Colour temperature measured in K (Kelvin)
White Balance (WB) is one aspect of digital photography that many new photographers find hard to understand. However, it is something worth learning as it can have a significant impact on your images.
The reason we adjust white balance is to get the colours in our images as accurate as we can. Why do we need to get the colour right in our images? Have you ever noticed after taking images that they can sometimes have an orange/yellow or blue tint when you look at them on a monitor or print them out? You didn’t notice any tint in the light when you took the image, so what happened?
Different light sources have a different colour temperature. Ice cubes can look blue, flames look orange/yellow. In fact, we call blue colour casts ‘Cool’ and orange casts ‘Warm’. Fluorescent bulbs add a blue cast to our images and tungsten, incandescent/bulbs, add a yellow tinge to our images. Outside, Sunlight can look from cool blue to warm orange depending on the time of day, year and the weather.
Our eyes and brain tend to adjust very well to changes in colour temperature, unless the colour temperature is quite extreme we see a white sheet of paper as white.
A digital camera doesn’t have quite the same powerful brain we have. That said, most modern cameras do a pretty good job most of the time. However, there will be times when you will wonder what on earth your camera was thinking and you will want to take control.
Adjusting White Balance
Different manufacturers and quite often different models from the same manufacturer can have different ways of adjusting the white balance setting. Usually you will find a button marked (WB) or an option under the settings menu on your camera. Take a look at your camera’s manual to see how to set White Balance on your particular model.
White Balance Settings (Presets)
Your camera will have some, maybe not all or maybe a few more, of the white balance presets below. Just select the setting for the conditions you are shooting in.
• Auto – The camera’s best guess: Works most of the time, but when it doesn’t it’s usually way off.
• Tungsten – Shooting indoors, with good old fashioned incandescent light bulbs. Due to the warm cast of this type of light this mode cools down the colours in your images.
• Fluorescent – Shooting indoors, with fluorescent light. Due to the cool cast of this type of light this mode warms up the colours in your images.
• Daylight/Sunny – Your camera may or may not have this setting (If not use Auto). It is used outdoor in so called ‘Normal’ sunlight. Basically the camera sets a ‘middle/centre’ setting between cool blue and warm orange.
• Cloudy/Shade – Shooting outdoors on an overcast day. This mode slightly warms up the colours in your images a touch more than Daylight/Sunny mode.
• Flash – Use this mode when using any popup flash. Modern popup flashes usually have quite a cool light, therefore this mode warms up the colours in your images in proportion with your camera’s built in flash.
• Set – Some Cameras will let you set a specific colour temperature value. This would usually be used in studio conditions where the exact colour temperature of the lighting is known.
Manual White Balance Adjustments
• The White Balance (Presets) above, in most cases will give pretty accurate results. However, for the ultimate accuracy, most modern cameras allow you to set the white balance setting manually. The way to do this varies between model and manufacturer, so refer to your camera’s manual for how to set up your particular model. They all basically work in the same way.
• Take a picture of something white in the light you wish to use. This could be a, ‘Grey Card’ Yes it’s called grey as it is usally light grey in colour; A white piece of paper will work just as well.
• Go to the manual White Balance settings menu on your camera and tell the camera the image you took above should be used for setting white balance. Any image you then take in that exact lighting environment, the white objects will look white in your image.
• Don’t forget to put your camera back to Auto when you have finished working.
• Remember if the lighting conditions change, you will need to change your setting.
Manual white balance setting is not difficult to do once you know where to find it in your camera’s menu and is worth learning how to do as, when done correctly, it will always give you the right white 100% of the time.
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