Fireworks and white balance

Published April 25th, 2011. Filed in: Fireworks Photography Guides

White balance is a setting on your camera that affects how your photographs are processed to compensate for different coloured lighting. Although you might not realise it – because our brains are so good at automatically adjusting – sunlight is a different colour to light through clouds, which in turn is a different colour to tungsten or fluorescent lighting indoors. Your camera will usually take a best guess when in automatic mode to try and ensure any parts of the image it thinks should be neutral (white or grey) remain as such and do not end up with a coloured tint. It doesn’t always get things right and it is even harder with fireworks because most of the frame is black sky leaving the camera little to go on.

In the same way that different light sources appear tinted differently under the various white balance settings, so do fireworks. A gold firework can appear silver in certain white balance modes, green can appear blue and so on. Beginners generally don’t need to worry, especially if you only shoot a display occasionally. But if you’re getting more serious with fireworks photography there will come a point when you want better control over how your colours come out. In particular you will want consistency; there is nothing more annoying than a long sequence of the same colours each coming out wildly different because the auto mode did things differently with each shot.

But what setting to use? Outdoor? Tungsten? What effect do these have on the different firework colours and is one mode better than the rest? It’s off to the UKFR testing area to do some tests with a handy long burning firework that’s easy to shoot: Sparklers.

White balance is applied to your final JPEG image when it is saved to your camera card along with the other various image settings such as sharpness, saturation, resolution and quality. If you are shooting in RAW mode then you’re at a more advanced level than this article is aimed at. Specifically, you’ll usually apply a white balance setting or colour correction in post production. We’ll cover the shooting of fireworks in RAW mode in a future article. For now, the information here is aimed at those shooting in standard JPEG mode.

 

White balance and fireworks: The results

Each shot has exactly the same shutter speed, aperture, focus and ISO; only the white balance setting has been changed between each one. They were taken on a Canon EOS500D with a Canon 50mm lens. No post-processing has been done except for cropping, resizing and then sharpening. The white balance setting is shown on the left and the setting name and temperature is listed as shown on the camera. Here are the results:

 

White balance effect on sparklers

 

I was quite surprised by these results in particular how different the colours are rendered at the two extremes. These images definitely confirm that the white balance setting can have a drastic effect on your photos. Also, the potential for the auto mode to produce odd results because the camera might pick any of the above settings.

 

Conclusion

So, which setting to use? This will be down to personal preference and which row of results are the most pleasing to your eye. For me, I’m drawn to the results of the gold sparkler to help decide. The top setting is clearly too silver and the bottom a bit too saturated for me, so I would pick the daylight one. Although daylight doesn’t render red and green quite as accurately as the fluorescent setting above it, there is still enough hint of these colours, whereas moving down to cloudy and they get a little too yellow.

Blue is missing from this test because the sparklers I had (with thanks to Firework Emporium who I scrounged them off!) were red and green only. However I can confirm I’ve taken hundreds of firework display photos with the daylight setting and blues and purples come out lovely.

Do let me know if you’ve had any experiences with white balance or any settings you want to share – Pyro Pete, Editor.

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