One of the best things I did in my photography journey was to start setting my white balance in camera, rather than relying on AUTO. I was really struggling with getting the right colour in my image - in particular skin tones - and I could spend ages mucking around in Lightroom or Photoshop trying to get the image to look "right". When you can't "see' colour correctly, this is a really, really hard task!
Before I get more in depth about my preferred method, I'll start by saying there are 6 ways to set white balance in camera and I will find myself doing one or more of these at different times, so it's worth checking out so you have a few methods at your fingertips, rather than simply relying on one. I have also reviewed them all in this post, so you can see how all these different white balance methods compares (and why this way is my favourite!) All in all, the best thing you can do to nail your white balance in camera is to have a good all round understanding of it so I've linked to more tutorials at the bottom of this post.
Although I will still occasionally use some or all of these 6 methods, there is one that allows me to get color right every time, and that is by using the Expodisc. This is mainly down to the fact that because I find the Expodisc much easier to use than a grey card (the second closest method) I am more liable to use it, and therefore got more images with correct color straight in camera. This has meant that my eye for correct colour is MUCH better. Because of this, I love my Expodisc!
What is the Expodisc?
The Expodisc is a handy little tool that makes it really easy to set a custom white balance, so you get the best and most accurate colour in your images. It looks like a disc, and you simply hold it over your lens and use it to set your white balance. You can see it over the lens on the camera on the left here.
Why use the Expodisc instead of a Grey Card?
A grey card is a cheaper option, so why do I recommend the Expodisc instead? It's because with a grey card, you generally need to give it your subject and have them hold it up in the same light that they are sitting in, for it to give you an accurate white balance. Now, I don't know about your children, but mine never quite got the hang of that - it was far more likely to be used as a frisbee or go on top of his head rather than where his face was! The other issue was that because I shoot candidly quite a lot, I didn't really want to go in and hover a grey card in front of his face. With the Expodisc, you can simply stand in the place where your subject is (or is going to be) hold the Expodisc up over your lens, and then shoot back at where you will be shooting from - no four year old's co-operation required. I can do this pretty unobtrusively, which is a must for lifestyle photography in my book.
It's definitely this ease of use that really sets it apart from a grey card for me, but it is slightly more accurate too - a grey card shows reflected light, and as such can pick up colour casts, and as it is flat, it can only pick up light from one direction. An expodisc on the other hand, measures the ambient light, so you get a slightly "truer" white balance in difficult lighting situations.
I also like that I can also use the Expodisc to set my exposure as it also works like an incident meter - again by measuring the light that is hitting your subject. So, you can set white balance, and your exposure in one go. I do find that I need to have my meter read slightly over when doing this though, but now I know to do that, it works a treat.
How do i Use it?
Here's a step-by-step guide to using the Expodisc….
1) Turn your camera's WB mode to custom.
2) Stand in the area that your subject is standing, and point the camera so that it is facing back to where you are going to be standing to take the shot.
3) Hold the Expodisc up over your lens, making sure it is flush over the lens.
4) Set your Exposure (I usually add exposure, but see how you feel with it)
5) Turn your lens to MF (this stops the lens from trying to focus - it can't with the expodisc)
5) Press the shutter to take a picture, and when done, turn your lens back to AF
6) Follow your camera's instructions to set a white balance (this is different for different camera models)
If you prefer to see this in video, there is a good one here from Jack and Jody:
What about setting WB in processing?
I know some people prefer to set white balance in processing - or a more likely scenario, you quickly snapped an image and didn't have time / forgot to take a custom white balance, then you can do it after you have taken your shot. Simply take a shot of the Expodisc as explained above, and then use that shot to set your white balance for that series of images, simply by clicking in the middle of the grey image with the eye dropper tool.
There's a couple of different versions - what should I get?
There are two versions of the Expodisc - a normal one and a portrait one which has a warming filter. Even if you do normally take images of people I would personally recommend the normal one - you can use it for portrait work too, and you can easily warm up your images a touch in processing if you prefer a warmer look. (I would also say that I find the normal one to be ever so slightly warm to my taste anyway)
You also get a couple of different sizes of the Expodisc based on the thread size of your lens you intend to use it with. Don't worry though, you only need to get one to work with all your lenses - just get the one that covers your largest lens size , in my case that was the 77mm. That way, you can just hold it over the lens when setting your white balance - as long as it covers the lens completely it works absolutely fine, there's no real need to clip it in.
Do I really need it?
Honestly, no, you don't need anything other than a lens and your camera. Also, if you are already quite confident with being able to see the colour in your images (and understanding whether the colour is wonky due to colour casts or incorrect white balance) then apart from the fact that it will speed up your editing workflow, there might not be much benefit. However, if you can't determine correct colour by eye, and you photograph lifestyle images of children, I really think you will love the Expodisc. At $49.99, it's not the cheapest but it's not break the bank stuff either, and i think it has been worth it just by saving me hours of pulling my hair out trying to get the colours right in editing!
White balance can be such a tricky thing to get right, which is why I have written a whole host of posts on the subject - check out this post All You Need to Know About White Balance to see more tips and tricks, and how to set in processing even when you weren't able to set it in camera, or snap a picture of a grey card or expodisc after. It's well worth a read to get clued up on the whole ins and outs of white balance!
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