White Balance

White Balance is an important creative tool that can have a real impact upon the shots you take. It’s basically a technique which measures the temperature of light and balances out the colors in your photograph for the desired results.

You might have noticed that some photos turn out with an orange/yellow cast in tungsten lighting or a bluish cast under fluorescent lights. This occurs because each source of light possesses a different color temperature, causing a cast on our images.

Color temperature, measured in Kelvins (K), is a way of measuring the quality of a light source. A light with higher color temperature has more blue lights than a light with lower color temperature. Thus, a cooler (warmer) light has a higher (lower) color temperature. A low colour temperature shifts light toward the red whereas a high colour temperature shifts light toward the blue.
Our brain can quickly adjust to different color temperatures. Our eyes see a white paper as a white paper no matter whether it’s viewed under strong sunlight, overcast skies or indoors under incandescent or fluorescent lights. But no digital cameras can do what our eyes can do and thus, they often need a little help as they measure the colors in the red, green, and blue light of the spectrum, as reflected to its sensors. Under some difficult situations when the camera is not able to set the color temperature correctly or when you need some creative/special effects, you can adjust the white balance setting of your digital camera, instructing it to use a particular color temperature to produce the most accurate colors in the image.

The following table shows the color temperature of some light sources.

Automatic White Balance

Here are some of the basic White Balance settings present on the cameras, which vary depending on the model and manufacturer :
Auto – Default WB setting. It helps in adjusting the white balance automatically according to the different lighting conditions. It works well if the colour temperature of the ambient light is between 3,000-7,000K.
Tungsten – This mode is used for light under a little bulb like tungsten that normally emits a yellow light, and it is often used while shooting indoors. The tungsten setting of the digital camera sets color temperature of around 3,200K and adds cooler(blue/purple) tones to compensate for too many orange/yellow hues.
Fluorescent – This mode is used for getting brighter and warmer(red/orange) shots while compensating for cool shade of fluorescent light.
Daylight/Sunny – This mode is for the normal day light setting, while shooting outdoors in bright sunshine. It sets color temperature of around 5,200K. Many cameras do not have the Daylight mode.
Cloudy  – This mode is ideal for while shooting on a cloudy day, creating a very even and diffuse light. This sets a colour temperature of around 6,000K. It’s a little warmer than the daylight setting and often desirable in landscapes and portraits.
Flash – The flash mode is required when there is inadequate lighting available. This mode helps pick the right White Balance under low light conditions.  For use with either a built-in flash or an external Speedlite.
Shade – The light in shade is generally cooler (bluer) than shooting in direct sunlight so this mode will help give a warmer(red/orange) color to your shots.


Manual White Balance

Kelvin – More advanced DSLR’s let you set the white balance color temperature manually, by simply entering the color temperature in Kelvins (ie. 4500 K).
Custom – Unlike the other presets, Custom WB doesn’t have a fixed color temperature assigned to it. This feature allows you to tell your camera what the white in your scene looks like, by setting a white object as the reference point. To do this, go to the “Custom White Balance” setting of your camera, and then point your camera at a pure white object.

Click on the image to enlarge

Setting the White Balance is the key to great color photos. It’s nothing more than an adjustment to get the color you want. So, experiment with your camera’s white balance presets and photograph the same scene over and over using the different white balance presets.

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