Sunday, January 31, 2010

Photo Basics - Camera Controls and White Balance

So, this is part two of my "Lessons from Photography Class" series. Part one covered basic definition which can be found here. In this post I want to cover some of the basic controls on an SLR camera. Since I have a Canon XSi that is what I am going to work off of. Though there will be some differences between where you can find a certain feature or what that feature may be called (this is where your manual will come in handy), this info should still be helpful one way or another.

And if not, then I recommend searching for your specific camera on youtube. When I first got my camera I was a little overwhelmed to be honest. Youtube really helped me get a basic understanding of how my camera worked and even though I'm still learning, my camera no longer seems so daunting.

In regards to the Canon XSi specifically though, here is a really helpful video for learning the basic setup of your camera (it helped me a ton):

I talked about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed in the last post (and I will still be going further into each of these later on), but I want to talk about the white balance for a moment.

White balance is basically the way your camera compensates for the way different lights give off different color hues. Does that make sense? I’m sure everyone has taken a picture indoors that had a yellow tint to the picture. That’s because the normal every-day light bulbs people use give off a yellow light. Still with me? The point of the white balance is for your camera to capture colors accurately regardless of whether you are photographing under fluorescent lights or outside during sunset. Since you have a brain, you will need to tell your camera what light you're taking pictures in. From what I've seen so far, the automatic white balance setting is only really useful when shooting in sunny conditions outside.

Here's an example so you can see what I mean:

Holden asked me take a picture of his cars when he saw me with my camera. Simple enough. But as you can see, when I took the top picture with the white balance set as "auto" the picture came out very yellow. In the second picture I changed the white balance to "tungsten" (since it was night time the only lighting was from regular light bulbs) and was able to get a much more accurate photo.

Even though this issue can be fixed with any photo editing software, I still think it's important to mess around with the different white balance settings so you can get a better understanding of how your camera works. It's also important for me since I'm not allowed to edit any of my photos yet for my photo class.

Here's another example using all the different white balance settings on my camera:

I took this picture of bust of a Jesus I have on my bookshelf (I'm not religious but I like busts and buy them whenever I come across one at a thrift store) in my sunny living room. Even though the first picture is very accurate, the daylight white balance is perfect. The fluorescent and tugnsten settings are way off but I think it's interesting to see how exactly the white balance is trying to compensate in case I actually was taking photos in those light settings. I recommend trying something similar so you can get a feel for how your cameras white balance settings work first hand. I also plan on doing this at night so I can see how the different lights in my house make a difference.

(You can also find Canon's breakdown of its different white balance settings here (though I think it's much more complicated then it needs to be) and a custom white balance setting how-to here.)

But now you might be wondering what you're supposed to do with all the information in the last video. Well, here is another video that gives you instruction on how to set that up:

Now get out there and practice.

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