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How To Photograph A Fountain Pen: Color (Part 2)

John Bosley How To Leave a Comment

If you enjoy using fountain pens, there’s a chance you also enjoy photographing and sharing photos of them. In this series of articles, I want to share some tips on how to photograph a fountain pen so that you can get the best images possible, regardless of what type of camera you use.

In this article, I’m going to focus on light, but more specifically, the color of light. You may have noticed that sometimes the colors in your photo do not match the colors you see with your eyes. Why does this happen? Can you fix it? Is there any way to prevent it from happening? These are all questions I want to answer in this article.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider reading Part 1 of this series.

A note about the following images… clicking on the images will give you a version that is better quality. This should make it easier to see the difference between similar images.

Light and Color Temperature

Before I can explain why you see these color differences in your photos, I need to give you a bit of info about light. All light has a color (or color temperature). Some light is more orange (or warm) and some light is more blue (or cool). Another aspect of the color of light is the tint. Some light sources are more magenta while others may be more green.

fountain pen photography white balance

Different white balance with the same pens and background – The color looks normal in this image

fountain pen photography white balance

Different white balance with the same pens and background – Notice how blue everything looks

fountain pen photography white balance

Different white balance with the same pens and background – Notice how yellow everything looks

For example, normal daylight is normally considered “white” light. The light during sunrise or sunset is very orange and is considered warm light, while shade and the light just before sunrise and just after sunset are more blue and are considered cool light. The same concepts apply to artificial light sources like light bulbs. Fluorescent lights are usually cool and have a green tint. Incandescent lighting is warm and has a red tint.

To correct for all of these different colors of light, cameras have something called white balance. The purpose of white balance is to compensate for any colored light, making the colors in your photo look normal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. Try this: grab a piece of white paper and put a pen on it. Now grab your phone and take a picture of only the pen and paper (don’t include the surface the paper is sitting on). How does it look? Most of the time, the colors aren’t going to look right and your photo will look something like this:

fountain pen photography white balance

In this image, the white pen looks a little too yellow.

What happened? While the scene might have looked just fine to your eye, your camera sees things differently. Your brain can compensate for different color temperatures and we generally see the world free of these added colors. Unfortunately, cameras aren’t as advanced as our brains and can be tricked. Many times they overcompensate when there is a lot of one color in a scene and the final image doesn’t look right.

Now try placing the same exact pen on a surface that’s a different color and take a photo. If possible, keep it in the same light as the previous photo so that the only thing that has changed is the background. Does the image look any different? Does the color of the pen look different? You can try this experiment with different colored backgrounds and different light sources (sunlight, shade, LED, fluorescent) and probably get a different result for each image.

fountain pen photography white balance

In this image, the colors look more accurate, even though it is in the same exact light as the previous photo. Notice how much more white the bottom pen looks.

These differences are all due to a changing white balance. As you can see, even if the light in the scene doesn’t change, the colors in the scene itself can affect the white balance of an image. Regardless of whether you use your phone or a dedicated camera to photograph your pens, using an automatic (or auto) white balance will lead to inconsistent colors in your photos. For most phones, auto white balance is the only option available. Does this mean you’re stuck with strangely colored images? Fortunately, you are not, but fixing them will involve a bit of work.

Color Correcting Images

All phones should have the option to edit images. Whether you use the native camera app or one made specifically for photo editing, you can do basic color correction to your images. Most of the time this option will be called something like “Color”. I highly encourage you to experiment with your phone and figure out how to adjust the color of your images. You should be able to make them look more blue or more orange, but all you are doing is changing the white balance of your photo! If your image looks too blue, add orange until it looks right. If it looks too orange, add blue until it looks good. Don’t worry about getting it exactly right… if it looks good to you, it’s going to look good to most other people as well. If you decide to use a dedicated photo editing app, it will be more complex than the native camera or photo app, but will also be more powerful and offer more color correcting options.

fountain pen white balance

This screenshot shows how yellow the image looks before correcting the bad white balance.

fountain pen white balance iphone camera app

In my iPhone I’m using the native camera app to correct the color of this image (specifically the “Cast” option)

fountain pen white balance corrected

While it’s not perfect, you can see that by adjusting the “Cast” for this image, the colors look much better than when I started.

fountain pen white balance corrected

By using a dedicated photo editing app, in this case Adobe Lightroom Mobile, I’m able to get a much more natural looking image.

If you use a camera instead of your phone, you probably already have software on your computer that you use to edit photos. All software should have the ability to change white balance, so if you’ve never tried to adjust it before, I highly recommend playing with it a bit and learning how easy it is to do!

fountain pen photography sailor pro gear bad white balance

This image was taken with a DSLR on a white window sill in the shade. You can see how blue it looks.

fountain pen photography sailor pro gear

Using Adobe Lightroom on my computer, I was able to adjust the white balance (I added more orange and red) and make the light and color look much more natural.

Mixed Light Sources

As if dealing with the inconsistencies of auto white balance isn’t enough to worry about, there is a situation that you should try to avoid at all costs. That situation is mixing light sources, which will likely result in your final image having competing colors of light. For example, if you have a lamp with an incandescent light bulb turned on next to a shady window (a source of sunlight) and your photo has both types of light in it, the part of your image near the lamp will appear yellow/orange while the part near the window will be appear more blue. This is something that is very difficult, if not impossible, to correct once the photo has been taken.

fountain pen photography white balance

In this image you can see the top half of the image is more orange, while the bottom half of the image is more blue. This is due to mixed color temperatures of light.

The one thing that you can do to correct for this is to prevent it from happening in the first place. If you’re using window light, turn off any lights in your room that might interfere with your scene. If you’re using a light in your house, stay away from window light. Different interior light sources will also have different colors. Incandescent, LED and fluorescent bulbs all have different color temperatures, so stick to one type if at all possible. Don’t forget, you can’t necessarily trust your eyes to see the difference in color temperatures, so when in doubt, stick with one type of light source only.

Conclusion

When you’re photographing your fountain pens, it can help to pay attention to the type of light that you’re using to illuminate them. By avoiding mixed light sources, you can keep the colors in your photos consistent. Even if you do use light sources with the same color temperature, there is still a chance your camera’s auto white balance will over-compensate and make the colors in your image look wrong. If this happens, you should be able to correct the colors with a photo editing app on your phone or program on your computer. By observing which conditions give you images that you’re not happy with, you can start to avoid them and get better, more consistent looking photos.

Hi, my name is John. I’m a Colorado-born professional photographer who recently moved back to Denver after spending 3 years in San Francisco. I’ve been using and collecting fountain pens for over 20 years. I got my first one in college when I got bored taking notes with ballpoints and pencils. Since then I’ve bought and sold hundreds of pens, but have consistency in my love of Esterbrooks.

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