Do not let your digital camera control you: White Balance


Have you ever experienced a frustration of trying to draw something that you could easily imagine, but could not transfer into a linear shape on paper? At that moment, you probably felt like you did not have enough control over your hands. The same thing can happen when you take pictures with a digital camera: blurry, over- or underexposed, yellowish, reddish or bluish photographs can make you think that maybe you are not talented enough. Before giving up on photography make an effort to understand your digital camera settings and regain the control over your creations!

Text and pictures by Joanna Wróblewska

What is White Balance in digital photography? Not everybody knows this term. Maybe you have heard about it once or twice, but do you know how to use it efficiently? To understand the White Balance you should first learn about the color temperature of visible light.

Color temperature is the characteristics of visible light that plays a significant role in photography. Simplifying, each source of light has a distinct color, which may vary from red to blue and will strongly influence your pictures. Color temperature is measured on the Kelvin Scale (K). Red light has a low temperature while blue light has a high temperature. The color temperature scale in photography mostly ranges between 9000K to 2000K. In the middle of a sunny day, the color temperature will probably have around 5500K. Light from a bulb looks warm, which means that it has a lower color temperature of 2500-3000K, similar to a late afternoon light. On the other hand, a cloudy landscape or a blue sky will have much higher color temperature of more than 6500K. Does it sound a bit tricky? Look at the Kelvin Scale to understand it better.

In simple digital cameras, you will not find the Kelvin Scale, but many dSLRs have this advanced option. Just remember that it is hard to estimate the exact color temperature of visible light unless you use a particular device. Luckily, you can still keen on the White Balance setting that allows to control the color temperature of your digital photographs without having exact measurements.

Explore your camera
First check if there is a White Balance setting in your camera. Do you choose from small icons like a sun, a cloud or a bulb? Or maybe there is the Kelvin Scale available too? Each digital camera is different, so take some time to get to know it better.

Experiment and have fun
Note that our brain and eyes adjust to the color temperature kind of “automatically” and we mostly see white as white. It is not like that with a digital camera, so discover how to work with it. Are you ready to experiment? Try out each of the White Balance settings. How do they influence your photographs? Do they get bluish, reddish or yellowish? When does the white become neutral? Find the right setting for what you are willing to shoot.

Go manual
Some cameras offer a manual White Balance setting called Custom White Balance. Learn how to use it! Place a white piece of paper (or a professional gray card) in front of the photographed object, focus on it and shoot. The camera should adjust automatically and save the color temperature measurement. Use the setting until the light changes dramatically.

Summarizing, understanding White Balance is almost as important as understanding aperture, shutter speed or ISO. It guarantees a natural color of photographs, where white is white. Proper White Balance will also make the digital postproduction quicker and less complicated. Of course it is possible to experiment and break the rules, so from time to time you will probably use a wrong White Balance setting on purpose!

Learn more:
What is White Balance
Introduction to White Balance
White Balance in practice


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