Introduction to White Balance

//Introduction to White Balance

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The human eye is a pretty amazing thing. If you were to take a white sheet of paper from your front yard on a bright sunny day to inside of your garage with fluorescent lights it would still look white. In a split second your eyes can make the adjustment to the lighting conditions. Cameras are pretty amazing too but not quite that amazing. Today we are going to talk about white balance. What it is, basic uses & some tips.

White balance is basically a set point for pure white in an image. The white balance options on your camera shift the warmth (blue to yellow) and tint (green to pink) of your image based on what temperature of light you tell it you are in. This temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin and ranges from 1,000K to 15,000K. Let’s explore the different settings, what they mean and how we can best use them.

For starters most DSLR & mirrorless cameras will allow you to manually adjust the white balance. You will typically have these standard settings available:

Auto White Balance: Typical symbol is “AWB”. The camera automatically tries to decide the best white balance for your image. The camera will probably do a good job but won’t always get it right.

Tungsten/Incandescent: Typical symbol is a light bulb with some light rays off the bulb. This usually cools down an image. It is often used for shooting indoors under standard incandescent light bulbs.

Fluorescent: Typical symbol is a horizontal bar with light rays coming off the top and bottom. This is generally used in cooler light and will warm up your images.

Daylight: Typical symbol is a sun. This is a middle of the road/standard white balance. It is often used when shooting during the day with clear skies.

Shade: Typical symbol is a house with some diagonal lines off to one side to symbolize shade. This will warm up your images a bit as it is meant to be used while shooting in the cool light created by shade.

Cloudy: Typical symbol is a cloud. This is very similar to shade and will warm up your image a bit.

Flash: Typical symbol is a lightening bolt with an arrow at the end. This will warm up your images since most light temperature from a flash is very cool. No surprise this is often used when shooting with a flash.

Here is a temperature chart with the associated flash types generally used.

So many options right! We ask that you experiment with the different settings in different lighting conditions. Here is the really good thing……if you are shooting in RAW you can always go back and change the white balance in post processing with no ill effects on your image. That means playing with white balance is free……who doesn’t like free??? Go play and have some fun. Sometimes it is cool to use a white balance you know isn’t proper but will give you some great artistic results. Also, remember that color changes how the viewer feels about an image as well as how you personally might feel. For more on that, click here, to check out our article on Color Theory. 

NERD TIP: Using tungsten after sunset while shooting the twighlight blue sky can be really amazing.

That covers the basics for white balance. Go have some fun and share your images with us over on Facebook. As always, questions are encouraged!!!

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