Finding A Healthy Balance

by Steve Simon

I recently did a commercial job which had a precise schedule over two days. I have done this kind of event photography before, but this time using Aperture, I planned on cutting my post processing time, with some pre-production work in Aperture; and it worked like a charm.

I had the schedule of events for the day's shoot. In all, there were ten components that needed to be covered during the day. I created a project called Wednesday (I'll keep the real project name secret to protect the innocent) and then created an album for each of the sessions I would cover. Thankfully I only needed to create one metadata pre-set that I would use for all of the day's shoot, with caption and keyword info, but if I needed to, I could have created a different set of metadata for each session.

CED Shoot Files.jpg

I wasn't sure how efficient this would be and wondered if I would have time to import each sessions' take before I had to start shooting the next one, but it all worked out great. By the end of the day, I had my shoot, neatly organized into individual session albums with all the metadata and key-wording done!

This sped up my post processing and let me quickly find particular images that I needed to email ASAP for the client's website.

The WhiBal Card

Another way I sped up my "aftershoot", was to use a WhiBal Card, as a white balance reference that would save me buckets of time later. The WhiBal Card harkens back to the day, when 18 per cent gray cards were used for accurate reflective exposure readings with our cameras. But this one is for white balance, and it's just as simple to use.

You photograph the card in the same light as your subject, making sure the card is positioned to minimize glare. This is easy to do, since the WhiBal people have included a highly reflective black sticker on the card that is easy to angle for minimum glare.

Since I was shooting speakers at the podium in available-light, as well as flash; I took WhiBal Card shots of both lighting scenarios.


With a click of the dropper on the gray area of the card, the white balance is accurate and the color looks natural.

In Aperture, I clicked on the white balance dropper, activate the loupe to make sure I hit the gray area of the card, and I've corrected the white balance. I then "lift" this white balance change, select all others shot in similar lighting, and "stamp selected images". The card is small enough to take anywhere, and I plan to do so and use it whenever I can. Less computer time = more time for everything else.


Steve Parr
2007-03-22 05:39:11
Hi Steve: Great to hear you sharing event shoot stories using Aperture. Good idea using the WB card when under time constraints. Would it have been easier to set a WB preset in Aperture rather than use lift and stamp for each image?


Steve Simon
2007-03-22 06:05:21
Hi Steve, that's also a great idea. Frankly, since I only had two different types of images, flash and available light, it worked very well group selecting the gang of images and applying the stamp to change them all. But maybe it's would be a good idea to have the pre-set for future similar situations, at least as a first try. Aperture is so quick to work with however, that I'm not sure having a specific preset is necessary unless you plan on encountering the same shooting conditions again. A fresh, specific white balacne adjustment is quick and easy, and ultimately more accurate especially if you had time to shoot a reference frame using the card.
Erik J. Barzeski
2007-03-22 15:11:44
Setting a white balance in-camera is also just a waste of time if you shoot RAW. Sure, the tiny embedded JPEG (also used to generate the histograms) will look better, but the RAW images will still come out in need of adjustment.
2007-03-23 00:36:08

Some beginner questions: Since the card is gray, why not use the gray dropper in Aperture? Also, why not have a "white" card and how does this compare to Expodisc?

Thanks in advance,


Erik J. Barzeski
2007-03-23 08:30:20
Steve, white balance doesn't require a white surface, and in fact, using a white surface is often bad because a channel (red usually) might clip, and you would get a poor reading. Any neutral tone (i.e. RGB values all equal to each other) surface is suitable, preferably away from possible clipping (black/white) regions.

So that's why not have a "white" card. The ExpoDisc works because the camera's auto-exposure settings "grey out" the white (with tint) lighting the same way cameras underexpose snowy scenes without exposure compensation. So, it doesn't have a clipping problem either and in fact produces a rather "grey" (again with tint) image.

P.S. The WhiBal isn't an "18%" or "middle" grey either - it's about 75% of the way up the luminance scale, IIRC.

Steve Simon
2007-03-23 09:50:08
In response to Steve's question, I asked Ben Long who has tested the WhiBal card, to clarify a question I had, and he came back with an answer so good, I won't even try to improve upon it.

Ben: "The white balance dropper does something completely different from the gray tint dropper. The gray tint dropper performs separate levels adjustments on each individual color channel in an attempt to neutralize any color casts in your image. So, it actually manipulates your image data, which means you run the risk of tone breaks and posterization. In addition, if an extreme adjustment is required, you might "use up" enough of your data that you can't perform any additional adjustments without facing posterizing.

On a raw file, when you change white balance, Aperture is actually changing its underlying, fundamental assumption about what red, green, and blue as it interprets the color from the file. So, you're not actually manipulating any of your image data. In other words, making this type of correction with white balance is a "free" edit - it won't ever lead to posterizing or tone breaks. Also, you'll probably find that you have a lot more lattitude than you do with the tint wheel.

The WhiBal card is brighter than middle gray so that its tone is captured into the brighter stops of the image, the place where the camera records more levels (this is the "expose to the right" theory of raw exposure). Some other WhiBal niceties: it's the same shade of gray all the way through, so if it gets scuffed or scratched, you can just sand it down to restore it to it's clean grayness; it floats; it seems darn near indestructible.

In side-by-side tests, there's no perceptible difference between WhiBal generated white balance, and ExpoDisc-generated white balance. They offer different conveniences. With the ExpoDisc, you get a white balance set properly in-camera, so you don't have to take an extra post-production step. However, with the ExpoDisc it can cometimes be more complicated to position your camera in the right place to take the necessary reference shot. Also, it's impossible to use the ExpoDisc with on-camera flash.

James Duncan Davidson
2007-03-23 18:49:37
Steve: Awesome tips and tricks here! I like the idea of predefining your albums and might have to try that out in an upcoming shoot.
Steve Simon
2007-03-24 07:18:03
James, it really did work great. It would only get complicated and i managed to avoid it--if you don't have the opportunity to download right away--with two cameras and different sessions it might get confusing. But even then, since you're able to see the images before you import--you should be able to find the right album for the series of images.