Photography White Balance – A Beginner’s Guide

Have you ever noticed how sometimes you’ve taken a shot and there’s a weird color coming out in it?

A yellow, blue, perhaps orange look to the photo?

We all have and when we first start out in our photographic journey it can be a bit of a struggle to understand why this is happening.

Enter ‘White Balance’!

Different light sources will add a different color cast to your images even though to the naked eye they appear ‘normal’. Fluorescent lighting is actually blue in color, tungsten bulbs add yellow.

The naked eye and the brain behind it are smart enough to discern these differences and therefore to us a white paper is a white paper… is a white paper!

The ‘brain’ in your camera is not quite that smart and won’t normalize the range of color temperatures that we can.

The White Balance settings in your camera are here to help as this can have a tremendous impact on the quality of the images that you take as you can take control of your camera and tell it to ‘warm up the image’ or ‘cool down the image’.

Look up the settings for your individual camera’s white balance mode. You can do this manually or in most cases these days, have preset white balance settings.

Below are some of the basic white balance settings that most cameras will have:

Auto- this is where the camera makes a best guess on a shot by shot basis. You’ll find it works in many situations but it’s worth venturing out of it for trickier lighting.

Tungsten-this setting will generally cool down the colors in your photos.

Fluorescent- this setting will generally warm up the colors in your photos.

Daylight/Sunny- tends to keep the white balance in a kind of ‘neutral’ state.

Cloudy- this setting generally warms things up a touch more than ‘daylight’ mode.

Flash- the flash of a camera can be quite a cool light so in Flash WB mode you’ll find it warms up your shots a touch.

Shade- will warm things up a touch.

Manually adjusting the White Balance

You can actually get pretty decent shots by using the above preset values. You can however, learn how to do this manually.

The basics behind adjusting things manually will remain the same even though the way you do it will vary from camera to camera.

In essence, you will set up a reference point for your camera (what white/grey actually is) and your camera will know that this is white.

You can then manually adjust the warmth factor up or down appropriately dependent on the conditions under which you are shooting!

As with everything else in photography this is one of the basics. Once you actually understand how to warm or cool an image, feel free to go nuts on the settings to get whatever effect you are actually after.

After all, just because an image is correctly exposed and framed, doesn’t make it a correct image!