Basics for Beginners: What is White Balance in Photography?

Basics for Beginners: What is White Balance in Photography?

Capturing images with accurate colors and tones is essential to creating stunning and visually appealing photos. A crucial element that helps with this is the white balance. In this article, we explore the concept of white balance, its importance, and how it can improve your photography skills.

Basics for Beginners What is White Balance in Photography | Theedgesm
Using auto white balance, this image came out with a yellow tint. Manually changing the white balance to 5500 gave a more natural tone to the image.

What is White Balance?

White balance refers to the process of adjusting the colors in a photo to make whites appear true white, regardless of lighting conditions. Different light sources emit different color temperatures, which can distort the colors in your images. The human eye easily adjusts to these color shifts, but cameras need help to accurately display colors. Different times of day or even seasons, as well as natural light compared to artificial light can produce different qualities and colors of light.

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Color temperature and the Kelvin scale

The color temperature of light is measured in Kelvin (K). Higher Kelvin values ​​indicate cooler tones (such as blue), while lower values ​​indicate warmer tones (such as orange or red). For example, daylight has a higher color temperature, around 5500K-6500K, resulting in cooler tones, while incandescent light produces a lower color temperature, around 2500K-3200K, resulting in warmer tones.

Make perfect wall prints: White balance

White balance presets

To help photographers achieve accurate colors in different lighting conditions, cameras offer different white balance presets such as Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Flash. These presets adjust the camera’s settings to compensate for the color temperature of the light source. For example, selecting the “Tungsten” preset when shooting indoors under tungsten lighting compensates for the warm orange cast and restores more natural-looking colors.

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Custom white balance

In situations where the available presets may not accurately reflect lighting conditions, photographers can create a custom white balance. This involves capturing a reference image of a white or neutral gray object under the same lighting conditions as the scene. The camera uses this reference image to determine the exact color temperature of the light source and make any necessary adjustments to achieve accurate colors.

Set white balance in Lightroom
Set white balance in Lightroom

Post processing and white balance

White balance adjustments can also be made in post-processing using photo editing software. Most editing programs provide tools to fine-tune white balance, such as sliders or droppers. This flexibility allows photographers to correct any color cast or enhance the mood of a photo by intentionally adjusting white balance. This is especially true if you capture your images as raw files.

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So, which white balance should you use?

You can adjust your white balance in-camera to suit the environment you are shooting. You could also leave it on Auto white balance (WB) and adjust it in post processing. Pick a favorite Kelvin and stick with it (I’m quite a fan of 5600K). If you’re new to photography and you find the exposure triangle sufficient to handle it, I’d suggest leaving the WB on Auto until you’re more comfortable with all your settings.

One last word

Understanding and using white balance is essential for photographers who want to capture images with accurate and attractive colors. Whether it’s camera presets or custom adjustments in post-processing, mastering white balance allows photographers to unleash their creative potential and bring their images to life. So grab your camera and explore the world of white balance to improve your photography skills!

Want to know more about white balance?

  • How white balance works for great color photography
  • Make perfect wall prints: White balance
  • Set your white balance quickly with WarmCards
  • Want better photos? Turn OFF the automatic white balance!