White Balance

What the heck is that?  You’ve heard us go on and on about how light is so important to properly exposing an image.  What we haven’t talked about though is the color of light.  All light has a particular color, whether it be the soft yellow of the morning sunlight, the hazy golden tones of the late afternoon, the purplish blue tones a fluorescent light throws, or the very yellow-orange and warm light of an incandescent light bulb. 

Since having your subjects look purplish blue or very yellowy-orange is not typically the desirable outcome, we’ll talk about how White Balance can help that.  White Balance is essentially changing the color temperature of a particular lighting situation.  While the human eye can compensate for most color casts thrown by artificial or natural light, camera sensors have a harder time doing so. 

To help combat this, digital cameras come with some preset white balance settings such as Automatic White Balance (AWB), Daylight, Tungsten, and some others.  Choosing your white balance while you’re taking the picture can help to render a more accurate picture and save time if you do any editing in Photoshop or the like.  White Balance settings will vary from camera to camera, but they usually correspond to the following: 

The best way to handle color casts that happen indoors is to set a custom white balance.  Here is a quick lesson:

This picture was taken with the camera on AWB – Automatic White Balance.  As you can see, it is quite yellow and not an accurate depiction of what these delicious cupcakes actually looked like. 

Since I was indoors under incandescent light, I set the WB setting to Tungsten and took my next picture.  You can see it’s better, but it’s still quite yellow. 

Since I was still getting some pretty bad color casts, I decided to set a Custom White Balance.  There are several ways to do this.  One is to purchase a gray card, which is what most photographers use, but for the purpose of this experiment, you can use a plain piece of white paper.  You want to add the gray card to the same lighting scene in which your subject is.  This can be done by propping it into the scene or simply holding it up to your camera. 

First locate the Custom White Balance setting on your camera – you may have to go back and check in your manual to see how to change this.  Now you will want to switch your lens from AF (auto focus) to MF (manual focus) and fill your viewfinder with the gray card or white paper.  Take a picture, and then go into your camera’s menu and locate your custom white balance setting.  Your camera will ask you to set a photo for which it will base it’s temperature off of, and you will select the picture you just took of the white paper/gray card.  

You can see that this completely changes the tone of the picture, eliminating the harsh yellow cast that was being created by the overhead tungsten lighting.  (Be sure to switch back over to AF mode on your lens before taking the picture.) 

Another fun trick that is fairly accurate in regards to rendering a custom white balance is something called The Pringles Trick.  What you need:  a can of Pringles, a white coffee filter, and some tape.  Eat the Pringles, and then take the clear lid and attach the coffee filter.  You will have to cut the coffee filter down to size and tape it on, and it should wind up looking like this:

Now repeat the steps outlined above for setting custom white balance, switch back over to MF mode and hold the lid up to your lens into the light source.  Take a picture and access your camera’s menu again to choose this picture to use as your custom white balance.  

I have found this method to be the most accurate, as seen below:

So, here’s your homework – Go play around with the white balance settings on your camera, try out the various settings depending on your lighting situations, and attempt to take a picture using the custom white balance. 

You’ll be amazed at the difference, and we can’t wait to see your results!  As always, let us know if you have any questions, but more importantly – have fun!



One response to “White Balance

  1. Love it! I am going to try some of this out this weekend. I have always been a bit curious about white balance so this is great! THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!

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