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Grey Cards - What are they? How do I use one? Do I really need it?

A grey card, as its name suggests, is a card that is 18% grey in colour. It is used to help you get your whites to look white. Different kind of lights can make your white look more blue or yellow – basically not look as white as they could be or are. If you look at a white shirt in daylight then compare it to how it looks under fluorescent lights you will notice the shirt looks a different colour.

The camera can’t distinguish what white is the correct white and this is where the grey card comes in.

The grey card is a tool to help your camera identify a mid tone. A grey card will help you set you exposure and white balance no matter what the lighting conditions might be.

Ok so I have a grey card now how do I use it?

  1. Get set up to take your photo.

  2. Before taking the photo place your grey card in front of your subject.

  3. De-focus your camera slightly and take a photo.

  4. Remove the grey card and take your photos as normal.

  5. NB: Each time you change your lighting situation you MUST repeat these steps above – the photo with the grey card in it is going to help tell the camera what the exposure should be for that setup. If you change the light you need to take a grey card shot for that new set up.

  6. Once you have finished your shoot import all images into your post production software such as Photoshop or Lightroom.

  7. Open your shot with the grey card in it and use this to “set” your white balance. Each software is slightly difference but look for an eyedropper in the white balance tool.

  8. Copy this setting to the remaining photos in this set or until your next “grey card” shot.

What if I don’t have any post production software?

You can set the white balance in your camera with no need for any post production software. It may be beneficial to have your camera manual with you for this too.

  1. Get set up to take your photo.

  2. Before taking the photo place your grey card in front of your subject and take a photo.

  3. Adjust the settings on your camera to ensure you have the best exposure for your shot – take a photo to test it out.

  4. Once the exposure is looking accurate set you white balance within your camera by looking for “custom” setting.

  5. You will need to play around with this option and take a lot more photos until you become familiar with it.

More information about White Balance can be found on card 19 and 20 of the Sweet As Photos - Photography Quick reference Cards.

Get your own set of grey cards here www.sweetasphotos/products