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Understanding White Balance: The Basics

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You might have noticed this in your photos from your digital camera: sometimes the colors seem to be glazed in an orange glow, or oppositely a bluish tint. This is a result of your camera’s white balance. Understanding how white balance works-and how to make it work for you-can drastically improve the look and mood of your photos.

White Balance Definition

White balance is simply the readjustment of colors due to the lighting. This is because any lighting source gives off a certain “color temperature,” adding “warm” or “cool” hues to whatever you’re looking at. You’ll notice this when you compare photos taken indoors under florescent light versus incandescent light: under florescent light, the colors tend to look bluish, while incandescent bulbs produce an orange tint to the photo. Our eyes however have their own white balance setting, readjusting themselves to allow us to see colors as they are.

With older SLRs, the temperature was corrected by the use of filters. Today, almost all digital cameras have an Automatic White Balance setting (AWB), which allows you to shoot away without needing to manually switch filters. AWB will typically get rid of these blue and yellow/orange tints that dull or inaccurately capture the subjects of your photo. While your camera can do most of the work, some cameras give you the option to manually adjust the white balance setting, so you can set the color temperature at your will.

Old retro camera on vintage wooden boards

Setting the White Balance 

As mentioned, most digital cameras will adjust the white balance automatically. However, digital cameras can still get confused and record your shots without adjusting the color temperature correctly. With today’s DSLRs, it is easy to make your camera recognize and correct white balance automatically. Simply point your camera at something truly white: a white piece of cardboard or sheet of paper will be fine, or white clouds if you’re outside. Your camera will automatically pick up and identify the white color, and adjust other colors in the same light appropriately.

Many cameras come with pre-settings that will help adjust the white balance accordingly. For example, a “cloudy” setting will add a little warmth to photos if you’re outside taking photos. The “flash” setting of your camera also adjusts for the typically cool light that comes from using the flash, to ensure that the colors stay true. “Auto” settings attempt to establish the white balance on a shot-by-shot basis, and usually it works in most situations. But when it doesn’t, using the white card trick can improve results.

By adjusting white balance, your photos can stay true to how a subject and setting looked, or give it a creative flair. For more photography techniques and tips, contact us.

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