Understanding White Balance In Photography – How To Adjust It?

| Last Updated On: June 7, 2021
what is white balance in photography

The last of our topic around photography is going to shed light on white balance, an aspect in photography that took me the longest to understand, and even then, I find myself getting confused after using it for some time now.

But while writing about it in detail, I came to an understanding that this is not difficult to grasp at all. Granted, it is filled with different aspects, but at the end of the day, if you are wondering what is white balance, then it is one of the easiest concepts to grasp.

That is why I decided that I am going to use everything that I learned and use it in this guide so other readers and photographers who are having a hard time coming to terms with how to use them will not have any issues that might come your way.

Rest assured, we are going to start exploring all the possible aspects.


What Is White Balance In Photography?


Now, I would understand that understanding white balance might not be an easy thing for a lot of people because of different aspects to it, but at its core, it is one of the simplest things that one can come across.

In photography, white balance is essentially serving as a tool that helps you remove any unrealistic colour cast from the photo, so the subjects that are appearing in white in person are white in the photo as well. The right camera white balance has to look into the colour temperature of the light source.

Showing some camera settings

As far as colour temperature is concerned, it is essentially a term that refers to the relative warmth coolness of the white light. If the light has a blueish cast to it, it will be considered cool light, and if it has a yellowish cast to it, it will be considered warm light.

You can digitally control these casts too in post-processing to make the picture look more realistic. However, these are also used for giving the photo an artistic look and feel, depending on the photographer and their style of photography.


How To Adjust White Balance? Different White Balance Presets:


Now, as far as adjusting white balance is concerned, the process of this is simple. The reason why most people find themselves in a confusing state is that several white balance options can confuse the living daylights of many. That’s why I am are here.


Auto (A)


As the name suggests, the auto white balance is going to do its job by setting the white balance to automatic. Which means that it will change based on the scene.

White Balance Auto Mode

If you are not someone who knows how to use manual white balance properly, this mode is a good way to get started and will not come in the way of anything.


Tungsten


When looking at white balance modes, tungsten is a great option as this mode is used for light under a light bulb, and it is great when you are shooting indoors.

In almost all the cameras that you will be using for this, it is going to cool down the colour temperature in the photos and is great while picking the right white balance in low light conditions.

Recommended reading: What Is Dynamic Range in Photography?


Fluorescent (Glowing Tube)


This can be considered the exact opposite of tungsten, as this mode is perhaps most commonly used when you are looking to get your hands on warmer shots while compensating for the cooler shade that comes from fluorescent.

Image of Fluorescent Option in white balance

Using this mode is just like using tungsten, but it is better to be used in slightly better light conditions.


Direct Sunlight (Sun)


If you are finding yourself in direct sunlight and you are looking to choose the right white balance, instead of using the 5500K setting, you can use a cloudy setting at 6000K or a shade setting at 7000K.

Direct Sunlight Option in Nikon Camera

This will help you compensate for the harsher sunlight that might create an issue in your photos.


Flash (Lightning Bolt)


If you are looking to use flash and still have the right white balance, the suggestion is to use the daylight white balance as that is going to give you the results that are going to be closest to what you are looking to get.

However, it is an open-ended choice, which means that you can play around with it to decide.


Cloudy (Cloud)


Another useful white balance option we have is cloudy or overcast; this is best used when you are outdoors, and the sunlight is harsher than usual. This can create an overcast by setting the values to 6500K and go as high as 7500K.

Cloudy Option in Nikon Camera

I know these sound like drastic values, but it all depends on how intense of a light you are dealing with.


Choose Color Temperature (K)


Another great thing about white balance is that when it comes to choosing it, you can make adjustments on your own.

You can dial in the temperature that you want to be, and it is not that difficult, and if you truly have a proper understanding of how you want to choose the temperature, you will do good.

Related reading: Portrait Vs. Landscape: What’s Your Go-To?


Shade


Moving towards the end, we have a shade option for white balance, and it is when the sunlight is really strong.

Shade Option in Nikon Camera

The colour temperature value for this one starts at around 8000K, and it is not something that you should be used in most of the conditions, but it still is useful to have.


Preset (PRE)


The last one that we are dealing with is PRE or preset. Not a lot of people know, but this mode is used for measuring the scene so a proper white balance can be detected for the scenes.

This is not going to create a lot of issues for anyone, and you can easily do it the right way to get the perfect white balance every time.


Auto White Balance Vs Custom White Balance


Now, when you are talking about photography, there is a debate as to whether the auto white balance is better than custom white balance, and that is not something that ever really ends, to be honest.

Image of some buildings in night

However, it is important to understand that auto white balance can easily be tricked in situations where the lighting is trickier to understand.

The same cannot be said about the white balance that is custom or adjusted on your own. This is going to give you complete control over your photography and how you want to take the photos. It is not going to be that difficult at all.


How To Set Your White Balance Manually


A lot of the photographers want to choose their white balance, and that is something that can work well for a lot of people because of how good their understanding is.

image of some camera options

To set the white balance manually, you have to do the following steps.

  • Start by taking a photo of something white or mid-grey.
  • Once that is done, select your camera’s custom white balance mode.
  • You will have an option to choose the image you just took as a reference.

Once you do that, the camera will use that picture and create a white balance tailored to your reference image. This is a great way of having control over the photos that you take.


How To Use Auto White Balance


This one is much simpler than you might think. When you are talking about using auto white balance, you are just letting your camera choose the right preset for you and go along with it.

What this means is that your camera’s processing takes over and determines the white balance for the shots that you are taking.

