explaining White balance in photography
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What is White Balance in Photography? Correcting Colour in Your Photo

What is white balance for photography? It’s a way for a photographer to adjust the colours in the camera before taking a photograph. So that the colour is accurately represented in the photo.
White balance is used to ensure white items in a photo are accurately represented as white rather than having a colour cast because of the light source.

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What Does White Balance Mean for Photographers? How to Fix the Color in Your Photo

What is white balance for photography? It’s a way for a photographer to adjust the colours in the camera before taking a photograph. So that the colour is accurately represented in the photo.

White balance is used to ensure white items in a photo are accurately represented as white rather than having a colour cast because of the light source.

Understanding white balance in photography?

White balance in photography is adjusting the colours, so they appear more natural in images.

This process can be carried out either in camera or during post-processing. It involves compensating for the colour hue of a light source to ensure the pure white of an image is not a warmer or cooler tone.

White balance can affect global colours in your photo, rendering them too cool (blue) or too warm (orange). DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have an Auto White Balance option, which works well under normal lighting conditions. However, they may produce poor results when shooting in mixed light or challenging lighting conditions.

To get perfect white balance every time, I would suggest you use an 18% grey card, so you can measure the reflected light accurately and dial in the white balance settings.

What is colour temperature?

Colour temperature is a measure of the warmth or coolness of the light source. It is measured in degrees Kelvin, with sunlight at midday being around 5,200K-6,000K. Colour temperature influences the appearance of your photo, as it can affect the overall tone and mood of the image. For example, cooler colours such as blue can give a more chilly or cold feeling while warmer colours like orange create a more cozy atmosphere.

By understanding the colour temperature, we can control how the photo appears. Using daylight-balanced bulbs will provide consistent colour temperatures across photographs taken indoors. Thus, allowing for easier editing without the need to adjust for differences between shots, under different lighting conditions.

Skylum Neo

Why is correct white balance important?

1. Correct colours improve the aesthetic value of the photo.

Correcting the colours in a photo can improve its aesthetic value. By adjusting the white balance, photographers can correct for the colour hue and eliminate any colour cast.

This allows us to create photos with accurate tones and enhanced contrast between different colours and objects. It also enables photographers to experiment with unique looks and feels. Do we want the photo to be naturalistic or artistic?

Correct colours ensure that all elements within the photo appear as they would in real life, this helps to enhance its visual appeal by giving it more depth and vibrancy.

2. They make the photo more visually appealing.

The visual appeal of a photograph can be impacted by white balance. Depending on the photographer’s preference, images can look more appealing or more natural with the right white balance.

Changing the white balance setting or adjusting the temperature can also affect how vivid certain colours are.

3. They make the photo easier to interpret.

Correct white balance can affect the interpretation of a photo by changing the colours. It allows us to adjust the overall tone and mood of a photograph.

When white balance is adjusted, it can affect how viewers perceive a photograph. For example, when switching from Auto White Balance (AWB) to Tungsten White Balance (WB), colours become warmer and more intense, with more contrast between light and dark areas of an image. This change in colour may make it easier for viewers to interpret the scene than they would have without adjusting WB settings.

5. They make the photo more professional.

Correcting white balance during post-processing can improve the appearance of photos, such as fixing overly warm or blue skies. It can also adjust ambient lighting to make it more natural-looking.

Adjusting the white balance can help fix lighting issues and make them look more accurate. It can also correct any colour casts caused by different lighting sources, such as candlelight, fluorescent lights, or sunlight.

6. They make the photo more relatable.

A photograph’s white balance can be adjusted to ensure that the colours are appropriately captured, increasing the photo’s relatability.

By correcting white balance, photos will appear more natural and viewers will relate better to the photo. This can also have a positive effect on the overall aesthetic of the photo.

7. They allow the photo to be edited more easily.

Editing software can help us fix lighting issues, such as ambient lighting or candlelight when the image is too warm, or an overly blue sky in an outdoor image.

Adjusting our white balance settings in post helps create a consistent look across multiple images and makes editing easier since all photos have the same settings. It gives us greater control over how images appear when they are post-processed in an editing software such as Photoshop or Lightroom.

8. White balance helps to tell the story behind the photo better.

Correct white balance helps to sell the story by providing an accurate representation of what you the photographer sees.

By adjusting the white balance settings on your camera or within post, you ensure the colours are accurately represented based on environmental lighting conditions. Thus, allowing you to capture true-to-life images that accurately represent what you saw when taking the photo.

White balance for photography daylight vs shade

Shooting in raw

Shooting in raw format has several advantages, including the ability to adjust white balance in post. When you take a photo in raw, the image data is captured directly from the sensor and saved in a proprietary file format, preserving the data. Including the colours, intensity and temperature of the light.

Raw gives you greater control over the final image. When you shoot using JPEG, the camera processes the raw data and applies default settings such as white balance, contrast, and saturation.

It’s difficult to get the white balance exactly right in camera, especially in challenging lighting situations. With raw, you can adjust the white balance after the fact to achieve the desired colour balance in your image.

Different types of white balance settings on cameras

White balance for photography - example of a camera

1. Automatic White Balance

Automatic white balance (AWB) is a feature on digital cameras that automatically adjusts the camera’s white balance settings to ensure accurate colours. It works by comparing colours of light coming into the camera with known reference colours, such as incandescent bulbs or daylight. Based on this comparison, it adjusts the camera settings to achieve an accurate white balance.

When taking a photo with automatic white balance enabled, the camera will measure and analyze light from the scene to determine its colour temperature. It then compares this information against known values before adjusting its settings. AWB can produce photos with accurate colours not requiring a WB correction when editing.

2. Daylight

When in daylight conditions, setting your camera’s white balance to daylight will adjust the colour temperature to 5000 Kelvin(K).

This setting works best when shooting outdoors during the day. It sets the white balance to around 5000K and removes any unwanted blue or orange tones. Using this setting will help ensure that your photos have consistent colours, regardless of how bright or dark the surroundings are.

3. Tungsten Light

Tungsten’s light white balance is around 3000K. You will use it around tungsten lights, candles, and other incandescent bulbs.

Using a tungsten white balance will ensure that your images have a warmer tone. This helps to compensate for the lack of warmth provided by these types of bulbs. It helps reduce orange tones in your photos caused by the strong warm lights in the scene.

4. Fluorescent Lights

Fluorescent lighting white balance settings are typically at the 4200K range. Using this mode will produce brighter, cozier images while offsetting the chilly hue of fluorescent lighting. It only accounts for lighting from the yellow to blue ranges and may require additional adjustments in post-processing because of potential green/magenta tinting.

5. Cloudy

Cloudy white balance setting is used to adjust the colour temperature to 6000K, giving images an extra pop of warmth.

The cloudy setting is ideal for shooting outdoors during cloudy days or in locations with limited lighting, such as indoors or under trees. This preset will set your camera’s white balance so that your images have a warmer tone and people look more tanned than if you were using the daylight option.

6. Sunset

Sunset white balance is used to set the camera at 2500K.

The setting allows photographers to capture the vibrant colours of a sunset more accurately. By using this setting, we avoid having our photos washed out by the Automatic White Balance (AWB), which sometimes is inaccurate at this time of day.

7. Flash

The flash white balance setting for cameras is 5500K, which is the temperature at which daylight appears white.

The flash preset is the best mode when you attach a speed light to your camera. This helps to ensure that your photos are accurately illuminated and show no colour cast or tinting. This setting will help eliminate any unwanted blue or yellow tones that may appear from artificial lighting sources.

8. Custom White Balance

For the final WB adjustment, there is a way you can set a custom white balance. It is a method of setting the white balance to accurately reflect the lighting conditions at the time of the photo shoot. It involves taking a photo of something neutral (such as a white piece of paper or a grey card) and telling the camera set that as “neutral”. This allows for more accurate colour representation.

Custom white balance settings differ from standard white balance settings on cameras in that they provide more accurate colour representation in photos taken under mixed light sources or changing lighting conditions. However, it takes more time to set up compared to using preset options.

How to set your white balance manually

example of a grey card for setting the white balance for photography

1. Photograph Something White Or Mid-Gray

  • Choose a wall, ceiling, item of clothing, sheet of paper or card that is white or mid-grey in colour.
  • Photograph the grey card in the scenes’ lighting condition.
  • When setting your white balance in your photo editing program, click on the grey card in the test image and apply the adjustment to all photos shot under the same lighting condition.

2. Select Your Camera’s Custom White Balance Mode

  • Press the WB button on your camera’s body, then turn the dial until the Custom White Balance icon is displayed.
  • Alternatively, find the Custom White Balance setting in your camera’s menu and press “SET” when it is selected.
  • Tell your camera which photo to use as its reference by selecting the image you just took.
  • Press SET again when selected to confirm custom white balance mode has been activated for future photos taken with this camera model

Note*** These steps will depend on your camera***

Final thoughts on white balance

I suggest you get out and experiment by photographing the same subject with different WB settings.

Using the same subject, experiment with your camera’s white balance. If you’re just getting started and learning about things like white balance, try every setting to see how it affects the photograph. Step outside, place the camera on a tripod in the backyard and click away.

In conclusion, white balance is a crucial aspect of photography that helps photographers capture the true colours of a scene in a photo. It involves adjusting the WB in camera or post to match the colour temperature of the scene. We need to ensure that white objects appear white and that the colours of other objects are accurately reproduced. It is a simple yet powerful tool that can significantly improve the quality and realism of your photographs.

Frequently Asked Questions

The colour temperature of the ambient light can significantly affect how colours appear in photographs, making white balance a crucial part of any photo.
By properly setting the white balance, you can ensure that the colours in your photograph are accurate and that the photograph accurately represents the scene as it appeared in real life.

White balance presets help correct the colour balance of your photos. They can be used in a variety of lighting conditions, from sunny to cloudy and everything in between. Common presets include:

  • Sunny – Works for mid-morning and mid-afternoon sun.
  • Shade – Works for scenarios with heavy shade (e.g., portraits under a tree).
  • Cloudy – Works for outdoor scenes featuring overcast lighting
  • Flash – Works for scenes lit by standard off-camera speed lights and flashes
  • Tungsten – Indoor scenes lit with warm bulbs.
  • Press the WB button on your camera’s body, and turn the dial until the Custom White Balance icon is displayed.
  • Find the Custom White Balance setting in your camera’s menu and press “SET”.
  • Turn the rear thumb wheel until the Custom White Balance icon appears on-screen to set it manually for that scene or situation.
  • Open the image in your editing program of choice.
  • Select the “Adjustments” tab, choose “White Balance” from the list of options.
  • Use the sliders or the eye-dropper to adjust the colour temperature of your image according to your desires.

Both automatic and manual white balance allow photographers to adjust the colour temperature of their images. Automatic white balance is enabled by default on cameras and automatically adjusts the white balance based on available light.
White balance presets allow photographers to select a specific colour temperature.
The major difference between automatic and manual, with manual WB, photographers have more control over how their images look in terms of colour accuracy. When there are multiple light sources with different colour temperatures in a scene, it’s best to use manual WB so as not to confuse the camera’s auto setting.

The best white balance for landscape photography depends on the location and environment. Often, cooler settings are used for astrophotography and the Milky Way. With wide-angle shots, daylight white balance might be a better fit.
When deciding what white balance to use, consider your artistic vision. Many of us are far more interested in the artistic vision than 100% realism, so it’s important to choose a setting that helps viewers understand your intent.

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