What is White Balance?

By Mark

Our eyes and our cameras see the world very differently.  In lots of ways, our eyes have evolved into much better image and motion detectors than our technology can reproduce.  One of the areas that our optical system manages without our even noticing, is the mental adjustment of our images, to how they should look, despite the variations in the lighting.   Our cameras provide us the opportunity to adjust that lighting to match the images we see with our eyes.  That component is called the White Balance.    WB definitely impacts how your images look, but also lets you add some artistic choices to your image.  Just for the record, my sister Donna is NOT an oompa loompa. 

Too much warming or a bad spray tan?

Too much warming or a bad spray tan?

The color of the light changes how we see objects.  In the red glow of the sunrise, things look warmer, in the gathering twilight; things take on a bluish hue.   Light is actually measured by temperature.  Here is an easy graphic showing the color scale.

Fluorescent lights are really greenish, while tungsten lights are quite blue.  “Daylight” is actually fairly balanced light, containing much of the visible spectrum.   In your camera you can choose what kind of light you want the camera to think it is seeing.

You have the opportunity to change those settings after you shoot.  Here is the original nicely balanced daylight image I shot of my sister last week.  

We were in a greenhouse with translucent glass panels which acted like a giant softbox.  I added a little fill flash to give some shadows.   In Lightroom, under the Develop Module>Basic  Panel, the very first thing in your work flow is to evaluate and adjust your White Balance.  

You can drag the Temp Slider left towards the blue which cools the image, or to the right towards the yellow to warm the image.  When you shoot RAW, (as we strongly recommend that everyone should), then you have some precise choices from the pull-down menu.

Starting with our old friend Otto, (Auto, for you purists), which does a decent job of creating an average photo, then onto the standard values established by the gods of photography.  By changing the image to Fluorescent, it will try to correct for the green hue of that ghastly light.  

Fluorescent makes my sister just a little blue.

Fluorescent makes my sister just a little blue.

If you move it to Cloudy, it will warm the skin tones.  

Cloudy warms up the images just a bit.

Cloudy warms up the images just a bit.

Unfortunately, if you only have jpegs, you just have to drag the sliders around until you get the adjustment you need.   

There are lots more ways to adjust and use this seemingly simple first step, that really will make visible differences in your photos.