There is no doubt in my mind that many of you have had the experience where you are attempting to capture an image and every time after you click the camera trigger and you look at the image on your little screen you notice that the color is off.  It’s nothing close to what you’re seeing in real life.  You are most likely experiencing the issues of incorrect white balance. In this lesson I will try to describe to you what white balance is and how to use it to your advantage when you are taking your images and making them into masterpieces. I would guess that the vast majority of you are shooting with your camera set to auto mode, maybe everything is auto and that includes the auto white balance setting.

White Balance Defined

I believe White Balance is such an inappropriate and confusing name for this concept. I think it should actually be called light color adjustment.  Let me take a few moments to go into some technical details about the characteristics of the colors of light that we actually see. Most of us do not think about it too much, but all of the light around us as different colors and different characteristics.  You have most likely heard the phrase that is a warm looking image or that is such a cold looking image. What is being described here is the color or temperature of the light that is being presented in the image.   Objects do not give off color, they reflect light is available surrounding the object. The real issue here is that each light source gives off a different wavelengths of light therefore has a different color signature or technically they call it temperature. When you’re shooting with your camera in auto mode it really has no idea what the light source is that you’re shooting in, so when your picture is looking odd you can actually change this setting so that you’re telling the camera what the light source is that you are shooting in and the camera does not have to guess anymore. Most cameras even phone cameras have the ability to change the white balance setting to several presets, for example daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash or K.   We will go into a little more detail about setting this K setting in a few moments.

What is White Balance and Why Does it Matter? White Balance setting for Canon 5D MarkII

 When your color is off on your picture simply go in to your camera settings and change the settings to your actual lighting conditions.  The time when you will have the most difficulty is probably when you’re inside in tungsten light (you know normal light bulbs) or fluorescent light. They give off the most odd light and you probably have to adjust for that to get your image to look correct. Here is an example of the same image shot in a range of all the white balance settings. Photography Lesson: What is white balance and why does it matter?

Image Shot with Auto White Balance 

  Photography Lesson: What is white balance and why does it matter?

Image shot with White Balance set to Sunshine

  Photography Lesson: What is white balance and why does it matter?

Image shot with White Balance set to Shade

Photography Lesson: What is white balance and why does it matter?

Image shot with White Balance set to Shade

  Photography Lesson: What is white balance and why does it matter?

Image shot with White Balance set to Tungsten

Photography Lesson: What is white balance and why does it matter?

Image shot with White Balance set to Florescent 

 Photography Lesson: What is white balance and why does it matter?

Image shot with White Balance set to a cool Kelvin Temperature 2500 

White Balance in Practice

So the way I adjust my white balance when I absolutely need to is, I take a quick look at the actual lighting situation that I’m in and then I set white balance to the factory setting for that light condition.  For example tungsten light in a house. Then I take a few test images and I see how good the setting is working out. Then I probably actually go in to the K setting which is manually changing the actual light temperature and fine tune the setting there a little bit more.

White Balance Dirty Little Secret

But now I’m going to give you the dirty little secret.  You see I shoot landscape fine art photography and I shoot everything in Camera Raw. I shoot hundreds or thousands of images on an outing but I only actually process a very small number of them.  I will only process the images that have incredible emotional power to them.  I go through all the images from the outing and select the five or ten that really move me.  I delete the vast majority of the rest of them. So while I am shooting unless the light is very odd I shoot everything in auto white balance but being I am shooting in RAW I actually get all of the detail of the original image and then I adjust the light color in post processing. I make this adjustment either in the camera RAW processing software or in my HDR processing software.  Those can be future lessons and do not need to be worried about here but I will show you one image of how much flexibility you have in Camera RAW processing. Photography Lesson: What is white balance and why does it matter?

Image shot with Auto White Balance in RAW Adjusted in Post Processing

In this example I took take the original image that I shot in auto white balance and adjusted the color temperature in my RAW processing software.   I manually set the temperature to three different settings. I set the temperature to a cold 2000 degrees Kelvin. I set the temperature to a medium and probably correct 3100 degrees Kelvin. Then I set the temperature to a very warm 5000 degrees Kelvin.

 Setting White Balance Conclusion

So now I hope you have a good understanding of what White Balance is and I hope you now know how to control it for optimum image quality both in camera and in post processing. If you found this post to be helpful please share with your friends and on all your social media outlets.

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Written by Wayne Moran - Visit Website
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