Aug 16, 2009

A note about White Balance

Every different light source emits a different "color" of light. Sunlight, Fluorescent, Sodium vapor, LED, shade, sunset.. each has its own color temperature. Our eyes are good at interpreting the light and deciding what things really look like, but cameras are not as adept.

If you have noticed that some of your photos have occasional color issues, this is probably your culprit. Your brain can still make sense of the picture, but it does not look like reality.

When you start looking at the difference side-by-side , it really starts to make sense. This is where people start saying "wow, your camera takes good pictures," and one of the things you can do to help your photos stand out.

Like everything else about making good pictures, it takes knowledge, preparation, and a bit of work make it happen.... but it is well worth the effort.

Two quick notes...
First, to do this in the camera (quicker than going through and doing it in the computer after the fact) you have to leave the "Auto" modes behind. Shooting in Program, Av, Tv, or Manual will give you access to your camera's different white balance presets.

Second, you have to think about this every time you change locations and lighting conditions.

To demonstrate...
white balance blog

This event was lit with standard stage lights. These (and standard house bulbs) are "Tungsten" lights, named for the metal that makes up the little glowing filament inside.

As you can see from the first picture, the camera got pretty close, but his shirt is not white. The second is changed to the "Tungsten" white balance. In the camera, this would be the proper setting for this scene. I think it looks much better.

The third is using Lightroom to set the white balance using his shirt as a white point. This would be a similar result to adjusting a .jpg photo after taking the picture in Auto mode.

And the last is what the result would be if I had mistakenly left the camera on "Daylight" mode.

Auto is fine if you want snapshots... of course, if you want to make your photos better, start thinking about the white balance of your scene and adjust accordingly.

Check out your manual for how to adjust to the white balance presets, and then go a little crazy and try some Custom white balances... I will get into that later as well.

One more thing.. Adjusting this photo after the fact was possible because I shot it in Raw format. In jpeg format, there is much less room for adjustment later, so it is even more crucial to get the white balance right in the camera.

Happy Shooting,

Don J.


  1. I wish I knew what all of this means. I understand the verbage... but I don't understand what to DO with it... anyway, love the pics!

  2. Hi Amy..

    Pick one setting at a time and play with it until it makes sense.. worked for me anyway!

    and feel free to ask questions too.. it will give me something to write about :-)

    don j.