The most common question I am asked is how to properly use white balance settings on a camera. This is a new phenomenon relating to digital cameras. In this lesson I hope to take the mystery out of white balance settings and to show you how to use this feature to optimize your photographs. The definition of white balance is:
A camera setting that compensates for the differences in color temperature of the surrounding light. In both film cameras and digital cameras the white balance must be adjusted to ensure that all colors in the scene will be represented faithfully. It can be adjusted automatically by the camera or manually, by selecting presets (tungsten, fluorescent, etc.) or by aiming the lens at a totally white surface (the white card) and selecting custom white balance.
Source: PC Magazine
A camera will set its color values (red, green and blue) based on its value of white. Changes in color temperature can cause color casts unless a white balance is set. For example, shade has a high temperature setting (measured in degrees Kelvin) and therefore has a bluish cast, unless a white balance is set. Beginner and amateur photographers can overlook this feature because of their lack of knowledge in evaluating proper color. Building this skill will require some practice. To achieve the best results in correct color you will need to shoot a lot of comparisons so you begin to educate yourself on the differences in cool light vs. warm light and various other types of light. There are three ways to set white balance in your camera. This is when you will need to have your manual handy.
1) Automatic white balance – AWB on most cameras. This setting will work most of the time but will produce average results. Photographs in the shade will have a slight bluish cast. The bluish cast may look normal to
you until you see the difference between a custom white balance vs. AWB. You may also see color casts from photographs taken indoors with mixed fluorescent and tungsten lighting. Again, once you see the
differences in photos using custom white balance vs. AWB you will probably not use this setting anymore.
2) Manual white balance – you can set the white balance manually to suit the respective light source. The following modes are found on most digital SLRs:
• Daylight – sun symbol
• Shade – house casting a shadow symbol
• Cloudy, twilight, sunset – cloud symbol
• Tungsten light – light bulb symbol
• White• White fluorescent light – fluorescent tube symbol
• Flash – lightning bolt symbol
3) Custom White Balance – the symbol is usually two triangles and a dot. This setting lets you manually set your white balance for better accuracy. You will need to check your camera manual to find out the correct steps.
In the Canon cameras it is quite simple:
a. Photograph a white object (usually white foam core or a special
digital calibration target).
b.Select “custom white balance.”
c. Select “set.” Select the image captured in step one and select “set”
d.Turn the dial to the custom white balance symbol.
Custom white balance can be very effective, however it can be cumbersome if you are working outdoors in changing light conditions. If you are working in consistent lighting conditions (sun, shade and cloudy bright) I highly recommend it. You will need to test the various methods and see what works for you. See below for an example of custom white balance applied outdoors.
For more information on DSLR photography check out the online course.
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