Deal 10: A hot topic, at a hot price!
A common problem for photographers is white balance. With so many different light sources such as daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, flash, strobe and countless more, getting accurate white balance can sometimes prove to be fairly tricky. The first problem being is that our eyes are just too well designed and automatically compensate for these different conditions. Our cameras aren’t as clever unfortunately. “What about auto white balance?” I hear you say. Well, yes, this is true to an extent. If you are satisfied with the white balance results you get from switching on to AWB, then perhaps you best not read on. For everyone else as frustrated as me, continue reading!
First of all, lets talk technical just for a brief moment. What is colour temperature? What is a Kelvin reading? Who cares?? Color temperature is a characteristic of visible light that has important applications in lighting for photography. The color temperature of a light source is determined by comparing its chromaticity with that of an ideal black-body radiator. The temperature (measured in Kelvins or K) at which the heated black-body radiator matches the color of the light source is that source’s color temperature; for a black body source, it is directly related to Planck’s law and Wien’s displacement law.
That all make sense? Probably not. To illustrate this a little easier have a look at the following table.
1700 K- Match flame
1850 K – Candle flame
2700–3300 K – Incandescent light bulb (tungsten)
3350 K – Studio “CP” light
3400 K – Studio lamps, photofloods, etc.
4100 K – Moonlight, xenon arc lamp
5000 K – Horizon daylight
5500–6000 K – Typical daylight, Speedlight flash
6500 K – Daylight, overcast
9300 K – Typical CRT computer screen
These values are of course approximate, but gives a broad overview of how much light varies in temperature depending on your light source. Have you ever taken a photo in your living room without a flash and it comes out with a yellow colour cast? Well this is all because your camera thought the colour temperature in the room was different to what it actually was.
Now we have all the technical stuff out the way, what can we do about this problem? Most digital cameras these days will have a handful of preloaded settings to compensate for these different lighting conditions. Let’s go back to your living room, and look around to see where a majority of the light is coming from. Because your first shot came out looking a little yellow, it’s an indication that your light source is a normal light bulb or tungsten. You can set your cameras white balance to the preloaded tungsten setting and you should get a better result. But as you can see in the table above, different light bulbs give off a different Kelvin reading ranging from approximately 2700 – 3300 K. This is big variance if you’re looking to get accurate results.
You can of course shoot with a gray-card to help tell you what your light temperature is, but its a bit fiddly and annoying having to carry a card around with you all the time. They don’t last forever either and easily get damaged and marked which hinders their performance.
I was handed a fantastic little piece of kit called Expodisc. This little device takes all the guesswork and time out of taking a colour temperature reading. You open the box and take out what looks like big fat filter for your lens. I ordered one for a 77mm filter size as most of my lenses are that size and it simply clicks on and off the end of my lens. My 50mm f1.4 has a smaller filter size, so in this case I can simply hold the Expodisc over the front of the lens. You set your camera to record a custom white balance (you may need to refer to your cameras manual for this), place your camera in manual focus mode and with the Expodisc snapped onto the end, stand in the place of your subject and point your camera at your light source, be that a light bulb, a studio flash or the sun! If you have a flash mounted on the hot-shoe, point it at the ceiling or a white wall to give you a reading. Take a shot which will render a colour reading for you custom white balance. Take the Expodisc off your lens and you are ready to shoot with incredibly accurate white balance. It’s quick and easy and makes getting white balance a simple routine rather than a chore or a time consuming job when you come to retouch them on your computer.
It comes with a handy lanyard for whacking around your neck when it’s not in use and a sturdy padded pouch complete with a belt clip if (like me) you don’t like things around your neck. Each Expodisc comes with it’s own individual quality control card which gives its calibration values at time of testing. You also get a quick start card which outlines pretty much what I’ve just taken you through albeit with a bit more detail and there is a CD full of videos and reference manuals conveniently in English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish.
So if you are having trouble with your white balance and are tired of having to colour correct in photoshop or just sick of carrying a grey card around, consider having a look at Expodisc. This will save you bags of time and is incredibly simple to use. I’m not sure why no-one has thought of it before!
ExpoDiscs come in a range of sizes for different lenses – check out some of the range of ExpoDiscs at Amazon.
