Q&A: How often should I change my custom white balance?

Jackie asked:
“I have a question about custom white balancing. It’s probably a dumb one but… If you use a grey card to custom white balance, how often do you stop a session to redo it? Since light is constantly changing, how often should you stop to re-customize it? I am always afraid to take my white balance off auto because I worry about getting it all wrong and having to do major fixes in post. But I also find that I’m constantly getting inconsistent white balance in my photos by using Auto, even after I try and fix it in post…and even from picture to picture in the same series just because of how the light changes while I’m shooting. I actually haven’t even used a grey card before so I probably shouldn’t be asking…I just know I want better white balance in my photos and worry about getting it right in camera while I’m shooting. :)”

Don’t worry, your question isn’t dumb! :)

First off, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out the video I did about custom white balance. Secondly, instead of an actual gray card, I’d recommend either using an ExpoDisc (affiliate link) or shooting in Kelvin mode. In the video, I explain how to use both of those to achieve nearly perfect white balance in camera. Hooray for custom white balance!

On to your question, while light is always changing, unless it’s a party cloudy day and the sun is going back and forth behind the clouds, I don’t find that I have to adjust my custom setting very often. A general rule that I follow is I’ll update my custom WB setting at each new spot/area that I’m posing my clients in. So say, for instance, we start out in a field of grass, and then we move to a nearby tree, I’ll update the settings then. Partly cloudy days are different (and I despise them!), and usually if the sun comes out while I’m all set up for the clouds, I’ll tend to see if I can wait for another cloud to go in front of the sun again and then resume shooting. Does that make sense? If there’s not another cloud that will quickly be in front of the sun, I’ll move on a reposition my clients for a set up that works in full sun.

Another note: even if your custom WB setting is off, it will still be MUCH easier to fix in post because even though it’s incorrect, all of the images are incorrect by the same amount. So if you’re working in Lightroom, you can just copy the WB settings from one image to another and you’ll still have consistent results!

I hope this helps! :)

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