Low cost gray card options

Fardringle

Diamond Member
Oct 23, 2000
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I apologize for the "book". If you don't want to read the whole thing, the short version is that I'm looking for a very inexpensive but still reasonably effective gray card.



I'm not a professional photographer by any means (yet ;)), but I'd definitely like to start getting the most out of my photos. I'm using a Fuji s6000fd camera. It's not a true SLR but it has many of the same features and functions including an SLR-like lens permanently attached to the body and full manual controls of the lens, exposure white balance, shutter speed, ISO, etc.

I have a lot to do before I get to post card quality but overall I'm pretty happy with a good portion of my landscape and outdoor shots. However, my indoor shots frequently leave quite a bit to be desired. They sometimes turn out great, sometimes turn out too dark or too yellow, and other times get flooded too much by the flash, particularly when photographing people even with the flash set to the very lowest setting. The camera's built in white balance options help a little bit but not nearly enough, and a few of the settings even make the color balance worse. I'm working on balancing aperture, exposure bracketing and shutter speeds to avoid using the flash when I can get away with it and that helps somewhat with the flash issue but I'm still not happy with many of the results.

I've been studying photos and tutorials online from various professional photographers and many of them recommend using a gray card for proper white balance when shooting indoors. I can't afford any of the true professional options so I'm looking for something that will work reasonably well but won't break the bank.

A few people have said that they use an 18% gray Spudz microfiber cloth and that looks like an interesting choice for simplicity (combining cleaning cloth and gray card) but it seems to me that it would be hard to get a proper vertical reference position with a cloth without a frame or something similar to hang it on.

I have also seen a few posts that say a good color printer can make a moderately decent gray card by printing a flat fill of 116 RGB on matte paper but other people immediately said that it doesn't work since consumer printers don't produce truly accurate colors and light reflectivity.

I found a post from the University of Colorado (here) that says they make their own 18% gray cards using Walmart's Color Place #4301 Slate Gray paint. That is exactly the type of creative idea that appeals to me but Walmart won't mix paint in quantities less than a quart and unfortunately even the cost of a quart is more than I can manage to squeeze out of the budget right now.

I know that it's not going to be perfect, but considering that I'm shooting with a good but not perfect consumer level camera, I'd like to find a "really good" option that will help improve the white balance in my shots but costs less than $10 at most. Something temporary but workable for a dollar or two would be ideal. Once I get more heavily into the art of photography I'll upgrade but for now a few dollars are really the most my painfully limited budget can handle for something like this that I want but don't really need... :)
 

OdiN

Banned
Mar 1, 2000
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Can you shoot in RAW?

I just shoot in RAW, get WB close and if it needs corrected I fix it in post.

I've tried the grey cards and such but I really found no need for them - but then again I've been doing this for a while and I have a god feel for exposure in different lighting situations.

If you do use a grey card, you have to shoot a picture with the grey card and figure the settings for exposure based on that. Then you have to specify that picture you took (which most of the shot should be filled with the grey card) and set it as custom white balance. Then you can shoot. It takes quite a bit of work and I never found it worth it for me. (When you're shooting weddings, you have no time for any of this. Candid shots you just shoot and have to fix it later if the white balance is off or exposure isn't perfect. With posed shots it can be used but when moving around or changing light due to different number of people in the shot - repositioning lights, etc, you have to redo the grey card stuff.)

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/...Gray_Card_8x10_1_.html

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/...elta__Gray_Card_4.html

That's probably about the cheapest you'll find.

The other thing is you have to remember to re-do custom white balance, or to take it off and set it back to auto when moving from one thing to another - and if you don't you can actually make more work for yourself later :p
 

Fardringle

Diamond Member
Oct 23, 2000
9,188
753
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I can shoot RAW but when the white balance is so far off (as it is in many of my indoor shots) even aggressive adjustments in Photoshop don't give decent results. Of course, I could be doing it wrong.. ;)

My camera actually has a very simple way to set a custom white balance. I can select custom white balance, shoot a reference color shot, and the camera automatically makes that the default white balance setting until I tell it otherwise. I have been able to create some interesting results with this by using my brown recliner and my daughter's bright pink blankets as references so it definitely does make a difference.

I know that a gray card won't fix everything, but I mostly want it for exactly the situation that you mentioned: posed and semi-posed portrait shots of my family and friends at our gatherings and parties. I hope to get a better feel for the proper settings to use through practice, but until then I'd like to get something that will help make my photos look like I know what I'm doing. ;)


$4 for an 8x10 reference card, or $2 for the 4x6, is definitely within my desired price range. Is there a benefit to using the larger card other than being able to stand back a little farther from the card when taking the reference shot? Seeing as how I carry my camera equipment in a bag that wouldn't hold a full 8x10 card, would a crease through the middle of the card hurt its effectiveness in any way if I fold it in half to fit in my bag (my bag is 5x9) or should I just get the cheaper 4x6 card and not worry about it?