January 13, 2013 01:41 pm
Go onto YouTube and search Expodisc and you will find your answers there.
January 13, 2013 05:19 am
When using the expodisc, should I meter my subject first, point @ the light source (using those settings)? Or should I point @ the light source and meter off of that before I take the WB shot???
Thank you for your time.
January 22, 2012 11:21 am
>> other wise you can end up wih very blue or orange photos, that cant be fixed in post.
Either it can be fixed in post, or it can't be fixed by the camera too, since they are working on the same data.
I'm able to use two stacked polarizers (one linear, one circular) in place of a ND filter which gives a very very strong purple/blue tint to everything and still fix it in ACR in like 10 seconds.
December 24, 2011 04:51 am
I swear by my Expo Disc, using a 77mm for all lenses is the best way to go. Have both the 'warm' and 'neutral' and have just abandoned the 'warm' in favor of more natural skin tones of the 'neutral' filter. Using coffee filters, other papers just won't cut it for me. As well, it can help with exposure determination if you don't have a light meter.
March 7, 2011 03:05 am
all you need to use is a white coffee filter ...save yourself 80 $ ...i have an expo disc but if i didnt ....i would use the coffee filter for sure ....paper towel ....toilet paper ...whatever is transparent
March 6, 2011 07:21 am
Alot of Arena's in my neck of woods are changing out the lighting to LED .I believe it would be cool but not sre.My Nikon d300s has no setting for such lighting and even Nikon had no view has to what setting I should try.Yet again another flaw with Digatel that seems never to happen with my F5.
January 14, 2011 12:09 am
user a coffee filter ...does the same job ...or toilet paper or pringles cover smoky tone
January 13, 2011 03:22 pm
If you read this far . . .
The real answer is to use a target, NOT the Expo Disk or similar device.
A Whi-Bal Card (the best) or the equivalent, will work on all lenses and all lights, like on camera flash and light tents. It only costs $35.00. Is non breakable, clean able and very fast and very accurate.
Even if you shoot RAW, you need to have a KNOWN neutral in your shot, IF you want accurate color. You can always adjust for TASTE, once you are accurate and can batch file process both for accuracy and taste.
It can also be used to help set contrast and custom white balances.
September 21, 2010 02:20 am
To the people who say who cares about the white balence, fix it in post - photoshop does not make the photographer. Spend time learning your craft, white balance is important, other wise you can end up wih very blue or orange photos, that cant be fixed in post.
Raw is not an excuse to be lazy or take crappy shots.
January 23, 2010 08:31 pm
I own the Expodisc and It works great. I just put it over the lens, point it at the light source and I am good to shoot in raw or Jpeg or both. If you are using a small light Tent? Duh, take the reading off the white inside the tent before you ad anything inside of it. Its the color of the light you are measuring right? I have learnt many tricks with it too.... I have used it as a Light meter and on occasion I have put in on the lens and aimed it directly to night city lights and have captured the perfect color balance on the first shot. I own photoshop and I love "not" to spend hours in post processing when I can balance the color in camera in a 5 seconds or less.
Todays cameras color balance is way better than it used to be but for older cameras.... Just get a reading on the sun or light bulb or whatver the light/lights sources are and then chase after the kids with abandon whout having to worry about color balance.
When you shoot in raw did you know that most of the times if you color correct the midtones your whites and shadows may still be way off? If I want perfection RAW is just the begining and as with any tool.... it is only as good as the person who is using it. I like the whibal idea.... I could color balance darks, mids and whites and contrast range all at once........ so I probably will try it next.
with mixed lights? guess what.... use it to balance right in between color temps..... for special effects.... for example.... I have color balanced between a light bulb and a white TV screen...... then I photographs a black item... oh the beautiful orange blue color effects with basically ..... no special lights
Just some ideas... have fun.
January 22, 2010 09:51 pm
@rob t LOOK ON YOU TUBE ....how to use an expo disc....it will show you
January 22, 2010 08:49 pm
toki - Have you ever shot in raw?
January 22, 2010 06:37 pm
The expodisc is useless in my opinion, because what it does is exactly the same of what the AWB is made for.
I checked the results with a product similar to the expo disc and with the AWB on my Canon 350D and the results are EXACTLY the same!
