Product Shots or Why Isn’t my Colour Balance Consistent?

I was recently asked by a photographer as to why product photos kept having a different background colour from photo to photo even though nothing had changed in the setup other than the subject.
The answer is simple and the solution is simple.

It appears that when the photos were taken the camera was set to Auto White Balance and the camera was compensating for the changes in subject colour. If the subject was Red, the AWB would compensate and make the photo slightly cyan, like wise if the subject was blue the AWB would make the photo slightly yellow. They are opposite colours on the colour wheel.
The AWB was only doing what it was designed for. Setting AWB to manual , of the correct light type, would have helped but there are even better solutions.

Using a Neutral grey card would be the easiest solution. You can set your exposure from the card and at the same time set your better colour balance.
After the photograph is taken you then would use the White Balance tool in Photoshop or Lightroom to set your colour balance. A one click solution. Then you would copy your White Balance setting to all of the other photos to set the White Balance to all of the photos of the same product shoot.
Where do you get a Neutral Grey card?
Kodak made and sold them for years, I am not sure if they still do but there are other brands on the market. And no, just any piece of grey card will not do.
WhiBal,, is an excellent product. The WhiBal cards are waterproof and hard to damage as opposed to a piece of cardboard. The website also has instructions on how to use the WhiBal.
Another White Balance solution is the ExpoDisc. Watch the videos.
This attaches to your camera lens and you would place the camera at the subject position and take a photo of the lights. A bit more work but it also gives you excellent White Balance.
And last, many of the better books on Photoshop and Lightroom have a Neutral Grey card in the back of the books. The Scott Kelby books do. And the Scott Kelby books explain how to use the White Balance tool.

Even better colour control comes from making sure that you computer monitor is properly calibrated. Using a device like a Spyder is essential.
Human ability to judge colour is unreliable, your brain does too much compensating for variants in colour balance, and people have different ideas of ideal colour balance.Besides, a number of men have a genetic propensity to colour blindness. And a few women have the same issue.
High end monitors do not have the same colour display issues as less expensive monitors, but all monitors will have their colour accuracy improved or at least verified by use of a monitor calibration tool.

Your camera could also use calibrating if the need for better colour rendition is needed.
Use of a McBeth Colour Checker or X-Rite Calibration Chart can go a long way.
For best use, you would take a photo of the ColourChecker device with the same lighting as your subject, in the case of the product shots, you would photograph the Colour Checker at the subject position and then calibrate the resulting file through the Colour Checker software to create a profile.You would then import the profile into your Lightroom Raw and would select Develop>Camera Calibration>Profile and then select the profile you just created. This allows you to have a White Balance best calibrated for your camera and lighting conditions.
Use of the Colour Checker card also helps in establishing White and Black points in your files. This is helpful in getting and keeping the maximum tonal range of your photographs.

U2 or why it might be an important setting

U2 is a setting on the later model Nikon mid-range cameras like the D600 and the D750.
In the instruction book and in many people’s mind is the idea that there are only 4 possible exposure settings. Program, where the camera does all of the settings for you, Aperture preferred where you set the aperture either to select your preferred depth of field or for balancing flash exposure. Shutter preferred so that you can stop or blur action. And the the grandpappy of them all, Manual, so that you take control of your camera, wresting control from the electrons that run your camera.
There is also, on many Nikon cameras an ISO sensitivity auto control.This is a useful setting so that you can set your camera to Manual, set the aperture and shutter speed as you might desire and the camera will adjust the ISO to suit lighting conditions.
This is this useful? and how do I use it?
A couple of years ago I was in Yellowstone Park shooting landscapes and noticed some otters playing in the waves of Gibbon River. so, I put on my longest lens, put it on the tripod and took lots of very sharp but blurred action photos of the otters. My ISO was set to 100, the lens was wide open and the shutter speed was 1/15. Not very satisfying.
So, reading the instruction book, I noticed the section on presets and set up my own.
I set U2 to manual exposure and Auto ISO. Now, I leave the shutter speed to 1/1000, maximum aperture and let the camera adjust the ISO to get a better exposure.
This can be a very useful setting for sports or changing light photographs too.
Suppose you are shooting a late afternoon sports game, your lens is wide open and you want to continue shooting without stopping to adjust your exposure, or the clouds keep changing the exposure. Auto ISO will let you keep the depth of field you want and the shutter speed you need. All without fiddling about manually adjusting the ISO for changing light conditions.

Just try it.


I was recently in Iceland and one of the planned photos of the trip was of Atlantic Puffins.
These comical seabirds spend much of their adult life at sea fishing and only come to land during breeding season. The only real time to photograph them is during breeding season, otherwise you might spot them in the distance when they are at sea. Also during breeding season they are at their most colourful.