On the other side of the argument, can you point me to some good reference guides that will help give me starting points for the right ranges of settings to use in different lighting situations? For example, in a room with moderately bright incandescent lights, what settings would you start with before fine-tuning to the balance that you want? I know there's no exact right answer since every shot is different, I'm just curious if you have certain starting points that you use in different situations so that you don't have to "hunt-and-peck" until you find one you like.
 

OdiN

Banned
Mar 1, 2000
16,431
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The only difference with the smaller card is you'd have to zoom in more or get closer to get it to fill more of the frame to be usable for custom white balance. Folding the other one...don't know if that would be the best as it's probably a card stock and it would just break. A crease wouldn't hurt.

As far as reference guides to ranges of settings for different lighting situations, there really isn't much. It's just a matter of being there and seeing the light with your own eyes - you get used to it. One thing to do is take a look at your photos soon after shooting and see which ones look good and which ones don't and compare the settings and eventually you will gain a better understanding - it takes a while. Then with dSLR's like I have you get into different modes of thinking - what size aperture to use to affect the depth of field, and what shutter/iso do I need to get it and is it even possible, etc.

When I'm shooting weddings I very much rely on the built in meter in my camera to give me feedback - I'll put in a setting which should be close and then judge based on the meter and the scene from there.

I use auto white balance all the time because I just don't have time to switch back and forth between different settings when trying to capture the candids and such. You should be able to adjust white balance after the fact to any setting the camera can do when you shoot RAW - and you should be able to get a good match. Since a lot of my photos are shot in the same locations, I just fix one and copy the white balance to all the other photos.
 
Jun 14, 2003
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when indoors i usually have my white balance set to fluorescent lighting (4000K) seems to work out good for me, usually doesnt need a big tweak in photoshop. for some reason the tungsten setting which is 3200k is just too cool.

for outdoors.... auto all the way, seems to work quite well.
 

Fardringle

Diamond Member
Oct 23, 2000
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Originally posted by: otispunkmeyer
when indoors i usually have my white balance set to fluorescent lighting (4000K) seems to work out good for me, usually doesnt need a big tweak in photoshop. for some reason the tungsten setting which is 3200k is just too cool.

for outdoors.... auto all the way, seems to work quite well.
Auto white balance outdoors works just fine on my camera. Indoors it's spotty at best. Sometimes it's fine and other times it's way off. I'll give the flourescent setting a try and see how it works on this camera.


Originally posted by: OdiN
Then with dSLR's like I have you get into different modes of thinking - what size aperture to use to affect the depth of field, and what shutter/iso do I need to get it and is it even possible, etc.

When I'm shooting weddings I very much rely on the built in meter in my camera to give me feedback - I'll put in a setting which should be close and then judge based on the meter and the scene from there.
My camera has most of the same aperture, shutter, ISO and exposure settings as the dSLR cameras I have seen. I just need to learn how to use them. :)

You mentioned relying on the light meter in the camera to determine your settings. That's one thing that I haven't been able to find any useful information on yet. I know what the histogram is and I have a basic understanding of what it means, but I don't have any real idea how to use the results to determine the camera settings I should use.
 

Fardringle

Diamond Member
Oct 23, 2000
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After reading through my posts I realized that I was being too general and didn't really ask for suggestions on the specific situation where I need the most help.

Taking shots of family and friends indoors in a room with incandescent lights in two or three different ceiling mounts. If I use the flash, pictures are clear and sharp but faces are frequently flooded with light, even if I use the very lowest flash intensity setting. If I don't use the flash, some shots turn out blurred or grainy. Widening the aperture to let in more light helps a little on wide angle shots but not so much when zoomed in. (My lens has aperture settings of 2.8-8 at 28mm wide angle, but it narrows down to only 4.9-8 at 300mm telephoto.)

What settings should I experiment with when using the smaller aperture in order to improve exposure on those shots? I can slow down the shutter a bit but when I'm taking pictures of energetic children that can't hold still, I'm somewhat limited in that aspect. The kids think it's funny when I make them look like shadowy ghosts by shooting them moving around in front of an open shutter, but it doesn't make for good portrait shots. ;)

Increasing the ISO is an option but only up to about 400 (800 at most) before the camera's sensor starts to add a lot of artifacts to the picture. When I increase the ISO it does seem to make the picture brighter and sharper but the colors aren't as warm so if I should be using higher ISO for these shots, what other setting(s) will bring the colors back into balance with the improved brightness?

I know that I'm asking something that doesn't have just once answer since every situation is different. I'm just hoping you can point me to some resources that will help me figure out what settings to start with in this type of situation so that I can experiment without having to test every variation of every setting in the camera. Experimenting is fun, but making an educated guess is much better than random selection. :)