By April 24, 2013 5 Comments

Custom White Balance Failed Me or Did It?

Watch the video and read below to learn about a color temperature problem I had at a roller derby event that I recently photographed at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Canada.

Let me set the stage

  • Camera: Lumix GH3 with 12-35mm f2.8 lens
  • I took an in-camera custom WB using a shutter speed of 1/60s (i.e. slow)
  • I shot in Manual Video mode for the video clips using shutter speeds of 1/60s to 1/200s
  • I shot in Shutter Priority mode for the stills and used various shutter speeds up to 1/800s
  • I used various ISO settings and took a lot of shots at ISO 12,800
  • I shot jpgs and raw files (but the jpgs were clearly superior, so I never used the raw files)
  • The files were to be used for hybrid eProducts
  • I wanted color consistency across the board, so I didn’t use any of the built in artistic modes for this shoot

photo showing magenta color cast in bleachers

 photo showing color cast in bleachers

The problem: Photos taken at fast shutter speeds in burst mode, had a color shift from one photo to the next.

I sent some of the files in question to my colleagues at DiscoverMirrorless. This is what Will Crockett wrote back:

“The vapor lights in the ceiling are a non-continuous light source.  They cycle at 60hz or sometimes 120hz and change in intensity – and in color value as you mentioned.”  

shadows change between photos

shadows change between photos

Gary Poole had a close look too. He looked for clues in the shadows. Gary said:

“The only way I know that shadows move is if the lights source is also moving or changing.”

But that needed to be verified

I spoke with a photographer named Barry Giles, who shoots in the Calgary Olympic Oval on a regular basis. When I told him my problem and asked him about the color temp of the lights, he just laughed out loud.

“Yup, we’ve got four kinds of lighting in there: Tungsten, fluorescent, halogen and mercury vapor, all of them pulsating at different frequencies. There’s even a bit of daylight sneaking in at the very top of the bleachers near the ceiling.”

How’s that for a nice mess of color?

He went on to say that he loves it when the TV People come in to televise a World Cup speed skating event, because they bring all their own lights and turn off all the rest of the lights in there. So it’s more like an NHL hockey rink when that happens.

So with my rapid fire shooting, at fast shutter speed, I was catching different light sources at different frequencies and times.

photo showing color cast in ref's shirt

photo showing color cast in ref's shirt

So much for Custom WB

Because I did my Custom WB capture at 1/60s, I was probably balanced for the mix itself which was fine if I would have shot at 1/60 second for the whole event, but that’s not a good way to freeze the action.

And this color shift didn’t show up in the video clips as I was shooting anywhere between 1/60 and 1/200 second, so more time to grab all of the colors which is what I measured for in the first place. Plus in the video clips things are moving and you don’t notice it as much because you’re watching the action.

Can this problem be solved?

  • If you shoot events when the TV People are there, you’re probably going to be fine.
  • Do your in-camera custom WB at a slow shutter speed to get the mixed lighting accounted for. It won’t be perfect.
  • When you are shooting at slower shutter speeds the light will mix better and you’ll probably have less problems. It won’t be perfect.
  • Try fill flash – I did a few of those with good results in close-ups, but it’s not so good for the overall shots
  • If you are shooting for a client in a place like this, then you should count on some color shift problems, unless you bring lights and light everything.
  • Might be a good time to make friends with the TV People.

Final answer: It depends.

p.s. Have a look at my final hybrid eProduct from the event here. It was created with ProShow Web.

About the Author:

With over 20 years as a pro shooting editorial, sports, corporate and industrial photography, Marlene Hielema has become comfortable with the craft of digital output. As a photo and video tinkerer and troubleshooter, Marlene enjoys relaying the practical uses of photo and video hardware and software that you might not find on the manufacturer's or software publisher's websites. Thousands have seen her work on YouTube and her popular site where Marlene teaches photography and photo editing online, in the classroom, and one-to-one. Find out more about what Marlene can help you with here on discovermirrorless, as well as and

5 Comments on "Custom White Balance Failed Me or Did It?"

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  1. rheinsman says:

    I ran into this very same problem a couple weeks ago as I was taking some pictures in a gym. I set a custom WB but I noticed a severe color shift as I changed the shutter speed between shots. Thanks for a great explanation to a situation that had been confusing me for a while.

  2. joelturl says:

    Hi, Marlene,

    I am interested to see the issues you ran into with the roller derby. I have encountered similar outcomes when I shoot Division I NCAA basketball at the local college. I never know what results I will get for white balance, because of this “flickering” or alternating color. Over the years, the folks who shoot there have settled upon a Kelvin value of 3450 for our Nikon DSLRs, which yields good results at least 60 per cent of the time. I agree with Ken Rockwell’s assessment of the situation, and I count upon the need to do some post processing in a certain number of shots. What we find as we shoot basketball at close quarters, is that some times our subjects will have a gray pallor, akin to that of dying Caucasians, whatever may be their ethnic background. It is impossible to avoid, although I have found this year as I have switched to m4/3, that the Oly E-M5 color bias tends to minimize the issue. In short, we have learned to live with it, since we cannot replace the lighting in the venue.

    Joel Turrell

  3. Yes, it’s frustrating Joel. I totally get the “gray pallor” look. Not very flattering. I wish there was a good solution. Perhaps this is one rare time when I should have tried Auto White Balance. Next time I will! Thanks for your comments. :)

  4. Yes, I have to say I was pretty surprised by the big color difference I had in my photos too. As I said to Joel I think next time I’ll try AWB – which is something I don’t ever do.

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