper tool, and click on any part of the photo that you want to be neutral. If you took a photo of your grey card or white sheet of paper before shooting, just click on it and you’re all set! If not, choose any part of the photo that is pure white, or pure grey. Now you can sync those settings to the rest of your photos, and they will all be color corrected.
Lightroom has several automatic settings as well (auto, as shot, daylight, cloudy, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, and flash), which have specific temp and tint values. You can try these, but I find that custom is almost always the way to go.
In Premiere, the process is very similar. Select the eye dropper and click on any part of the video that you want to be neutral. And that’s it!
And that’s all you need to know about manual white balance on a drone! Share this post if you found it helpful, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for the latest drone tips, tricks, and video tutorials. And of course, please feel free to follow us on our social media channels or join our mailing list for regular updates.
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