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What is white balance & how to correct it?

White balancing is a problem that a lot of digital camera owners, and some of them with a lot of experience too, somehow choose not to address to, don’t know how to address to or downright just don’t know anything about. As a result we come across expressions “I bet the girls were wearing white!” or something like, “honey you need a teeth whitener” while reviewing photos. Well, most of the time you dont have to put much of your gray cerebral power on white balancing. Your cameras “Auto White Balance” tool will handle it so nicely that you won’t even notice it. But some projects, like product or fashion photography demand color accuracy. You have to balance your white to get accurate color. Of course you can do it in post process. However, doing it before shooting will help you to save many work hours & hassle in post processing. Unless of course you have a digital camera with a sensor that is as adjustable as the human eye, you will have problems of white balancing when shooting in different light conditions. So what is white balance and how can we correct the problem? Since this is a part of a series that is addressed to the needs of photography enthusiasts just starting off and looking to master the fundamentals, it will remain an effort to keep things as less technical as possible.

What Is White Balance?

White balance is the process that ensures the color “white” (and along with that all other colors) appear as naturally as they normally looked to the naked eye in photographs. So, basically you shoot a girl wearing a white wedding dress and it will look white when you are viewing the images on your computer screen and not something gray, yellowish or bluish. Every light source has a temperature (color) which affects the color of the subject. Try shooting a portrait indoors with a fluorescent lamp as the light source and you will notice there is a bluish tinge on the final image. This is because of the incandescent light source that you used. Use a filament bulb and the color changes to yellowish. There is always a warm reddish tinge for all shots taken during the sunset or sunrise.

White Balance Menu of Canon DSLR

Preset White Balance

Thanks to modern digital camera technologies almost every piece of camera that hits the market has some sort of white balancing feature in it. These are some of the most common ones that you can find on them – (a) Auto, (b) Tungsten, (c) Fluorescent, (d) Daylight, (e) Cloudy and (f) Manual. Some, such as the latest Canon 5D Mark III, has a color temperature option as well.

Preset White Balance menu of Nikon DSLR

Manual White Balance & How to set it?

Using the manual mode is preferred by professional photographers. Since their work is related with their income they cannot afford to see white turning into something else after they release the shutter. But anyone who is in pursuit of perfection can use these settings. Preset modes in the cameras give the option to test the white balance by using a test shot. This is done usually setting the camera at a wide aperture pointing at white wall and then measuring it by a test shot. Once the test shot is taken the camera automatically adjusts the white balance to optimum level and using that as the reference point adjusts the other colors as well. This is probably the best way to ensure the colors look natural. Obviously on the fly, specially using compact cameras, the pre-set white balance settings are very useful. They are fast and quite accurate too. Of course if you don’t like any of this, there is a simple solution. Set your camera to Auto mode and click away!


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