How do you use a gray card?
There are a few ways. Here are the main two I use:
There is also the "historical" use with dark room printing... shoot a frame with the card in it, even if it's way off to the side out of crop, then in the enlarger, slide the film so that you can print that bit, do a test strip of the card, develop, match the box on the test strip to your grey card to get the initial printing time for the negative.
/me wanders off to FIND my old dektol stained gray card... been using a modern white/grey/black target with digital lately... not sure where it is. ;)
Two ways to use a gray card that I'm aware of:
In addition to proper exposure (from the grey card) and post-processing colour correction (from a throw-away shot and white balance correction on your computer), some (most? all?) digital cameras also have a Custom White Balance setting. This is especially useful if you shoot JPEG and your images are under a common light source. (With RAW you can do it all in post, but JPEGs you'll get slightly better colour accuracy doing it on-camera).
It's probably most useful if your lighting is constant, or if you're shooting with one particularly difficult light source (e.g. you can use Auto or a standard white balance on some photos, and the Custom WB on those under the particular light source).
If you've got a bunch of different lighting sources, or a combination of two (so you get variations as you move around) you might be best shooting RAW and taking a few different shots of the grey card and applying the most appropriate WB correction in post processing.
Using a gray card, or even a color checking card or something like the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport, is pretty easy. Here are a few steps:
Now that you have a calibration shot, you can remove the gray card/color checker from your scene. Snap the rest of your shots for that particular lighting without the card in scene. It is important to note that, if for any reason, your lighting changes...you will need to take another calibration shot. Any change...this would include reorienting your camera or subject, changing the type of lighting, etc. Out in nature, changes caused by clouds obscuring sunlight would count as a change in lighting.
Once you have all of your shots, you actually CORRECT your white balance in post processing. The simplest way on earth to correct white balance with a gray card or color checker is with Adobe Lightroom. In develop mode, there is an extremely handy little tool...a dropper tool (color picker tool) right next to the white balance sliders. Click this, then click on your gray card in the first shot. Lightroom will automatically correct your white balance for you based on the 18% reflectance emitted by the gray card (the ideal tone to balance color from.) If you used something like X-Rite's ColorChecker Passport, there are several warming/cooling "swatches" that you an pick from. The nice thing about these kind of swatches is you have the option of warming or cooling your picture as you see fit in a color-accurate way.
If you do not have Lightroom, but do have Photoshop, you can use a similar approach. In the Levels tool, click the "Set Gray Point" dropper tool, and pick the gray card. Photoshop should make the same kind of adjustment as Lightroom. With Photoshop, unlike lightroom, you need to make sure that you pick the right dropper tool to correct color automatically, and you will only be able to use an actual gray card or white card, and use the matching "Set XYZ Point" option. Once you have set your color balance, save the current levels settings.
The final step to setting correct white balance for all of your images is to apply the current settings for your calibration image to the rest of your images for that lighting. In lightroom, this is again rediculously simple. Simply copy the white balance setting (CTRL+SHIFT+C, Uncheck All, Check "White Balance"), select all your other photos for that lighting, and paste (CTRL+SHIFT+V).
With Photoshop, it is a little more complex. You need to open the Levels tool for each image, and load the previously saved levels settings. I don't know of any batch way to do this in Photoshop, so it is rather time consuming if you have a lot of shots. Best to work your way through your shoot first, find and flag the keepers, and only work them.
Oh, forgot another option. Not quite as accurate, but an option if you don't have a tool that will let you set perfectly correct WB in post processing. Most cameras these days have a custom white balance setting. These are easy enough to set. Follow the four steps above, only in step 3, DO use AWB (auto white balance). Make the card cover as much of the scene as possible, illuminated by the same light as the rest of the scene. Once you have your shot, use the Custom WB tool, pick the image with the gray card, and set WB from that image. This will only really work with an actual gray card, a color checker card will not really produce the best results if you use Custom WB.
protected by jrista♦ Jan 25 '13 at 1:38
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