Image of camera taking photo of a model

Older cameras used to suffer a lot in this section as their processing was not as good. However, the same cannot be said for any camera that was released in 2017 and after that, because the overall processing has become a lot better.

If you want to save a good chunk of time and you want to be sure that you are getting great photos in every case, you can just let the white balance on auto, and you will be getting spectacular photos and videos.

However, if you think the colour temperature is not up to your preference, you can always go for changing that in post-processing, as we will talk about in a moment.


How To Change White Balance In Post-Processing Software


Now that we have come this far, it is important to start talking about how you can go ahead and set the post-processing in post-processing software.

Now, post-processing software here refers to photo editing software from places like Adobe or some other companies. You can use whatever software you wish to use because, at the end of the day, the results are going to be the same.

Image of color balance options in adobe

However, the one thing that I am going to suggest to you here is to be sure that you are shooting images in RAW, so all the data is stored in the picture, and that way will allow you to tinker with it the way you want to.

All photo editing software come with the ability to adjust the colour temperature, in addition to that, it will also let you colour grade those photos.

This means that you can grade the colours and determine the style of white balance that you want. White balancing has a separate tab in almost every software, so you are never being left out behind.

Rest assured, if you are looking for a good way out in terms of white balance adjustment, you will not have any issues.


What Is Color Temperature?


This is something that you will have to consider time and again, but most of the times, people fail to understand what colour temperature is.

Simply put, colour temperature generally is referred to as the colour of the light, but there are a lot of technicalities that go in here which you need to know.

image of a women standing in times square

For starters, colour temperature is the temperature at which a black body or an object fully absorbs all the frequencies of the light.

This temperature is pleasured in Kelvin, and the higher the number, the colder the temperature of the picture you are taking, and the lower the number, the warmer the cast.

In photography, white balance and colour temperature are working in tandem. The process is used to remove unsightly colour casts, so the picture ends up looking as natural as possible rather than looking the other way.

Our eyes are already trained to get the right white balance, but the same cannot be said for cameras. Therefore, they have to be trained to get the best possible results.


Colour Temperature And White Balance


When you are talking about the whole idea that revolves around colour temperature along with white balance, this is a technical aspect for a lot of people as people usually have a harder time understanding what this difference is all about, and I am looking to be certain that this is done the right way.

With that out of the way, if you are not sure, correcting white balance is a process that removes any colour from the photos that might not be a part of it.

showing four different types of landscapes

Our human eye is trained to detect different colour temperatures a lot better than cameras do and are fully aware of white is and how to determine different colours.

The same cannot be said about cameras, therefore you have to be sure that you are training your camera to understand what the correct white balance is.

Once you are done with that, the next process is to just witness great-looking pictures in every single case without having to worry much.


White Balance Settings & Tips


When you are looking to take pictures, you have to understand how to handle white balance when it comes to settings. There are some tips that I can give you because you will be able to understand things properly.

That way, you will not have to stress over anything that might come your way.

Understanding White Balance: The thing that you must understand is that everything is going to have a white balance, but that does not mean that it cannot be adjusted. You can make the white balance as per your requirement and adjust the colour temperature of your photos as well.

Using RAW: The thing with shooting in RAW is that you will have access to all the data that your image capture, and that will allow you to get the perfect edit without any issues.

Using a Grey Card: If you want to get a precise white balance, you can use a grey card that is commonly available in the market that will help you get the perfect white balance every single time.

Using a Custom White Balance: Another thing that you can do is using a custom white balance because, at the end of the day, it is going to be one of the most important factors for you and taking a good picture.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

#Q1- What is white balance in a video camera?

Answer: White balance is a feature in the camera that gives the camera a true white reference and tells the camera what a single colour should look like. Considering how the white light consists of all the colours, it becomes easier for the camera to understand the light in the right way.

#Q2- What is the purpose of white balance?

Answer: The purpose of white balance is simple to understand, to be honest. The feature is there to correct any colour issues that might be a part of the picture because, in most of the situations, things like this are often overlooked, and that is not what we are looking to go for in the first place.

#Q3- Should I use auto white balance?

Answer: If you are someone who is just starting in the photography business, the thing that you must understand about using auto white balance is that it is going to help you a lot in the process, and you will not have any issues either as far as the photography process is concerned.

#Q4- Does white balance matter in raw?

Answer: Yes, when you are discussing white balance, it is going to be a lot better when you are taking pictures in RAW format. The reason being simple, with the RAW format, the images have a lot of data in them, and you can easily get the picture with great white balance.

#Q5- What white balance should I use at night?

Answer: If you are looking at taking pictures at night, then there are a few different ways you can choose the right balance. You can look at a colder setting that ranges from 3400 to 3900K as well. If the skies are a lot darker than you might normally experience, you can go for 4000K or above temperature for the best looking photos.

#Q6- Does white balance affect exposure?

Answer: There is a common misconception that white balance ends up affecting the exposure, but that is not the case. Your camera is going to take care of both aspects, but if you are wondering that the exposure might be affected or the opposite, that is not the case.

#Q7- What is daylight white balance?

Answer: Daylight white balance is great, but the thing that you must realise is that you are going to need 5500K to make the daylight sun look warm. You can go for higher values as well if you are looking to get warmer results, depending on your choice.


Wrap-Up:

The final verdict is that when you are trying to deal with the white balance, you have to understand that you are fully aware of every aspect. It is not something that is going to be easy for everyone to understand, but the thing is… once you do spend time learning about white balance, you will be able to get things sorted out the best possible way.

Rest assured, if you do want great results, just be sure that you look at everything I have talked about white balance

 
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