Understanding white balance in digital photography.
White balance is the adjustment of a digital photograph to make its colors appear more realistic. “It’s a way to set a photograph to neutral, to make the white look white,” says photographer and educator Adam Long. For example, if you take a photo of a white object in certain lighting conditions, it can appear bluer than it actually is. To counteract this, you can use your camera’s white balance settings to get rid of the blue cast or you can use post-production software, like Adobe Photoshop, to make Color Balance adjustments.
Different lighting situations create different color temperatures.
It’s called “white balance” but it actually affects all the colors in your photo. If you’re shooting with natural light from an overcast sky, your photos will have a cold color temperature, more of a blue tone. Shooting in unnatural incandescent light with your typical tungsten light bulbs creates a warm color cast, one that shows up as more yellow or orange. And shooting under certain types of fluorescent lights can give your photos a green tint.
Different color temperatures convey different moods.
The goal with white balance is to understand how it can be affected and to use it intentionally. Try a more realistic white and see whether it helps or hinders your image — you may not always want perfectly accurate colors. “White balance is a great place to start,” says photographer Kenton Waltz. “Then you can decide how you want it to feel and adjust from there,” says Waltz. “I ask myself, ‘What’s the story these photos are telling and how is that color temperature going to affect that story?’”
Adjusting white balance in camera.
A good first step is accounting for white balance in your camera settings. “With white balance, you’re matching the camera to the light source,” says photographer Grace Rivera. Most newer DSLR cameras have powerful automatic white balance (AWB) functions. But if you want to explore custom settings, manual white balance adjustments are also an option; you can choose a setting depending on your light source. “If it’s cloudy, there’s a cloudy day setting. If you’re shooting in bright sunlight, there’s a setting for that,” says Rivera. “You can adjust based on where you are. But I usually use auto white balance and then adjust things in editing after.”
To achieve good in-camera white balance when shooting, consider these factors: