Before we delve into the details of white balance, it helps to have an understanding of color balance in photography. Color balance is the adjustment of the intensity of various colors in an image (typically the primary colors of Blue, Green, and Red). The objective of adjusting colors is render correctly. The general method used is often called gray balance.
Color balance changes the mixture of colors in a photograph and it’s used for color correction. Photographic image data from your camera’s digital sensor is digitally transformed from their original values or level to new values needed to appropriately reproduction the image. Color correction is essential because the initial image from the camera sensor does not match the human eye, so the camera has to compensate for those differences.
What is White Balance?
White balance is a setting in your camera that helps you produce a natural looking coloration in your image. The goal of white balance is to achieve the most accurate colors possible. The color of your subject in a photography is affected by the type of lighting you’re using. Our eyes and our brain automatically compensate for the differences in light. So, a green white object will always appear green to the naked eye regardless whether it’s viewed in sunlight, fluorescent, or incandescent light.
Digital cameras use white balance to compensations for the difference between what our eyes see and what the cameras sees. The white balance setting setting helps to match the color cast of the main light source illuminating your subject.
How to Determine and Adjust White Balance Settings
The first step of determining your white balance is to find where you can change and adjust on your camera. For example, my Canon 6D denotes the white balance by pressing the Q button on the back of the camera. This opens up a menu – where on the third row, second icon is where you will find the various white balance settings. If you have never touched this, then it will read AWB, which stands for auto white balance.
Canon EOS HD Video Tutorial
Presets for White Balance
Auto White Balance
This setting auto adjusts based on lightning for natural looking colors
For outdoor scenes under clear skies, the color temperature is around 5,200K
Used for shots in the shade, with a color temperature of 7000K
This is for cloudy days or at sunset approx. 6000K
For indoor scenes under incandescent (tungsten) light approx. 3200K
White Fluorescent Light
For indoor scenes under white fluorescent light approx. 4000K
Used with flash photography
You adjust the settings manually
The ability to make your image warmer or cooler by adjusting this setting
You can use these settings to adjust based on the camera’s suggestions. These are helpful to use if you have never experimented or changed your white balance prior to shooting. It is true that for RAW images you can adjust white balance in programs such as Lightroom during post production. But, changing white balance prior to shooting will help you determine what you want your image to look like.
White Balance Modes
Setting White Balance
Manually Adjusting White Balance Using the Custom Setting
As we explained above, white balance can be changed in the camera by scrolling through the preset options. The other option is to manually adjust your white balance by using the custom setting and a grey card.
A grey card is typically used when a mixed lighting situation is present during your session. This may be that you have a mixture of natural light and overhead lighting, in which case this helps to bring the natural and neutral color back to your images.
In order to achieve the colors you want, you start with photographing the grey card. It is important to remember that the card must fill the entire frame and nothing else can be in the shot. You may have to manually focus in order to achieve this.
Then you navigate to the “custom” setting of white balance as we discussed. It will guide you to choose an image, in which you select the one you took of your grey card. Press OK and the white balance will be set. If you change positions or move within the space you are shooting, you will need to readjust and photograph the card again. Most photographers prefer not to always use a grey card, but in certain situations it is the proper way to make sure your coloring is correct.
Adjusting Color Temperature
Another way to add your own personal white balance preference and color tone on your images, is to manually adjust the color temperature, marked as K on the white balance settings. The temperature starts at 2500K which makes the image blue and ends at 10,000K which results in a yellow/orange image. As the number on the scale increases, the temperature goes from blue, to cool blue, to warm yellow to completely yellow – this replicates the temperature slider you would use in Lightroom. Based on your style and vision for the image, you can change the temperature as you see fit.
White balance is essentially the best way to control the color of your images within the camera. Depending on whether you want true, natural colors or want your images to be very cool or warm – you can adjust and change the settings as you see fit.
Do you adjust the white balance within your camera or in post editing of your images? Let us know in the comments below.