White Balance

By Roger

Have you ever looked at your camera menu and wondered about the white balance settings?  Probably, this is not something that keeps you up at night, and it shouldn't.  However, the white balance can make a difference in your photography. 

White balance is about the color temperature of your photograph – more  reddish-orange is warm; bluish is cold.  I've exaggerated the temperature some.


You may have come across some “rules” to white balance in your readings, and, like everything else in photography, you can change the rules to your own taste.

The point is, usually, to get the balance closest to the natural scene as possible, but there are variations everywhere.  For example, people tend to look better with a slightly warmer tone.  You may want to make a night or winter scene with a cooler tone.  Again, the final choice is yours.

You can accomplish this in your camera by using the menu selections.  Tungsten is for inside shots, with regular lamps as lights; outside daylight shots will look very blue.  Daylight is for direct sunlight, although I usually add in more warmth during post-processing.  Cloudy is a little warmer than daylight to compensate for the cooler natural light.  Fluorescent lighting can give your photographs a greenish light; use this setting to compensate.  The Flash setting will help balance the scene primarily lit with your speedlights.

Every camera has an Auto setting if you want to let the camera decide for itself what to do with your white balance.  Most of the time, this gets pretty close; although I find I usually add some more warmth in post-processing.  I'm not a big fan of the Auto setting because the camera makes slight variations to the white balance every time you push the shutter button down.  Too often, you end up with photos, taken at the same time, that have a slightly different color balance.  If you use the Auto setting on your camera, pay attention to what you're doing in post to determine what you have to do, if anything, to achieve your “correct” look. 

Finally, most of today's SLRs will let you set a custom preset.  I usually set my camera to 5500K (daylight) and make any adjustments in post-processing.  Or, when I'm shooting under consistent lighting conditions, usually with studio lights, I'll take a reading from them and dial in that preset for the entire session. On most cameras, you can save a preset for later use, but I prefer to do a custom preset each time.  You never know if the studio lights have changed as they age. Presets relieve you of the worry of changing white balance in post.

There are several tools and do-it-yourself methods to get a custom preset.  I use the ExpoDisc. It is quick and easy; pretty accurate; and doesn't take much room in my camera bag.  The DIY route works well, too.  You can search the web for DIY instructions or go to the How-To Geek site here.

Next week, I'll discuss how to accomplish this in post-processing.  For now, I need to fix that photo's color balance. While I'm in there, I might as well clean up the wall; get rid of the lights; and remove the trash on the steps.  You should go experiment with your white balance.  Have a good weekend.