An introduction to white balance


This is really meant as a quick intro for people not familiar with this setting. Light can be different temperatures and degrees of warmth from cool to warm. You will have encountered this when buying light bulbs. The colour temperature of light is measured in degrees Kelvin as shown in this chart from Digital Camera World. Daylight is 5200k. This is considered quite a neutral light, showing colours without any noticeable colour cast.

The white balance feature on digital cameras is there to offer us settings that make colours as accurate and neutral as possible. This is one of the settings that you can leave on auto AWB for the majority of the time and let the camera do its best.

There are, however, several other settings that you can select to, in effect, cool down or warm up the light, to produce a natural effect. The best way to see the impact of each setting is to try it out. You will instantly see the effect.

If you do try out another setting DO NOT FORGET to change it back to AWB.

I almost always leave my cameras set to AWB, unless the results look unnatural and then I might try another setting. However, please note the following:

  • If your camera is set to save images as RAW files (rather than JPEGs) it is much easier to correct the white balance when editing. JPEGs are processed in camera and the colours etc are “baked in”, making White balance harder to correct.
  • Occasionally when shooting under strong indoor lighting I will try the Tungsten or Fluorescent settings if AWB doesn’t work.
  • You can set a custom white balance by selecting this option and focusing the camera on something pure white like a piece of paper.

The best route is to see what works for you. I have tried all of the methods. Custom white balance has given me varying degrees of success and works best if you are shooting in a very consistent light, so that you don’t have to keep re-setting it.

White balance us a complex subject and I’ve just covered it at a top line level. Photographers argue about it all the time. I gave learned to trust my eye, shoot in RAW and AWB most of the time. I know my Canon shot slightly warm and my Sony is a bit cool.

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