It doesn’t matter if you’re photographing a newborn baby, a beautiful landscape, or a senior to create some amazing graduation announcements; white balance is one of the basic elements of a great photo. Learning how to white balance your images correctly is a basic skill that is all too often overlooked by photography beginners who stick primarily to using auto settings.
Why Should I White Balance?
In order to express the real world colors within a scene the image must be correctly white balanced. If color accuracy is your goal, there is no gray area when it comes to white balance. It’s either right or it’s not. While you will often want to create images using an “un-natural” custom white balance, learning how to do it properly is your first step. One of the most commonly seen flaws due to white balance is often seen in the reproduction of skin tones in portraits.
White Balance Presets
The science of color temperature can be very complex. Luckily, most cameras today have white balance presets built-in for the most common light sources. You simply look at the light source in your scene and then set your camera to the appropriate white balance preset.
You will also find that there is often a preset called Auto. This is where the camera determines the white balance settings for you. On most cameras you will find that this setting works best under optimal lighting conditions. In other words, it’s not the best solution. Use your eyes and look around. If the sky is filled with clouds and it’s a really overcast day … set your white balance to cloudy. Your camera does not “know” it’s a cloudy day; it’s only guessing. Below you will find the common white balance presets found on most cameras.
- Auto: Your camera decides on what white balance setting to use. Best results are often seen under optimal lighting conditions. Avoid using this setting under complex or mixed lighting.
- Tungsten: This is the type of light put off by traditional light bulbs. If you’re at home taking birthday photos this is probably your best choice.
- Fluorescent: You have seen fluorescent panels on the ceiling in offices and stores. However, some people might also use fluorescent lighting in the home as well.
- Daylight: When shooting outside in direct sunlight use this preset setting.
- Cloudy: When the sky is primarily overcast you will want to use this setting. This is a lot like the Daylight setting but it warms things up just a bit.
- Flash: This should be used when the camera flash is the primary source of light. I will point out that using flash as a fill during mid-day does not overpower the sun. Depending on your power settings and distance you are often looking at a Daylight or mixed light situation.
- Shade: Shooting in the shade is a great location when you do not have a means of modifying the natural light source. Place your subject in the shade of a building and use this setting. Be careful of splotchy patches of light on your subject when using tree coverage for shade.
- Custom: This is the setting I love the most. This allows you to set your white balance to a precise temperature on the Kelvin scale. However, you will need some additional tools. Some photographers will use a pure white material to take the measurement. A more professional approach is to purchase a digital white balance target, color card or filter. Not all cameras have this feature so you will need to consult your manual.
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