How To Use White Balance

April 7, 2011 · 3 comments

in Tips & Tricks

Many of you of have probably seen the white balance feature on your camera, but either don’t use it, or unsure what exactly it does. Understanding the function of white balance can dramatically improve your photographs and also make post-processing much easier and quicker. It may sound technical, but it’s really an easy concept

Here’s a no fuss and simple overview of what white balance is and how you can start benefiting from it.

What is white balance?

Different lighting conditions often caste a different hue of color onto objects.  We often wouldn’t notice this hue as our eyes automatically adjust to the surrounding. However, our cameras don’t have this advanced capability and that is why sometimes the color white doesn’t appear to be exactly white in photos. Under tungsten light, photos have a yellow hue (warm), while fluorescent lighting adds a blue hue (cool).

Having the wrong white balance can make a photo look ghastly. Ever tried taking a photo of steak under fluorescent lighting? It’s not a good look.

Photo by ►CubaGallery

Adjusting white balance

Adjusting the white balance means trying to achieve a neutral hue that doesn’t distort the image colors. There are various ways you can do this in post-processing, but to save you the hassle, your camera can actually correct the color if you select the right preset white balance settings.
In every digital camera, the default is always on auto white balance (AWB). This works fine in most situations, but then it doesn’t always get it right. There are different settings to choose from such as Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent and Flash.

So for warmer light (daylight and tungsten), your camera will try to cool the picture tell. Whereas in cooler light (cloudy, shade and fluorescent), your camera will warm up the image.

Photo by Per Foreby

Custom white balance

When auto and preset settings all fail, most camera come with a custom white balance mode. Usually in this mode, you begin by taking a photo of a white object, like a piece of white paper or a professional white balance card. Your camera will then use that as a reference to adjust the white balance under that certain condition.

Photo by @kevinv033

When to use the wrong white balance

Sometimes, you might want to purposely off set the white balance to give the photo a drastic look by deliberately warming up or cooling down the photo hue. For example, if you wanted to enhance the red and oranges in a sunset, you can select a cooler white balance present such as Fluorescent or Cloudy to warm the image up further.

Photo by Merri Harrison-Quarles

Article by

1 part ad agency. 2 parts freelancer. An avid urban photographer, traveler, and streetwear lover. Geeky curator of all things awesome. Sustains on Vegemite, meat pies and lamingtons. Follow me on Twitter or Flickr.

Yi has written 69 awesome articles for us at Photoble

  • http://photostry.com/ Kristi Hines

    Great info… I’ve never used it on my camera, but I play around with it in PhotoMatix and Lightroom.

  • http://www.twitter.com/yiiee Yi

    Thanks Kristi! I agree that LR has definitely made correcting white balance on bulk images much easier.

  • YAAM

    Thanks for info. I still have to get around this on my D3100

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