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.

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