Have you ever taken a photo inside and wondered why it had a weird yellowish cast? Or perhaps a photo taken outside has a strange blue tinge? All light is not the same color! Light ranges from cool (a bluish tinge) to warm (a yellowish tinge). You may not see the subtle variations in light with your eye, but your camera will capture them.
Natural light from a north-facing window with a distinct blue cast
Your camera needs a little nudge to avoid a color cast in your photos. Changing your white balance for the light you are shooting in will dramatically change the photos you capture. On most cameras there is a white balance button. Push it and you will have a selection of situations to choose from. Match the symbol to the light you have and you are all set!
Auto White Balance (AWB)
Your camera makes a best guess at the light, can work in most situations but not all.
Shown typically with a light bulb on your camera. It is used with the warm yellow light from an incandescent light (regular light bulb).
Helps warm up the cool look of fluorescent light.
Use when the primary light is from natural light or on a sunny day. Shown with a sun.
Warm up the cool look of the flash with this setting. Shown with an arrow.
On a cloudy day set your white balance here to add warmth. Shown with a cloud.
To offset the bluish color shade can have, set to shade. Shown with a house and lines next to it.
With Kelvin you can set the white balance to the actual temperature of light. This method requires an external light meter and typically dialing in the temperature in your menu. Kelvin is not available on all cameras.
The warm, yellow light typical in gym’s coupled with my sister’s yellow shirt gave this photo an ugly color cast.
A quick switch to Tungsten, changes the photo completely. This can be changed in camera or in post processing if shooting in RAW.
Custom White Balance
The last symbol on your white balance settings is a custom white balance setting. This takes a little work, but can give you great results. There are multiple ways to set a custom white balance.
Want an easy way to set a custom white balance?
- Grab a white piece of copy paper.
- Set your camera to manual focus.
- In the same light your subject will be in, fill the frame with the paper and shoot.
- Choose your paper photo, and set it to be your custom white balance.
Read your manual for the specific buttons to use for setting the custom white balance. For most cameras you will need to go into the Menu to set it. You can use this same technique with a grey card for even more accuracy. Grey cards are available at most camera stores.
No Balance At All
What if I told you I don’t use any of the methods listed above?
I rely on shooting in RAW as an alternative to setting my white balance. RAW acts as a digital negative. JPEG format actually makes some decisions for you providing a smaller file and adjusting some color, saturation, and tone. With RAW you post process for white balance, tone, saturation, exposure, and clarity, similarly to how film negatives are processed (without the chemicals of course). While it adds a little time to your process, you have much more creative control and more data captured than with JPEG.
Additionally, RAW is a loss less format. I can repeatedly open and close my RAW with no data degradation, unlike JPEG.
Programs like Adobe Lightroom make post processing fast and easy, providing fun options for using presets with your photos for black and white conversions and other interesting effects. Be prepared when you take photos in RAW to see a somewhat dull photo. Think of it as a negative that needs to be post processed.
The tomato from above with a white balance adjustment in Lightroom.
Of course, you can set your white balance and shoot in RAW for even more accuracy and to speed the editing process! And yes, I do that too. It just depends on the time I have and the accuracy I’m looking for!
ON ASSIGNMENT: PLAY WITH WHITE BALANCE
Let’s play with a little light.
1. Choose a subject that won’t move.
2. Place your subject in good light. (Light from a north facing window and open shade are good sources.)
3. Set your camera to Auto White Balance (AWB).
5. Set your camera’s white balance to Tungsten.
7. Continue to play with different white balance settings, shooting to see results.
Review your results and see what you find. You should notice a different colorcast in each photo. Which do you prefer?
Have fun and enjoy the light!
P.S. Wendy is the random winner from yesterday’s comments! She won $10 in product to NeeNee’s store! THANKS for the comments everyone!