Understanding White Balance
Perhaps one of the most important camera settings that beginning digital photographers don’t understand is white balance. In this article, we’ll introduce the basic concept of white balance as well as a few photography tips for managing the white balance within your images.
What is white balance?
Put simply, white balance is the color of the lighting in your images. It might seem like a strange concept at first to think that light has color, but various types of light produce different hues which are reflected in your photograph. For example, indoor fluorescent lighting commonly produces a bluish hue, filtered or indirect natural sunlight produces a cool blue tone, and other natural forms of light like a fire produce a very warm tone within the image.
While these variations may not be visible to the human eye since our eyes adapt to compensate for them, in a digital images they can be very noticeable and can produce vastly different temperatures within your photograph. Therefore controlling for and adjusting the white balance in your images can change the feel of a photo completely.
How to manage white balance
Most digital SLR cameras come pre-programmed with a range of white balance settings. These commonly include:
Auto: This setting will work well for many settings as the camera will automatically adjust for the appropriate lighting.
Fluorescent: Useful when shooting indoors under fluorescent lights to compensate for high levels of blue.
Shade: Again, this setting will warm up cool, dark hues in shaded areas by adjusting accordingly.
Cloudy: This is a very useful setting for warming up an image on cloudy days where the dark skies might produce elevated levels of blue.
Sunny: This setting may go by different names according to the camera manufacturer, but in essence it makes very minor adjustments on most models to adjust for direct outdoor sunlight.
Tungsten: Programmed for shooting indoors under incandescent lighting, this will adjust for the high levels of yellow produce by most indoor light bulbs.
Flash: This setting will adjust the white balance to mitigate against the harsh lighting of a flash.
Most DSLR cameras will also have manual white balance setting which we will discuss in more detail in a follow-up article. This process involves “teaching” your camera what you want the lighting to look like in an image, so we’ll discuss this setting alone. However, most of the settings listed above will allow you to capture great images making only one setting adjustment.
With these white balance photography tips, you’ll be able to capture the lighting you want for your photograph regardless of where you’re shooting. For more photography tips!