May 28, 2009 12:40 am
The problem with the Expo disc is that you have to point it at the light source, ie put the camera where the subject is and shoot back at the light. This isn't always convenient or possible. Doing product shots in a light tent, for example.
I've found the easiest and most accurate tool (and I've tried several including grey cards, white paper, etc.) is a WhiBal card. I keep the small one on a lanyard around my neck (it'll fit in your pocket as well) and take a shot of it in the subject's light. A quick eye dropper selection later in ACR or Aperture and I've got perfect white balance on all my shots.
May 25, 2009 12:10 am
Interesting device, even more interesting DIY solutions. I have a foldable grey card (much like a foldable reflector). Folded - it's a nice, small circle about 7 inches across. I could have bought several of them for the price of the ExpoDisc.
May 22, 2009 07:20 am
You can make your own disc real cheap that works just as well. find a broken cover from a florescent light fixture and cut a disc with a handle and drill a hole to attach a cord. I've tested it and it work just as good made 3 of them and they were all free
May 21, 2009 02:08 pm
Stand in the position of your subject and point the camera with the Expodisc over your lens at the position of where you will be taking your photo and take your white balance reading. If you also set your exposure to manual and set your exposure at the same time, still with the Expodisc attached, you will have the perfect exposure for your subject as your camera will be measuring the light falling on your subject and your sensor will not be fooled by any other bright light around.
May 21, 2009 05:27 am
i am a newbie to photography, and was wondering about this white balance thing... i was wondering for the white balance, is it the light of the object i am shooting or is it the light that is hitting the lens. for example, i am standing in direct, early afternoon sun, but the object i am shooting is in the shade 30-40 feet in front of me. would i try to adjust the white balance for the object or where i am standing?
May 18, 2009 09:23 pm
Possibly the cheapest method for getting the white balance, a tip I picked up off YouTube:
Using your camera's custom white balance, take 2 sheets of white toilet paper (2 ply) or a white tissue folded over. Hold over the front of your lens and point it at you subject. Press the shutter. Works for all lens sizes!
Not sure how it compares to the likes of the expodisc, however, would be interested to know.
May 15, 2009 05:45 am
Hi, if you are shooting RAW, instead of setting a custom WB, what about simply putting the Expo over the lens (I have the 82mm and of course it easily covers my small sizes too) and taking a shot at the start of a sequence of images, or a shot at a particular location and light source and then take your images until the light changes when you will do another Expo shot?
When you open up in Lightroom for example, you can go to that first Expo shot, do a sample for WB and then correct all of images following that shot using Sync.
That way you do not have to fiddle with the Custom WB in the field.
May 15, 2009 05:19 am
ive used one for a couple of years..great piece of kit..so easy to use
May 15, 2009 03:53 am
My experience with Expodisc is that it produces images that are a bit "cold".
My preference for doing white balance on the fly is WhiBal. Cheaper and handier. Most of the time I just wing it with Auto White Balance and tweak it by eye afterwards. If I'm doing work where color accuracy is critical I use a Photovision Digital Calibration Target.
May 15, 2009 01:49 am
I looked on Amazon. At almost $100, this device seems a bit expensive. I use a gray card to set the white balance for shooting jewelry. I purchased two 8 X 10 cards for approx. $12.
May 13, 2009 03:33 am
I never can understand the "just fix it in photoshop" answer. I hate doing post production. I shoot college football and sometimes work until 1 in the morning. I don't want to do a bunch of stuff in photoshop. I want it right when it comes out of the camera. Working in a dome or at night in an open stadium it is critical to have the white balance spot on. Expodisc takes care of that and is easy to handle.
May 12, 2009 09:04 pm
i agree with most things written here ...but in my case ...sometimes people call me for a shoot ...and when i get on site..they want the pics on disc as soon as i finish the shoot ...so i need to shoot in jpeg ...thats when i use my manual white balance ....then when i am done the shoot ..i just load it all in my lap top ...then burn to CD...they love the idea of getting the pics on the spot ...they can do there own cropping ect ...most people know how to crop these days ...even my 73 year old mom ...but raw is better for sure ...you just cant always use it ..it does take time
May 12, 2009 01:12 pm
I enjoyed your review- especially the temperature chart. I have a 77mm expo disc and love it.
