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If you’re a beginner photographer that’s looking for ways to take more control over how your images look, this article is for you.
White balance is a camera setting that, for most beginners, is determined by the camera.
In many cases, the auto white balance setting does a decent job of getting accurate colors in images, but it’s not foolproof.
In fact, your camera doesn’t even come close to having the same accuracy as your own two eyes when it comes to determining what colors should look like.
It’s time to take more control over your photos and learn exactly what white balance is.
What is White Balance?
To answer this question, it must be addressed in two parts…
First, all light has color. Some light, like that when the sun is setting, is warm and golden. Other light, like that on a sunny day a noon, is cool and blue.
Artificial lighting also has color. Incandescent lights give off a yellow hue. Conversely, the light emitted by your camera’s flash is cool with a bluish tone.
Our eyes seamlessly adapt to the varying colors of light. It’s a process that we don’t even realize is happening because it happens so fast.
In looking at the example above, you can immediately determine that the image has a “warm” tone to it.
Unfortunately, our cameras cannot replicate that feat. Sometimes they need us to tell them what kind of lighting is present.
That brings us to the second part of the answer to our question…
White balance is the process by which you balance the temperature of the colors in the images you take.
In other words, white balance corrects color casts that result from certain lighting situations.
In adjusting white balance, the goal is to have the color temperature such that white appears as neutral white. Note in the image above that the woman’s dress is a bright white.
That’s because the color is balanced. If it wasn’t balanced, the dress might appear to have a color cast to it – blue or orange, for example.
How to Adjust White Balance
There are essentially two ways of adjusting the white balance in your images – in-camera and in post-processing.
In-Camera White Balance: Using Presets
Because each camera is a little bit different from the next, to figure out how to adjust the white balance on your camera, you’ll need to consult your camera’s owner’s manual.
Having said that, virtually all modern digital cameras have several white balance modes that you can use to correct for color irregularities:
- Auto White Balance (AWB) – AWB puts the camera in complete control of white balance. “Control” is a strong word, however, because it’s really just the camera’s best guess as to what the colors should look like. As lighting situations get more difficult, AWB becomes less reliable.
- Daylight/Sunny – Many cameras have a daylight or sunny preset that has a very subtle warming effect. If you find that the color of your images is ever so slightly on the blue side, try this setting.
- Cloudy – The cloudy white balance setting warms up images to compensate for the bluish tones that result from cloudy conditions. It is a stronger warming effect than the daylight/sunny setting.
- Shade – Lighting under shady conditions is even bluer than that under cloud cover. As a result, this setting adds more warmth to your photos than the cloudy preset.
- Flash – Because light from a flash tends to be on the cool or bluish side, the flash white balance setting warms up the light in your photos.
- Fluorescent – When shooting under cool fluorescent lighting, use this setting to warm up your shots.
- Tungsten – Tungsten light (incandescent light) is quite warm, so this setting counteracts that by cooling down the colors.As noted above, accessing and changing the white balance to whichever of the above listed presets you want will depend on the type of camera you have.Nonetheless, once you determine how to access the appropriate controls or menu functions, it’s a simple matter of selecting the desired preset and letting the camera do its work. See how to use these presets in the video above by Professional Photography Tips.
In-Camera White Balance: Manual Adjustments
The presets outlined above do a good job of rendering accurate colors for the most part.
However, many cameras also give you the option of manually setting the white balance.
Though this is a more involved approach, it can also be much more accurate because you give the camera specific instructions regarding what white looks like.
That way, you avoid color casts because the camera has a reference point from which it can determine how all other colors look.
Though it might sound tricky, manually adjusting white balance involves a few simple steps:
- Using a gray card, place it in the same light under which you will be shooting your photo. For example, if you’re taking a portrait, use the same lighting setup as you would use for the actual portrait when setting the white balance.
- Fill the frame with the 18 percent gray card. Check your camera’s histogram to ensure that the largest area of pixels is in the middle of the graph. If you aren’t sure how to do this, consult this in-depth guide on histograms.
- Use your camera’s menu to find “preset manual” on a Nikon or “custom white balance” on a Canon camera. This will set the gray card as the reference point for white balance.
- Take the shot!
The more you use the manual white balance method, the more it will become second nature for you. In fact, you’ll likely find that over time it’s just as easy to manually set the white balance as it is to use the presets discussed earlier.
Learn more about setting custom white balance values in the video above by Gmax Studios.
White Balance in Post-Processing
Another option for adjusting the white balance in your images is to take care of it in post-processing.
If you shoot in RAW (which you should…), the camera records all the data the sensor collects.
Then, in post-processing, you can access all that data to make finely-tuned adjustments to many aspects of the image, including white balance.
Programs like Photoshop and Lightroom give you a ton of editing power to make these adjustments as you see fit.
In fact, adjusting white balance in post-processing is often the best choice for beginner photographers because it removes the necessity of worrying about white balance from the process in the field.
By focusing on white balance after the fact, you can put your mental power towards other aspects of your images, such as composition, to get a better overall photo.
Check out the video above by Eyestocker to see how you can easily change the white balance using Photoshop CC, even if you didn’t shoot the original image in RAW format.