The place I finally saw more than a couple of Puffins off in the distance was the island of Grimsey, on the Arctic Circle, off the north coast.After a three hour ferry ride we were deposited near a very well populated Puffin rocketry. Thousands of Puffins were noisily getting ready for egg laying. We did not see any Puffins carrying fish in their bills, we were a bit too early.
Photographing birds in flight is not easy, it takes some luck and a lot of skill. Handholding a camera with a 400mm lens while tracking a flying bird takes effort.These Puffins are about the size of a common pigeon and seem to fly faster, and you can’t bait them with bread crumbs.

Self portraits

For photographers, portraits of people are an important means of communication. That is communicated the photographers thoughts on the personality of the subject.
While it is quite possible to photograph people without showing any personality of either the photographer or the subject the bigger goal is to show some essence of the subject.
Some photographers layer onto their photographs a lot of the photographers own style while other photographers try to put all of their impression of their subject into the photograph.
Self portraits are a bit different. Not the selfie or quick snap of the moment, but rather a planned photograph showing more of the person behind the everyday mask. You should know who you are or perhaps the image of who you want to present to the world.
The difficulties in self portraits are mostly technical. Framing and focusing are the hardest. Auto focus doesn’t always work. If using a self timer the cameras usually focus upon pressing the shutter release, not immediately prior to exposure. And framing? usually by guesstimate.
But do try to do self portraits, they allow you to tell your own story and not someone else’s.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron is one of the larger birds that a person can see on a day to day basis. Somewhat easy to photograph, the GBH does tend to keep some distance from the average viewer in all but a few geographic locations. Fishing docks being one of those areas that GBH are less timid.

To get a good photograph, you will need to be close, but not close enough to spook the bird or to interfere with its feeding. A 400 mm lens is usually the starting point.

Usually, front light is good for bird photography but side or even back light will work if enough effort is expended.



HMCS Chicoutimi

A submarine in the Royal Canadian Navy, in a dry dock in the process of being refloated after being out of the water for repair.

Photographically, a very dark subject photographed at night lit only by the sodium and mercury vapour lights.

The body of the submarine is almost black in colour and the dry dock itself is also of a dark coloration. How to expose for such a dark subject is the question.

Using the camera’s light meter would result in a very overexposed photo (the submarine would have been rendered in a mid grey colour) and since I could not do an incident light meter reading I had to guess.

I took the camera’s reading and gave it 2 stops less exposure. If I were to do an incident reading I would have given even less exposure to get the correct tones in the black of the submarine. That would have been correct if I was shooting .jpg files but, I wasn’t.

I was shooting raw files and that gave me some latitude of processing options.

Digital camera noise shows up in underexposed photographs and especially pin the shadow areas. Deliberately overexposing and adjusting in Lightroom allowed me to get better detail in the few mid tones that there were, better details in the dark tones and no noise. Whatever noise that there was would have been made too dark to notice in the final image.



Harbour seal


Harbour seals are the playful dogs of the sea. This one hangs around a tourist wharf and begs for fish, which the tourists feed it in great numbers.

I used a fill flash to help bring some detail into the face and a 500 mm lens to bring the face in tight. While I used a long lens, tame seals like this will come in close enough to photograph with much shorter lens.


River Otter

River Otter

Native to the lakes and streams of North America, the river otter is a very capable swimmer and fisher.

Growing over a meter long and weighing up to 10 kilos, the otter represents a formidable hunter. Yet, it is also a very playful animal, seen on occasion playing on river banks and in winter sliding on snow.
Just last week I saw one walking along the sidewalk in front of my house. A first for everything.

I did not plan to photograph the otters, I noticed some people looking at something in a pile of logs and I went to look. I was planning to do some time lapses but the otter came first.

Being prepared for any eventuality is important in photography. As an experienced news photographer, it is not only important to being at the scene but also being able to get the photograph. Many a prize winning photographic scene is visualized but not photographed due to not being ready. F8 and being there is just part of getting the photograph.

Nikon D300, 70-300 VR lens ISO 1600 tripod.

American Dipper

An uncommon bird found in western North America from Mexico to the far arctic.

The Dipper is found is flowing streams where it dives for aquatic insects. It has a habit of walking underwater when it feeds. It is also known for flying underwater.

I photographed this bird along the shore of the stream in Goldstream Provincial Park. There would be lots of insects and other prey in the stream. It is a popular salmon spawning stream.

American Dipper

Nikon D300 600mm