Friday, April 08, 2011

Perfect White Balance and Exposure with the Spyder 3 Cube.

Sypder 3 Cube

I have always relied on manual white balance whenever I wanted to get the perfect white balance under difficult lighting conditions. I explained about manual white balance here.

Also, when it comes to getting the correct exposure (where white comes out as white), a 18% grey card is the photographers choice tool for getting that perfect exposure. I explained about the 18% grey card here.

A reader of the blog made a very interesting comment on the 18% grey card post - He proposed that a better solution would be to use a card that includes White, Black and neutral Grey which a RAW converter could then use to sample all three colors and make a more accurate exposure.

I did not pay much attention to the above comment since I was quite comfortable with the Grey card solution. That is..until I came across the Spyder 3 Cube. I was actually looking for a color calibration tool on Amazon. When I selected the Spyder 3 Express (which I reviewed here), Amazon suggested that I might be interested in the Sypder Cube. After reading what it does, I thought my photography might benefit so I decided to add it to the cart.

I don't know what I was expecting. Perhaps a fancy electronic gizmo? Certainly it was more than the 1.5 inch plastic box that I received with a small steel ball on top. I paid $40 bucks for this?

Anyway, if this tiny plastic box could solve both my White balance AND Exposure problems, I wouldn't mind having spent the money. I decided to give my new toy a trial.

The basic idea of the Spyder 3 cube is very simple:
1. Place the cube in the frame where you will take the picture (you can place it on a flat surface or it can be placed on a tripod as it has a tripod thread at the bottom. You can also hand it anywhere using the supplied loop)
2. Take the RAW picture making sure that the cube is in focus.
3. Remove the cube and continue shooting in RAW.
4. If the lighting conditions change, repeat the above steps.

I decided to test it with my daughters Barbie doll.
Original image straight from the camera.
Using the RAW processing software, you will first load the image that contains the cube

In my example, it is evident that the white balance is off. The white does not look white. Correcting the white balance is as simple as clicking on the neutral Grey color. And Voila!

Correct White Balance.
Since all the 3 colors are available in the image, exposure can be easily corrected by watching the histogram as you adjust both the highlights and the shadows. The cube has a black trap in the front (a small circle that is absolute black).

White Balance & Exposure corrected.
Once you are happy with the settings, you apply them to all the other pictures that were shot under the same lighting conditions (without the cube in the picture, of course).

Final image with correct white balance & exposure.
So there you have it. 40 dollars for a tiny piece of plastic. Is it worth it? If you are a serious photographer, then the answer is yes. Since it solves 2 problems at one time. i.e. Solves the White balance problem and the Exposure problem.

NOTE: The Sypder 3 cube is suitable when you are shooting static subjects under similar lighting conditions. It is not suitable for dynamic situations where the subject is constantly moving or the lighting conditions are changing rapidly.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Importance of Calibrating your Monitor.

LG Flatron 24" Display Monitor.
I recently purchased a 24 inch display, the LG Flatron W248GL. The first thing I noticed is that the colors seemed a little off. I tried tweaking the settings in the menu, but just couldn't get the right feel. 

Since I plan to use the monitor for photo-editing, I was worried about color distortion. For example, I might edit the image thinking it is one color, but another person seeing the same image on another monitor might see it as a slightly different color. 

Traditionally, graphic editors and professional photographers ensure that they are always working on a calibrated display. In other words, when you see the color red on the screen, it is actually red - and not a whim of the display adjustment. Question is: How do you ensure you are working on a correctly calibrated display?

There are many color calibration tools that cost anything from a hundred dollars to several hundred dollars. A professional may use something like the Sypder 3 Studio system that costs around $500. I wanted something affordable, yet provides a high degree of color accuracy. After looking around, I chose the budget Spyder 3 Express. ($70 on Amazon).

The Spyder 3 Express is a very simple and easy-to-use color calibration tool. It is designed to calibrate only the display (the studio version allows you to calibrate your printer too). 

To calibrate your monitor:
a. Install the software that comes with the device.
b. Connect the color sensor and place it in front of the monitor.
c. Click a few buttons and wait while the device measures the color output from your monitor and then automatically creates a proper calibrated profile.

Spyder 3 Color Calibration in progress.
It takes a few minutes for the entire calibration process to complete. The program shows you the "before" and "after" pictures. Click "Finish" and the monitor automatically switches to calibrated mode.

Here's my "Before" and "After" images.

Uncalibrated Display.

Calibrated Display.
My uncalibrated display was clearly on the reddish side. You can clearly see that in the 3rd picture of the woman. Editing on this uncalibrated monitor might have given completely unnatural results in skin tones. 

So if you are a photographer, make sure you calibrate your monitor. That way, what you see is what others will see.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Explore Maharashtra : Mahabaleshwar

Up in the Clouds: Mahabaleshwar.
It was my sons idea that we travel to Mahabaleshwar for a few days. Since we had a few days in Pune, before our return back to Kuwait, we decided to check out the place since we've never been there.

We hired a car that would take us to Mahabaleshwar, and then drive us around during our stay there. This way, we wouldn't have to worry about transport.

We started early morning at around 7 a.m. The drive is around 5 hours long - most of it in the winding and dangerous looking Sayadri mountains. We had booked a hotel online so we drove straight to the hotel.

The first thing we noticed in Mahabaleshwar is Strawberries. Lots and lots of Strawberries. You find them everywhere. Perhaps it was the season in January. The first thing we did was stop by the roadside and pick up a big box of fresh strawberries. They were the best strawberries I have ever tasted; and my daughter agreed as she gobbled them up. All the restaurants serve "Strawberry Cream" as dessert. We overloaded on it during our stay there.