That Pesky Red Light

Hey Hats and Cats, if you have ever taken a picture of a live band either for jazz or rock concerts, you would have most likely encountered red lighting draping the band members. While it looks great on stage, it wrecks pure havoc one your DSLR. The problem is that since your DSLR captures colors in the three primary colors of green, blue, and red, having a primary stage light that is of red hue totally washes out the other two colors. It just does not flat out look realistic, though it does give your subjects a humorous glow of a character that is of “chaotic good/bad” alignment.

Sometimes, there is only so much you can do in post-production for the image and no matter how much you fiddle around with colour sliders in post-production, you are just not going to get that realistic skin colour (see main image). There are some things you can do both in your camera and in post production however to at least fight the big red. Post-processing is a bit of own personal tastes and preference but there are things you can do in your camera that will help and save you a ton of time when you bring your images to lightroom/photoshop after shooting a pesky red light scene:

Shoot in Raw – I find that my default mode is to always shoot in raw. There are two main reason why you would want to only shoot in raw. The first one is so that you can actually have more control in lightroom or photoshop to change the exposure/color balance/contrast/etc without decreasing the quality too much. The other reason is so that you can control the compression level for the final image. In photoshop, you can actually set the percentage quality for jpg compression (I set mine about 85-90% which reduces the file size without sacrificing quality). Obviously the disadvantage of shooting in raw is that you won’t be able to rapid fire shoot from the hip all night long due to storage space and you’ll have that one extra step in post to export the image for the web but it’s definitely worth it.

Try it out next time you shoot a band or concert – shoot a few pictures in raw and shoot in jpg and see what you can do afterwards in terms of adjustment of colors, etc.

Manual White Balance (kelvin) – In most DSLR, you can adjust the degrees kelvin to tell your camera how to view the RGB intensities. Most people, myself included for the longest time, usually just left this in ‘auto’ mode. One problem of having this in auto-mode is that sometimes what your camera renders automatically isn’t an accurate representation of the scene (ie. in most instances, it tries to compensate for the over-abundance of red light). The other problem is that sometimes your camera “adjusts” slightly the white balance while your shooting. So maybe the first three pictures you take will have a different color temperature than your last seven. This sucks up a lot of time in post because you have to manually adjust the color balance on various pictures rather than setting a color profile to copy-paste for the entire set.

Each camera has different button combinations on how to activate manual white balance but once you get that going, all you have to do is look on your live view display (the LCD screen on your camera hehe) and adjust accordingly until it suits your taste.

Underexpose – What I’ve started to do most recently that I found works fairly well is to underexpose the scene by half or full stop so the image rendered on your camera looks a bit dark. While this might seem counter-intuitive, I find that more of the color data actually gets saved than trying to expose the picture “correctly”. Again, this is mostly the benefit of adjusting your images in post as opposed to simply taking the picture from your camera and uploading directly to Facebook.

Use a Flash – introducing your own light works like magic sometimes, but other times it makes the scene look kind of flat (depending on your flash positioning) and the band might not really appreciate it. While having a multiple strobe set-up would be ideal, chances are you’ll just have your one on-camera flash set to bounce either at the ceiling or with a bounce-card. I have actually used my flash less and less for dances and live band shooting because it’s just a bit too distracting. My preference is to blend more in the scene rather than make everyone aware that there’s a photographer around, however, you cannot argue with the results of using a flash to even out the lighting situation.

Use a White Card – with a white or grey card, you can set the white balance to read the light reflecting from the card and make it your de-facto neutral standard. Here is a cut-paste instruction for nikon that I thought was the best explanation on the net on how to achieve this on your camera. It’s for Nikon but should roughly be the same for Canon as well:

“Basically hold down the WB button and rotate the command dial to the Pre setting. Then release and hold down the WB button again until Pre starts flashing. At this point take a picture of the card under the lighting conditions you want for WB correction. If you are succesful, you should see the display flash “Good”. If you have failed to get enough exposure for the WB to be measured you will see a “no Gd” flash in the display. This will store the WB setting into WB slot d-0. The d-0 slot will always store the last custom-measured WB setting.

The camera has four additional memory slots for saving WB. They are d-1 through d-4. You can copy the d-0 setting to any of them. Also, you can copy the WB off an existing picture that you’ve taken to any of those slots (d-1 through d-4). To do this, see pg. 136 of the English instructions manual.?”

Here are a two handy links as well:

Anyhoo, that’s it for in-camera stuff. A bit of a heads-up note however, I’m still working on my photo-skillzz myself so if you are a pro and have some feedback/corrections, feel free to send em on over.

Later days,

– Randy

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