White Balance

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Very few camera users ever consider White Balance or WB. This is, however, a mistake. Setting the correct white balance in photography will give you the same colors that you see when you take a photograph. This occurs more with indoor and night photography where the image is more influenced by the external lighting sources. Consider a photograph on the street at night, the lighting will determine the color cast of the image. To counteract that and get a true color cast you will need to adjust the WB to the surroundings. The same holds true with indoor photography if you are not using your own lighting source.

The White Balance is something that many people don’t understand so they simply avoid the issue. I am going to hopefully make this a simple, easy to use, tutorial that will get you on the road to better pictures. To do this I am going to simplify WB to its very basics for you.

White Balance is the process of getting your images to the truest color possible.

Why is this so important? You may have experienced photos that had a blue, yellow or orange cast and not know why. The answer is simple, Incorrect WB Settings even though your intention and memory of the color were somewhat different. All lighting adds a color effect to your image. If you want a blue cast you add a Fluorescent White Balance and your image will show that color. For a warmer light use Tungsten and you will get a more yellow color to your image.

White Balance

We don’t normally notice this when looking at an image since our eyes adjust to the color automatically but the image will definitely show you the true colors based on your WB settings. This is one thing that a DSLR cannot adjust for itself. To get a true color you will have to choose the correct WB or have a headache in the Post Edit that you may not be able to fix.

WB Adjustments

Each camera is different on how they adjust these settings and you will have to refer to your camera’s user manual to see how to adjust yours. Many cameras do have a wide range of preset WB settings that can help you out for on the go photos.

This is a list below of some of the most common presets in DSLR cameras today.

Auto – Using this is telling the camera to do its best effort to make the adjustment for you. Not always the best option so we’ll look further.
Tungsten – Usually looks like a light bulb and is best used indoors or at night on the street. It will generally cool down the harsh yellow from incandescent lighting.
Fluorescent – Opposite of Tungsten this will warm your photos if they are too blue in color.
Day/Sun – This will give you the same as auto in most cases
Cloudy – This will warm your photos to adjust for the cooler conditions.
Flash – Camera flash is very cool light so this will compensate and warm your images.
Shade – Much like Flash but less strong

Using the different settings based on the color of the image will allow you to adjust up or down in the scale to adjust to the external light. You can also make these adjustments on your own manually. Carry a white card in your camera case. Take your first photo in a lighting using the auto control then hold the card in front of your lens to let it adjust to the correct WB then take a second shot of the same image and you will be amazed at the difference in the two images.

Hopefully, this has explained White Balance and will give you better results in the field. As always add comments or contact me if you have questions.

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Comments

  1. I am a semi retired professional studio photographer of 50 years experience, and knowing the “color temperature” of studio AND existing/outdoor lighting let me choose the correct color film type or necessary CC (color correction) Filters. When I began digital photography, when cameras were a whopping 2-megapixels, yes really, the only transition was to treat all digital light reading/exposures as if using slide-transparency film. Expose for the highlights. I have never found it necessary to shoot in “raw mode” and fix later, I simply got it right the first time.
    Understanding WB as “color temperature” is a must.
    Understanding proper “exposure”, particularly with a hand held meter, is also a MUST for really great images, that people will pay for.
    Try Googling the explanation of ” color temperature”, as a self assignment.
    Good luck.. Old Pro McD.

  2. Please explain your statement that a DSLR cannot adjust white balance for itself. My Nikon D90 doesn’t seem to have a problem. I shoot in raw exclusively and rarely need to change the setting that the camera chooses.

    1. As you photography is different for everyone Chris. We have far better results when we set the WB manually, especially in night shots. The camera can adjust its Wb but cannot distinguish for example the difference in Neon, Tungsten and Incandescent lighting which can make a great difference in the hue you get on the street at night.

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