What Is White Balance in Photography?
With film photography, white balance is controlled by the film that you buy. In digital photography, the white balance is controlled by the settings on your camera. Both are also controlled by the lighting situations.
The way our eyes see color is very different from the way our digital devices decode it. Add to that the fact that different devices interpret color in different ways.
There is huge potential for your images to look wrong when you get them up on the screen. But there is a system photographers use to get color right. From the camera to the final image.
It’s called color management. It involves camera settings, colors in your post-production software and monitor calibration.
All light has a color and that color is itself a temperature. Different light creates a temperature hue in your image. The color temperature scale used for light is the Kelvin Scale.
At the lower end of the scale, 2000-4000k shows warm light of reddish yellows. At around 5500k, the color is pretty much what we see at noon on a sunny day.
As the scale climbs, the light gets progressively bluer. At about 10,000 K we reach the very blue light of a typical flash gun.
Our cameras have a sensor that determines what the color cast of the light is. We can let that sensor to select the right camera white balance. We do this by using the AWB (auto white balance) setting.
For the most part, this sensor is very accurate. But a large block of a single color can fool it. For example, a woman wearing a bright red dress.
In this case, the color sensor will see the image as being redder than it actually is. And it will overcompensate by turning the image bluer.
This is often what happens with those wonderful sunset pictures. The overabundance of red light fools the camera sensor into adding bluer. This neutralizes the scene.
How Do I Deal With Camera White Balance?
Modern digital cameras give you the option to change the white balance manually. You also have the auto white balance (AWB) option.
Auto White Balance is often suitable for daylight situations. In most other situations, it’s guessing what the white balance should be. The most common example for this is when shooting indoors in tungsten light.
Canon, in particular, are bad at getting the color right on Auto mode. It can often come out far too warm.
How Do I Change My Camera White Balance?
There is no exact answer to this, hence I have left it to the end. Changing camera white balance very much depends on the make of your camera and the model.
Using the principles in this article, you should be able to adjust the settings on your camera. In doing so, you achieve the right white balance photography.
Professional-level cameras often have direct access to white presets. And manual white balance photography. This happens through buttons and dials on the body itself.
On lower-level cameras, you may well find that presets can be set from the body.
But the manual settings will be buried in the menu system. More often than not in the shooting settings.
My best advice here is to experiment with different white balances on some non-essential shoots.
How to Get Perfect Color Reproduction
Custom and temperature create the most accurate camera white balance photography. First though, you need to learn about grey cards.
Grey cards determine which white balance settings your camera should use. They are 18% grey; a neutral hue.
To use grey cards, take a photo of the card so that it fills the whole frame of your camera. Then set this as the white balance inside your camera.
The camera sees the difference between the result and the neutral hue. It determines the balance from that.
The reason you’d use a grey card and not a white one is simple. If you overexpose any color enough, it’ll come out as white. White balance is about color, not brightness.
You took the grey photo in the same lighting environment as the rest of your photos. So the camera knows exactly how much to adjust the balance.