Have you ever excitedly loaded your batch of photos on the computer, ready to delight in your creative prowess, only to find a big selection of them have that ever so annoying blue or yellow color cast? This happens to photographers often at both ends of the skill spectrum! After these quick and easy tips however, not only will you be able to control your white balance more effectively, you can even start manipulating it to your advantage!
Do you remember in Get Your Camera In Gear when I compared the similarity of our camera’s aperture to the human eye?
Well with white balance, the human eye leaves our digital cameras way in the dust. Because our eyes are so capable of adapting, we don’t notice that different lights create different color casts. Someone’s white shirt with look white to our eyes whether they’re standing in bright sunlight, or illuminated by the soft dim glow of candle light. Our brains do a great job of compensating for the difference.
Our digital cameras are very capable of adjusting to the right white balance with advanced algorithms, but we first need to tell the camera where to start.
White Balance & Color Temperature:
Color temperature is measured on a scale with Kelvin as the unit of measurement. Selecting the appropriate ‘warmth’ of your light on this scale is what gives you an accurate white balance setting.
Light that is really bright (like the sun) is on the high end of the Kelvin scale and outputs more blue, cool color. Lights like candles are on the low end of the Kelvin scale and output much warmer, yellow/orange color. Color temperature can vary drastically from light bulb to light bulb depending on the wattage and style of bulb. I.e. fluorescent, household, etc…Your DSLR provides easy presets for the most common lighting situations. Remembering to select the most appropriate one before your shot will ensure that you won’t take your shots on the wrong end of the Kelvin scale.
JPEG vs RAW:
Choosing the incorrect white balance can be a real pain, and sometimes impossible to correct…if you’re shooting in JPEG. With JPEG images, your white balance is selected before hand and locked in to your final image. With RAW however, you can choose your white balance after you’ve taken your image in your photo editing software. Read more about RAW vs JPEG here!
Getting a Step Ahead:
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your white balance settings, you can manipulate them to your advantage. If you are shooting outdoors and the quality of light is a bit bland. Try choosing a warmer white balance setting that will give your photo a warmer feel! You can do the reverse as well to make a photo more cold.
Another way to get ahead of the game is learning to use a photographers gray card and setting the custom white balance controls on your camera. This is particularly handy when you have multiple light sources creating a confusing mesh of color casts into your photo. All you need to do is take one picture with your card in the center of the frame, and then tell your camera to use that picture as a base for your custom white balance. No more guess work. (Taking two minutes to do that is much better than spending two hours in post editing trying to fix a mistake!)
In many photo editing softwares, you can select an area of the image that is supposed to be color neutral (whites, greys and blacks) and the software will adjust the white balance to make the whole image correct. Look for the eye-drop tool in the levels and curves functions.
Have you ever taken a truck load of photos in the wrong white balance and lost the entire batch? I have and I nearly threw my computer screen out of the window! I look forward to hearing your comments!
Eric Pearce, Brother of Single Dad Laughing
Note from Dan:
If you’re in England, and you need an affordable and incredible photographer… my brother is definitely your man! Visit his website at
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