Lesson 13: White Balance

White BalanceWhite balance is a digital camera setting that allows the colors in your photos to appear accurately. White balance gets it’s name because if a photo has correct white balance, things that are white in reality appear white in the photo. All other colors appear accurately too – blacks are pure black and gray are pure gray with no other colors mixed in.

Why do we need white balance? Different light sources produce different colored light. For example, household light bulbs contain a gas called tungsten which produces an orange colored light, flourescent bulbs produce a greenish colored light, etc.

You’ve probably seen photos with incorrect white balance that were taken indoor without a flash. These photos tend to take on either a green or orange tint depending on what kind of lights are in the room. This happens because the camera sees the world differently than the human eye. While our eyes are able to automatically correct colors accurately, the camera is not capable to do that.

Correct white balance is important for many reasons. In portrait photography skin tones need to appear accurately because greenish or yellowish skin tones look unnatural. In product photography it is important for the colors to appear accurate so that the consumer knows exactly what he is getting. Also, when taking multiple photos of one thing it’s important to have consistent white balance so that the colors in the photos all match.

So what white balance should you use? In order to get the most faithful color representation you should use the SAME white balance mode as your MAIN source of light. For example, if your house is lit by 5 flourescent lights and and one regular light bulb – you should set your camera to flourescent white balance. If you are inside during daytime and all the windows are open and only one light bulb is on, you should probably use the daylight white balance. If your camera has a custom white balance setting then you can take a picture of a white paper and take the white balance from that picture. This is one of the most accurate mode to set the white balance. See your camera manual to find out how to do that. Experiment and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learning to use white balance properly takes a lot of practice.

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