Balancing Act – The ExpoDisc

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I’d purchased a new toy to help me out with white balance when shooting – it’s called an ExpoDisc, and it arrived this afternoon. Since my new medication doesn’t make me feel anywhere near as awful as the last one (it makes me feel drowsy for about 3 hours after I take it, but that’s it) I was able to try this little gadget out and see if it really is as handy as people say.  So far so good – it’s not all that awkward to use, although it does involve quite a few steps to get all the settings right on the camera, which isn’t useful when shooting moving subjects or quick, candid shots, but it can be really helpful for studio work or situations where the light source isn’t shifting constantly.

expo2

White balance has always been a thorn in my side, so I’m not sure why it took me so long to learn about this thing. At full retail it’s about $70, but I found a used one on eBay for $40 – it isn’t the newest model, but after reading over the differences between the updated ExpoDisc and the old one, I didn’t see any reason to spend the extra $30 to get it. This one is in fine condition, so all around it was good buy.

For most casual photographers, the Auto white balance setting is what they use as it’s the setting the camera selects unless you go in and change it – and it does the best it can, but once you start getting picky about the color in your shots it’s definitely has it’s limitations. With my Canon 7D I’ve used either the Auto, Daylight, or Fluorescent settings, depending on my mood and the situation.  But especially when taking people shots, there have been so many times when the skin tones come out too green or yellow, and even though the issue can be adjusted when processing, I never can tell if I’ve gotten it right. And sometimes, no matter what I do, I can’t get the yellow or green cast from the subject’s skin, or if I do it wrecks the color somewhere else in the shot – and for someone who uses as much color as I like to use, that gets really annoying. So to have a tool like this in my bag that can adjust the white balance for me is a real godsend.

Differences in white balance can be subtle, but the right balance can make a huge difference in the overall look of a shot. Take these comparison shots, for example (presented to you without makeup,  because I was a little under the weather today):

WB1_collage
I did nothing to the color in either one of these shots so you could see the effect of the ExpoDisc, but I did use Photoshop to edit out my undereye wrinkles and dark circles – I’m not gonna lie

Now, if you just saw shot #1 without ever seeing #2 alongside of it, you might think it was just fine, but clearly shot #2 is the better one. You can really tell when looking at the white t-shirt just how much better the tones are there. And all I had to do was put the ExpoDisc over my lens (the Disc comes in a few different sizes, but I just got the 77mm one and hold it over my lens rather than worrying with trying to fit in on before using it), aim my camera at the light source and take photo of it (in this case, the open window opposite me was my light source). Then I “set” that photo as the custom white balance for the shot (at the end of this post, I’ll embed the video I watched on YouTube that walked me through the steps).

I really wanted to get a few pics of the pets for a comparison, but it was hard to do when I kept having to take a shot with one setting (custom) then go in and switch that setting (back to auto) and then HOPE that the animal in question was still in a position even close to where they were in the first shot, much less hadn’t left the vicinity entirely. I finally managed to get a decent one of Sprocket showing the two white balance settings (of course it would be Sprocket who cooperates; he’s such a genial  model):

WB3_collage
OK, so he did turn his head, but still, not bad for a dog

In both of the shots above, you can see how the indoor lighting tended to skew tones yellow, and the ExpoDisc corrected that problem. Outdoors had the opposite problem – the Auto setting cooled tones down considerably, and the ExpoDisc warmed them back up:

WB2_collage
Pretty much everything in our yard is dead right now due to Tuesday’s freeze, so there wasn’t much worth shooting outside beyond the flowers on this plant, whatever it is. 

WB4_collage
Told you there wasn’t much to photograph outside. And the blinds are pulled up because when they’re not, Simon smashes his way through them anyway. Also we did not have a handle attached to him for easier lifting; that’s one of his toys he ignores in favor of smashing his way through the blinds. 

Overall this is another piece of equipment with which I’m pretty pleased. And finding it for cheap always adds to my level of happiness! I hope sharing this sort of information is interesting and useful to someone, as I really enjoy writing these posts. As I’ve said a million times before, one of the reasons I never get bored with photography is that there’s always something new to learn. And as promised, here’s the YouTube video that I used to help me get mine working properly. It was pretty easy; just watched the video once then set to work.

8 thoughts on “Balancing Act – The ExpoDisc

  1. I might want to consider this myself, as I often find far too much yellow in my shots and try to overcome it in PShop, with mixed success. Naturally, when using jpegs (as I know I shouldn’t do, it is just that RAW takes up so much space on my hd, that I avoid it unless I think I am doing a great job on that particular session), every time I make any changes, I lose information. I also find that a lot of my shots downtown come out very blue and I cannot tell whether it is DT itself or something I am doing when I set the camera, to cause that cast. I want my photographs to look accurate (except when taking selfies, which I like to be as flattering as possible, since they go up on FB and in family albums/slideshows, etc.). I have fooled around with my camera settings but not enough, and haven’t devoted enough time.

    Thank you for posting these tips on equipment. I can see that I am going to have to spend some money and time on this, probably in early summer. These comparative shots were very helpful. 🙂

    • Yeah, you’re like I am about white balance – although people say the only thing that matters is how YOU like the end result, if there’s a way to make the white balance “right,” that’s the way I want to do it. It’s not enough just for me to be OK with it, I want as close to perfection as I can get – and like you when I try to edit this during processing I can’t ever be certain I’ve gotten as close to accurate as possible, and it just bugs me.

      Probably shooting in JPEG is causing some of those color problems, but this disc could certainly help. Since you are usually taking architectural shots, you’d have time to set the WB using it.

      • What I am going to do is get another stand alone hard drive with a few terabytes, just for my pictures. I do take yard stuff – not very good with nor interested in photographing animals or flowers and the like, but would like to take portrait shots of others, along the lines of Diane Arbus, whose book I bought years back. I would like to do more in sepia and especially black and white. Gotta get the pictures I have already taken (DT, finishing that up this week, Long Beach, when my parents popped over unexpectedly, Westwood and UCLA, a few left of Newhall.) Then I am going to start stopping people in the street and taking their picture or candid shots, if I can get away with it. I plan to get a couple of lenses and now maybe an ExpoDisc (I like Adorama in NYC – lots of refurbished stuff, always on sale, free overnight delivery and a personal sales associate with expertise). I will probably also eventually spring for an upgraded camera. Yikes, well, I have enough clothes and don’t eat much, so I can probably swing it. Geoffrey has already got my list — adding this to it! 🙂

    • I hear you – I am really wanting to start photographing commercial airplanes as they take off and land – talk about NOT being equipped for this in any way! And I fear the lenses for that are super-expensive to get the amount of zoom required. Probably would cancel my plans to get a hot tub just to be able to afford the lens 🙂

      • What a great idea (and then I will stop dominating this conversation here)! You did take fab pix at the airshow, so why wouldn’t you be able to take other plane shots? Yeah, I was going to get a new rowing machine for our anniversary in April but I might just want my fish-eye and maybe this white balance thing, first, lol…can’t do all of it.

        • I know right – it is fun though! It looks like I can get a decent zoom lens for my purposes for around $550 actually. Not the best lens, but a decent one to start.

  2. Wow, this is nice! What a coincidence. I was monkeying (that’s an appropriate word here) with the white balance on my camera this morning! Isn’t that strange, considering how I suck at photography? Anyway, I got very confused. So it was a deadend. I had to give up and take a pic in black and white with a red flower in the middle :).

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