It is important to understand what white balance is in photography. White Balance has a large impact on the colour tones of your photograph. Choosing the correct white balance will determine the colour temperature of your photograph. The right white balance will give you correct tones. However if not selected well then your photograph will look too cold or too warm. This results in skin tones and other objects within the photograph having the wrong colour tone.
What is white balance?
In photography, white balance refers to the colour temperature of your image. Colour temperature is simply the number on the Kelvin Scale. Depending on the lighting of your environment equates to the white balance that should be selected. Some options you can choose in white balance include clouds, sunny and LED light. Therefore if you are photographing outside on a cloudy day then you will select the white balance for cloudy; I will go into more detail on the different types of white balance later in the blog.
To make things simple and easy to understand, all you have to do is select the white balance that reflects your environment. If it’s sunny, select sunny. If you are using flash photography then select the flash white balance. It really is as simple as that.
Below you can see the different white balance settings selected on the same photograph. this shows how important white balance is to photography.
How White Balance Works
Light and colour are combined to produce the tone of your photograph. It is this tone that gives your photograph its look. White balance takes all the colour tones available to your camera and balances them to make your photograph look its best.
Your camera’s White Balance is decided on a level of degrees with the camera doing all the work. The problem is that it is very easy to overprocess the images to the point where they no longer look true.
To gain an understanding of this we have to go back to film photography. When printing colour film you would have to manually balance the colours when printing. Using an enlarger (an enlarger is simply a machine that prints photographs onto paper using light) you would balance the colours of CMY (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow). With CMY you should aim to balance these three colours to find a natural tone for your photograph, to make it as true as possible.
The process of manually balancing colour photographs is essentially the same as digital photography. However, the camera does all of the work for you. The camera will balance all of the colours taken from the photograph and select the best colour options (if photographed in auto white balance), producing a natural and true looking photograph.
Of course, the camera is not as smart as us humans so some adjusting to the colour balance may be needed in post-production.
What is colour temperature?
The colour temperature is the perceived colour tones of your photograph. Colour temperature is measured in Kelvins. We measure kelvins between 10,000k to 1,000K. 10,000K is likely to be on a clear blue sky, therefore 1,000k is likely to be the warmth of a candle flame.
Here is a graphic I have put together to help you understand colour temperature in photography.
How to set white balance
Changing your white balance is not too difficult. On your camera’s Quick menu you should see a white balance icon. You can simply navigate over that icon, select it and choose the white balance setting you wish to use.
Your camera has many different white balance options, here is a list of what to look for in choosing the right white balance setting on your camera (they are usually presented black, but I think blue looks pretty cool, so sorry.):
Auto – The camera will measure and balance the colours in your photograph to produce the most natural tone of colours.
Tungsten Light – Approximately 3,200 Kelvins.
White Fluorescent Light – Approximately 4,000 Kelvins.
Daylight – Approximately 5,200 Kelvins.
Cloudy – Approximately 6,000 Kelvins.
Shade – Approximately 7,000 Kelvins.
Flash – This will balance the colours to compensate for flash photography.
Custom – Of course this can be where you select your own Colour temperature.
Colour Temperature – This allows you to quickly select the Kelvin measurement that you would like to photograph in.
Modern digital cameras often come with a white balance setting. With the new camera, I would set the White Balance setting to Auto. This is best as the camera will adjust the white balance automatically for the light conditions.
Personally, my camera does an amazing job at balancing the colour temperature. Therefore I tend to keep my white balance settings on Auto. It is only on specific occasions that I have found myself having to change the white balance in post-production.
I hope that this blog has been of value to you and helps you to understand what white balance is in photography. If you have any questions, ideas or something you would like to add then make sure to leave a comment, i would love to hear from you guys.
If you are just getting into photography then I have a few blogs and articles on camera settings and how to start off in photography. Hopefully, my website can be a great resource for your learning and make sure to drop me an email if there is something specific you would like me to write about.