White balance can be tricky in mixed lighting conditions, but there is a tool that is designed to help sort out accurate color representation under challenging circumstances. The humble color checker, printed with a selection of colors and neutral tones, is meant to be photographed in the particular light in which you are shooting and is used during post-processing to ensure accurate colors.
Jay P Morgan of The Slanted Lens can always be counted on to show the proper and official ways to accomplish your photographic goals with a healthy dose of personality, and he’s created a video demonstrating how to use a color checker (in this case, a SpyderCHEKR) in a scenario with very mixed lighting.
Color checkers are key where color accuracy is vital or where lighting conditions make white balancing a challenge. In Jay P’s scene, there are a ton of different light sources, some colored with gels, some in modifiers which may change tones, and some are cheap non-photographic sources. In a case like this, you’ve got to choose where color accuracy matters the most. Often, this will be a primary subject’s skin tone.
To achieve accurate color on the main subject amid the chaotic light, Jay P has the model hold the color checker under the same light that is illuminating them. This is important – if you have varied light sources in a scene, you’ll want to make sure that the light hitting the color checker is the same as whatever needs to be color-correct. Jay P recommends taking another shot with the color checker every time a significant change is made to the scene. In the example, this includes moving from a close shot to full-body.
When it’s time for post-processing, your color checker shots will allow you to quickly create settings to be applied to batches of photos. You may still need to make tweaks on the individual shots, but your color should be good across the board. The process is simple; open a color checker shot, use the white balance tool in your raw processor of choice to select a neutral gray square, and look at the other squares to visually adjust. For instance, if the black square seems too bright, bring down the blacks.
Check the video below to see Jay P’s shoot and post-processing.