All About White Balance
White balance: What is it? And why do you need to use it?
If you have even dabbled in photography you already know about the importance of light, but what about the color of that light? Yes, there are totally different colors from different types of light sources. You may also hear others speak of it as the temperature of the color.
White balance actually balances the color-temperature in your image. It can add the opposite color picked up in the image to bring it to a more neutral setting. Instead of seeing more blues or oranges, we should see more whites and neutrals.
Have you heard of people mentioning that the likey “warmer” images or “cooler” images? This totally depends on the white balance and color of the light in the image. The color temperature determines if your image appears bluer, more orange, or true to life – which is the goal right?
If you are going to be shooting in RAW format, which I highly recommend (you can see a post about shooting in raw and jpeg here), then you will be more easily able to correct any white balance issues in your post-processing (editing) than you could if shooting in JPEG.
Now, your camera has options to change white balance on it while shooting. These settings can help, but they still might not process the color as well as our eyes and brains can see it.
Ok so let me take you back to Chemistry class for a moment, don’t get scared, I won’t make you recite the periodic table. Remember Kelvin (K) units? Well this is the physical property of light and how color temperature is measured. Think about different in light properties in this way, say you are in a basketball gym at the local high school and their fluorescent lights are not all equal in the color being sent off from them – maybe it was different brands causing this, but they were sending off different color temperatures than others. The same can be said for what the sunlight looks like at sunset as opposed to at noon.
Most DSLRs these days have options to adjust the white balance manually when shooting and include “fluorescent,” “shade,” “sun,” and “tungsten.” Some will even spell it out directly as “cloudy” or “sunny” or “direct sunlight” – this makes it easier to wrap your brain around.
Let’s say you don’t even want to mess with all of this (I know I don’t). Maybe I’m wrong, but I put my white balance on “auto” and set everything else manually. I adjust my white balance when I edit later on; I shoot in RAW and that assists greatly in my color correction. The auto-mode on my Nikon 610 and 750 are usually pretty spot on and not terribly out of wack. I do still adjust a bit more in Lightroom with those RAW images.
An important note: If you are shooting in RAW, it’s not as important to get the color JUST right in different light sources while actually shooting. Just understanding the basic concept will assist you with your post-processing (editing) of those RAW files.
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Magan Ward is a photographer, wife, mom of 3, and educator to fellow photographers. She has an unhealthy obsession with Chick-Fil-A mac and cheese, and has a bit of a love affair with dry shampoo – something she tried to avoid for years until the pandemic of 2020 occurred rendering her dependent upon the waterless revelation that saves her time, something now used to instead apply nutella to waffles for tiny humans.
Putting that Masters in Education to good use, Magan enjoys teaching her fellow photographers and online entrepreneurs the ins and outs of building a business that they love…and occasionally sprinkles in some encouragement for Mamas, because life with littles is just plum hard sometimes.
You can grab her free list of favorite tools for entrepreneurs here.