What white balance setting should you use?

What white balance setting should you use?

Photography is often described as the art of capturing light. Light, in all its forms and colors, is pivotal in creating compelling and visually stunning images. White balance is one of the key aspects of photography that directly relates to how light is perceived and interpreted in photos. Let’s explore the significance of white balance in photography and discuss the various settings you can use to achieve the desired results.

Understanding white balance

White balance is a fundamental concept in photography. It involves ensuring that white objects appear truly white in your images, without being tainted by unwanted color casts. Our eyes are incredibly adaptable, allowing us to perceive whites as white under a variety of lighting conditions. However, the same isn’t true for your camera. Different light sources, such as natural daylight, tungsten bulbs or fluorescent lights, emit light with different color temperatures. This results in a variety of color casts that can affect the overall look of your photos.

To maintain color accuracy and produce images that appear natural to the human eye, it’s essential to adjust this setting on your camera.

White balance settings

Most digital cameras offer several white balance presets, each tailored to specific lighting conditions. Here are some of the common settings and when to use them.

Auto White Balance (AWB)

Auto white balance is the default setting on many cameras. It allows your camera to automatically adjust the white balance based on the lighting conditions. While it’s convenient, AWB may not always produce the desired results, particularly in mixed or challenging lighting environments.

Daylight (or Sunny)

Using this setting when shooting in natural sunlight. It ensures that the colors in your photos remain true to life and vibrant.

Tungsten (or Incandescent)

Select this setting when photographing under traditional tungsten light bulbs. Tungsten lighting has a warm, yellowish color temperature, and this white balance setting helps counteract that effect.


If you’re in an environment lit by fluorescent (and some LED) lights, this setting can help reduce the greenish or bluish tints that often appear in photos taken under these lights.


Cloudy or overcast conditions can add a cool, bluish cast to your images. This setting warms up the colors to create a more pleasing result.


When shooting in shaded areas or during the “golden hour” of sunrise or sunset, this setting enhances the warm, orange tones often associated with such lighting.

Custom White Balance

For the utmost precision, consider setting a custom white balance. This involves taking a photo of a neutral white or gray card under the same lighting conditions as your subject. Your camera uses this reference image to adjust it accurately.

Kelvin (K)

Some advanced cameras allow you to set to the Kelvin scale, which quantifies color temperature. This option gives you precise control over color temperature, letting you fine-tune the white balance according to your creative vision. Some consider 5500k – 6500k as neutral while 6500k is much warmer and 5500k cooler. Experiment and see what you like in different conditions.

Choosing the right white balance setting

Selecting the appropriate setting can significantly impact the mood and atmosphere of your photographs. Here are some tips for choosing the right setting:

  1. Consider the lighting. Take a moment to assess the lighting conditions in your environment. Are you shooting indoors or outdoors? Is the lighting natural or artificial? This will help you decide which preset or custom setting to use.
  2. Experiment for creativity. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the settings to achieve creative effects. For example, using the “Tungsten” setting outdoors can add a warm, golden glow to your images, while “Daylight” indoors can result in cooler, bluish tones, creating a unique atmosphere.
  3. Use custom white balance for critical situations. In situations where color accuracy is crucial, such as product photography or portrait sessions, it’s wise to use custom white balance. This ensures that your colors are as true to life as possible.
  4. Trust your instincts. Ultimately, the choice of white balance is a subjective one. Trust your artistic vision and the mood you want to convey in your photos. If a particular setting enhances the storytelling element of your image, go with it.
  5. Post-processing. Of course, IF you do use AWB, you can always adjust in post-processing, especially if you shoot in raw.

White balance makes a difference in your photos

White balance is a vital tool in the photographer’s toolkit, influencing the colors and overall aesthetics of your images. Understanding the impact of different white balance settings and when to use them can significantly improve the quality of your photography. Whether you’re striving for color accuracy, mood enhancement or creative experimentation, selecting the right setting can make a world of difference in your photographs. So, the next time you’re out capturing moments with your camera, remember to give it the attention it deserves to create stunning, true-to-life images.