Lighting a scene; white-balance part 1

February 22, 2018
Disclaimer: this is an outdated article!

White-balance red

I never considered myself a good (Lego) photographer, there are so many great toy-photographers out there. Yet, I am slowly getting there. This year I will write some blog posts on the things I learned over the past five years I’ve been photographing Lego. This first episode is on white-balance. It is very basic; but at the time it was a real eye-opener to me… showing how little I knew about photography. Makes me wonder how many basic things I am oblivious to.

To me, the hardest part of Lego photography is lighting indoor scenes, composition of a scene coming in as a close second. There are so many factors to consider before you can take the shot. In the beginning, I didn’t look at specific lighting at all. I just arranged that my subject wasn’t too darkly lit, and that was about it. At some point I started paying a littlebit more attention, using the lights I had in and about the house, lightbulbs, leds, iPhones, etc… The photos back then didn’t come out of my camera the way I wanted. So I would turn to Photoshop and correct them as much as I could. However… I couldn’t get them right. I had no clue what I was doing. Shadows everywhere, uneven lighting, reflections… etc.

The problem: white-balance

One thing I found very annoying was the fact I couldn’t get the color temperatures/ white-balance right, At first I thought I could solve that problem by just shooting in raw and post-processing the white balance in Photoshop…. again, it didn’t work. Even two photos that were lighted approximately the same way gave completely different results at exactly the same settings for color temperature in Photoshop.

I considered that a tremendous problem for the comic. In those times I shot each episode the day it went up and for the better part I couldn’t get them consistent (just look at the first comic and you’ll see).

The crucial finding… providing more problems

It took me some time to figure out that not every light had all colors incorporated. For the comic episodes, I used over one type of lamp, all simple home lamps, all with different lightbulbs. For each episode, the scene was lit differently because I moved the lamps and did not distribute their light evenly. I didn’t notice with the naked eye… but, as a result, in post-processing I couldn’t get the temperatures the same.

To solve this, I bought daylight lamps. And that solved most of that problem! At least I lit the scenes the same regarding temperature. So most of the time I shot all photos in those lights (I became afraid of all other types of lights) and then corrected the white-balance in Photoshop, coincidentally introducing more problems. It was a lot of work. I had to remember all kinds of settings and mostly these photos looked artificial even when I longed for a more realistic look.

Solution(s)

Nowadays, I don’t let the lights control me anymore, I control the lights! I still use the daylight lamps, but added smaller lights with different colors and temperatures whenever necessary (I got them at Brickstuff – check them out!). That means more consistency and less post-processing and more time for the shoot itself. Yay!

White-balance mood
Two different moods, in one scene. Is Dwaas inviting the rat from its cold and lonely hideout into his warm and cozy area?

At least now I know how to get the white-balance right. However, there is so much, less basic, stuff to now and learn. I’m working on that and hopefully take you along for the journey.

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