Sunday, January 29, 2012

Understanding White Balance

White Balance is a part of photography that many digital camera owners don’t understand or use, but it’s something worth learning about as it can have a real impact on the shots you take.
So for those of you who have been avoiding White Balance? Let me introduce you to it, I will keep it as simple as possible.
At its simplest – the reason we adjust the white balance is to get the colours in our images as accurate as possible.
Why would you need to get the colour right in your shots?
You might have noticed when looking through your shots after taking them that at times images can come out with an orange, blue, yellow, etc. look to them – despite the fact that when viewing them through your viewfinder to your naked eye the scene looked quite normal. The reason for this is that the images different sources of light have a different colour (or temperature) to them. Fluorescent lighting adds a bluish cast to photos whereas tungsten (incandescent/bulbs) lights add yellowish tinges to photos.
The range in different temperatures ranges from the very cool light of blue sky through to the very warm light of a candle.
You won’t generally notice this difference in temperature because our eyes adjust automatically for it. So unless the temperature of the light is very extreme a white sheet of paper will generally look white to us. However a digital camera doesn’t have the smarts to make these adjustments automatically and sometimes will need us to tell it how to treat different light.
So for cooler (blue or green) light you will tell the camera to warm things up and in warm light you will tell it to cool down.
Adjusting White Balance
Different digital cameras have different ways of adjusting white balance so you will need to get out your cameras manual out to work out the specifics of how to make changes. That said – many digital cameras have automatic and semi-automatic modes to help you make the adjustments.
Pre-set White Balance Settings
Here are some of the basic White Balance settings you’ll find on cameras:
    Auto – this is where the camera makes a best guess on a shot by shot basis. Will work in many situations but it’s worth venturing out of it for trickier lighting.
    Tungsten – this mode is usually symbolized with a little bulb and is for shooting indoors, especially under tungsten (incandescent) lighting (such as bulb lighting). It generally cools down the colours in photos.
    Fluorescent – this compensates for the ‘cool’ light of fluorescent light and will warm up your shots.
    Daylight/Sunny – not all cameras have this setting because it sets things as fairly ‘normal’ white balance settings.
    Cloudy – this setting generally warms things up a touch more than ‘daylight’ mode.
    Flash – the flash of a camera can be quite a cool light so in Flash WB mode you’ll find it warms up your shots a touch.
    Shade the light in shade is generally cooler (bluer) than shooting in direct sunlight so this mode will warm things up a little.

Manual White Balance Adjustments
In most cases you can get a pretty accurate result using the above pre-set white balance modes – but some digital cameras (most DSLRs and higher end point and shoots) allow for manual white balance adjustments also.
The way this is used varies a little between models but in essence what you do is to tell your camera what white looks like in a shot so that it has something as a reference point for deciding how other colours should look. You can do this by buying yourself a white (or grey) card which is specifically designed for this task – or you can find some other appropriately coloured object around you to do the job.
This manual adjustment is not difficult to do once you find where to do it in the menu on your camera and it’s well worth learning how to do it.
Like everything with photography it is up to you to experiment with the different settings on your camera, and above all have fun and enjoy yourself.


  1. Nice to know! I always saw those settings and like you mentioned, I didn't understand them so I never used them.

  2. G'day Dawnette, happy to help you with your photography