I always have trouble getting the white balance right, inside my house, when taking pictures of the kids.
So, I used my expo disc to create a few custom white balance choices that I keep on my cf card- for my kitchen, living room and den- now I can quickly just choose a custom white balance preset setting from my card- and it always looks better than my Canon's auto white balance setting. Normally I would shoot in raw, but for quick around the house snapshots, jpegs suit me fine.
May 12, 2009 10:57 am
I have actually had issues trying to take care of my white balance after the fact. The closest I can get it in camera makes the adjustment in ACR just that: an adjustment. Recently I shot some wedding photos in an all-green park (the trees in the background, the grass below, etc.). There was so much green that all my photos are just off enough that nothing seems to look right messing with the WB sliders.
I'm going to cut down my 8x10 gray card and try using that from now on. I hear that an 18% gray card isn't the best for digital WB, but even if it's a little off, it with be a quick fix in ACR, and not an entire art project.
May 12, 2009 05:52 am
eh, just use a coffee filter.
May 12, 2009 01:27 am
And as someone said earlier, if you shoot in RAW, balance isn't much of an issue. In fact i always leave mine on auto (i know, i should do a custom balance) but i'm experienced in both Photoshop and Lightroom so those are things i've never had to worry about.
May 11, 2009 11:31 pm
You can also make the famous "Hickspodisc"- take 2 uv rings, the white layer from a 3m N95 filter mask and there you go. Full instructions with materials and screenshots including a side by side histogram comparison using a Hickspodisc and an Expodisc are there- you'll see the results are nearly identical.
You can also read all the comments on the thread from people that said it nails the white balance as well as the Expodisc. I haven't tried mine yet but paid $10 for 2 uv rings from china off of ebay with free shipping and $10 for a set of 2 3m mask filters... so in all i saved $80.
And from all the threads i've read, not all coffee filters are alike and they WILL give different results- some people have written of specific filters that give good white balances and some that will throw in tint- i've always read the N95 type filters give the best white balance.
May 11, 2009 11:21 pm
Al lot of commenters are debating the relative merits of the product itself. My concern is that, although everything you wrote about the Kelvin Scale is basically accurate, it was still a bit of a technical explanation. I think a slightly easier-to-understand explanation of the Kelvin Scale can be found here:
May 11, 2009 08:44 pm
dont go out and buy an expo disc ..a coffee filter works the same way ....even a pringles chip container cover ...the smokey color ones ....works just fine ...why spend 100$ for nothing ..i did ...and i didnt know about it till it was too late ....keep the money to get a 50 mm prime if you dont have one ...just go to you tube ...see how to use an expo disc ...do the same with a coffee filter
May 11, 2009 07:23 pm
I agree that this product doesn't necessarily work in all applications. As J said, chasing the kids around with the camera etc. You lose the spontaneity by taking a white balance reading etc. Set your camera to the closest preset that you think will work and off you go. I should make it clear that as I possibly wrongly said, you don't HAVE to stand in place of your subject. As long as you point it at the same light source this will work too. If you are a wildlife photographer, you aren't exactly going to go stand 100 meters away in a clearing you are hoping a deer will wander into and then run back to your hiding spot. You can of course just point it at the sun from where you are and will get good enough results. Same could be said if you were in the living room scenario. But if you have the opportunity, its always good to stand in the place of your subject. it takes literally a few seconds. Mikel Daniel, as I mentioned, you need only buy one Expodisc. Buy the biggest one and then simply hold it over the front of your smaller lenses.
Being primarily a fashion photographer, white balance is critical for skin tones and garment colour accuracy and I found this to be a little gem. I have the time and inclination to use something like this to help with my workflow. Everybody shoots differently and has different subjects. A professional photographer who shoots mainly live music asked me how this product would work for him as the lights are a mix of colours and are changing constantly. In this case, the Expodisc would be rendered redundant, but as is with most kit, it's horses for courses. I haven't personally used a photojojo equivalent, so I can't comment. It does seem like a similar product. If Photojojo want to send me one and I can do a comparison, I'd be more than happy to do that. I have only used the Expodisc. It's not cheap, but if you are after some good accurate white balance quickly, then for me, for what I shoot mainly, this is a good option for me and possibly one for you to consider.
