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Auto White Balance Under Mixed Lighting
Digital Darrell Blogs
© Darrell Young  
 

I noticed with my Nikon D2x® that if I'm shooting under flourescent light and using my SB-800 I get a blue tint on AUTO White Balance. I was shooting a wedding yesterday, with a low drop ceiling containing a bunch of flourescent lights. The first few images on AUTO WB had a bluer tint than I would like. I thought about it for about 10 seconds, the switched my White Balance to FLASH.

I know exactly why the blue tint was there, and even expected it a bit. In fact the D2x is working normally in adding blue in that mixed light example. Why?

Well, flourescent light is very low on the blue wavelength. It overemphasizes the green wavelength. So, here I am on Auto WB and using flash. I press the shutter, and while focusing, the D2x measures the light frequency in the room. The small sensor on top of the D2x sees flourescent and dutifully adds blue to the shortage, then the flash fires and lights the subject normally. But, because the D2x is functioning in a "mixed" lighting environment, it must deal with both types of light...the 5400K flash, and the 4200K flourescent. So it does EXACTLY what it was designed to do and adds a bit of blue to try and balance the flash and flourescent light sources. This is VERY difficult to do, and I think my D2x worked very well.

But, being a photographer, having a brain of sorts, and a measure of skill, I noted that the D2x was indeed reacting to the mixed light source AS DESIGNED, and decided to use my knowledge of what was happening, to assist the camera. My brain is much more powerful than its microprocessor. So, I held down a couple of buttons and set my White Balance to FLASH. Now my images were immediately warmer with a very slight touch of green...exactly as I expected. I'll remove green, or add blue in postprocessing.

My point is this:

THERE ARE NO PERFECT SOLUTIONS FOR MIXED LIGHTING SITUATIONS!

Nikon is trying to help those who have no knowledge of how to deal with mixed lighting sources by creating a camera that tries to deal with it. My D2x works as well as it can when there are different color temperatures to deal with. When there are varying ranges of color temperature there WILL ALWAYS BE DIFFERENCES IN COLOR registered in your images. Our eyes see the same thing, but our much more powerful brains dismiss the imbalance and we go on unconscious of the differences in light color temperature. Too bad that cameras can't do so as well. A photographer must train his eyes to recognize when there are mixed light colors. Otherwise, the color casts may only be noticed after the fact, and a lot more postprocessing will be require to color balance the images.

Always be conscious of the fact that your eyes adjust immediately to mixed light sources, but your camera can only do so partially. The incident light sensor on top of the Nikon D2x will read the current available light and do its best to adjust. If you are using flash at the same time, it may be best to either switch to FLASH on your white balance settings, or put a filter over the front of your flash that matches the available light.

For more info on how to use the White Balance controls on the D2x see this article.

Keep on capturing time...

   
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