White Balance

Using the white balance can change your photos for the better.

The words « white balance » usually strikes fear into most amateur photographers. It sounds so terribly technical, which means it must be complicated, right? That was how I used to feel about white balance too but realised it was time get a grip because it’s actually a very simple concept very useful to know.

What is White Balance?

When we look at a white object our eyes will automatically adjust to the lighting conditions, so that the object appears perfectly white to us whether we are indoors under a tungsten bulb or out in the bright sunlight. Our eyes are excellent at making this adjustment, digital cameras are noy, and the same object will appear different depending on the colour of light in the scene (Colour Temperature). This can leave our photos with a blue (cool) or orange (warm) tint.

White balance is the process of giving our camera a helping hand, so that it can reproduce the whites in our photo as they should be. Once it gets the white right, all the other colours in the scene fall into place, and we’re left with an image that perfectly reproduces what our eyes saw.

Using White Balance Presets

Camera manufacturers know that their Automatic White Balance (AWB) setting doesn’t always get it right, so they also include several white balance presets for us to choose from : Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tunsten, Fluorescent, Flash etc etc –
you simply choose the appropriate setting for your shooting conditions and the camera will do the hard work of making white objects appear white.

Custom White Balance

For situations where the white balance presets won’t do, most cameras also come with a Custom White Balance setting.
In this mode you begin by taking a photo of a white object (a sheet of white paper or a professional white balance card) under the lighting conditions of your scene. Then you just tell your camera to use that image as its white balance reference, and then all photos taken under those conditions will come out correctly balanced.

Deliberately Using the Wrong White Balance

Most of the time you’ll want the colours of your scene to be rendered as accurately as possible, but sometimes you will get a more impressive image by artificially warming up or cooling down your scene. Using the wrong white balance can produce some amazing colours. Sunsets are a good example – your camera’s Auto White Balance will often « correct » the rich, warm colours of the scene, leaving you with a photo which is cold and uninspiring. To artificially warm up a sunset, you can select one of the « cooler » white balance presets, such as Cloudy or Shade. This will enhance the warm reds and oranges in the photo and subdue the cold blues and greens, leaving you with a much more pleasing image.

inspired by PhotographyMad