May 11, 2009 06:45 pm
Expodisc can also be used as an incident lightmeter and flashmeter when used in conjunction with a digital camera
May 11, 2009 06:12 pm
Why not just shoot RAW, and forget about it?
If you're really worried, take a picture of a sheet of white paper in your environment, and use it as a calibration for post-production?!
May 11, 2009 02:22 pm
You can set white balance using the white plastic Pringles cap. I have been using this method. The only hassle is having to lug the cap along with you.
May 11, 2009 10:06 am
Multiple light source temperatures can cause problems that no white balance help would necessarily solve. Your best bet would be to point at the dominant (probably brightest) light source and do the best you can with a poor situation (I'd look at either eliminating one of the other light sources, or putting a gel over it to make it the same color as the dominant source).
Like others have said, I think this is a solid product. The downside to using it vs. one of the others (like those from PhotoJojo), other than cost, is that you have to go and stand where your subject is and point back at the light source. In some cases, this isn't an issue - in others a fair inconvenience. I prefer a solution that allows me to balance from where I'm doing my shooting.
May 11, 2009 07:05 am
I'm curious as to how well this works when you have multiple light sources. How do you choose which one to point your camera at to render your reading?
May 11, 2009 06:35 am
As mentioned in the article, I'd definitely suggest buying the biggest ExpoDisk you can get your hands on. If you buy a 77mm disk, not only will it snap onto your 77mm lenses, but you can just hold it up to your other lenses for a two seconds it takes to set your white balance. Therefor you needn't buy one for each lens, thus saving you a bundle, Mikel.
May 11, 2009 03:51 am
First off, I am absolutely certain this product works. However, paying up to $100 per filter, per lens size when you can either utilize a $10 gray card, or shoot in raw and make your adjustments later, just doesn't seem practical. Plus his argument about carrying around a gray card isn't exactly a strong one since you only need one gray card, but one of these for every lens filter size you have in your bag (unless you only have one lens, then it works out to about even...if you don't include cost).
Speaking of cost, a quick look in my bag finds the following lenses and filter sizes: 50mm f1.8 & 35mm f2 (52), 105mm f2.8 (62), 18-135 & 70-300 (67), and 17-35mm f2.8 (77). If I wanted one of these for each of my lens sizes, I'd have to pay almost $400! Alternatively, I did find a deal for two gray cards, 11.95 on Amazon.
While I am certain there are practical applications of this, I really can't think of too many that justify the cost for the average user. Save your money and buy a polarizer instead. You'll have much more fun with that and probably have money left over for a gray card.
May 11, 2009 03:18 am
May 11, 2009 03:05 am
Someone *has* thought of this before - the "White Balance Lens Cap" that Photojojo (among other places) sells.
Cheaper, too ($45-65 vs. $70-100, though the ExpoDisc comes in more sizes, it seems). I've been meaning to pick one of these up for myself
May 11, 2009 02:56 am
I have a "warm" ExpoDisc.
I love the concept of the ExpoDisc. Michelle Cellentano recommends the ExpoDisc. I've even gotten pleasing results with my ExpoDisc.
I hardly. Ever. Use my ExpoDisc.
When I'm shooting just a shot or two, it's not worth the time. When I'm chasing kids around with the camera, the lighting changes (direct sun, shade, indoors, compact flourescent, tungsten, and back) so quickly, it's not an effective use of time.
It's more worth the time when doing some sort of extended photo shoot where the light remains constant.
But I still love the idea of my ExpoDisc, and will def. use it when the situation and my needs warrant.
In the mean time, I just dress my kiddo in 18% gray clothing. :-)
May 11, 2009 02:19 am
Just a quick note on the review -- I don't think the Expo works well with flash on hot shoe -- can you put up some samples...
May 11, 2009 12:58 am
That temperature list is awesome.
I never really fully understood or could relate the Kelvins to actually "effect".
However, it's also important to remember that incorrect white balance sometimes can only improve the photo.
Here is my example where I totally missed the correct light - http://www.ilanbresler.com/2009/03/night-shift.html
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