White Balance Explained : How to set correct white balance in your SLR

When you first look at any image, which factors catch your sight first? Colours, toning and its depth. Colour is the most important element whether it is your life or your photograph. Colours fill a life in the image and describes it. And besides colour saturation, one factor also affects the colours in your image, it is white balance.

Many a times photographers neglect the white balance settings of the camera. But It is one of the most important features that is provided to us. Let us learn about the white balance.

What is white balance?

In simplest words, one can say that white balance setting is used to balance the white colour or tone in your image, so you’ll get a perfect white in your image. Under these conditions, the colours in an image appear nearest to the “true” colours. Now, why would camera change the colour in the image? Well, the answer lies in the relationship of colour with temperature.



Different colours in light.

You might have noticed one thing while taking the photo at evening. The Same image which was taken in broad daylight appears yellowish at evening. Sometimes image appears more blue or green. But the same scene, when watched through the naked eye, looks just normal. Then why this colour change?

This change is due to the colour temperature. It is a characteristic of visible light. Relation of light with temperature can be explained by the example of hot metal. Consider a hot metal rod. When it is heated at high temperature, its colour turns red, we call it red hot. Further heating will turn it white. At extreme high temperature, it will even turn blue in colour! In photography, light sources closely mimic this phenomenon.


Colour temperature according to the source of light.

Colour temperature is measured in Kelvin (K). You must have noticed there is a value assigned with each White balance setting ( ex. 6000K). Just like heating a rod, the colour of light also changes according to the colour temperature. It is neutral at around 5000K(which resembles daylight). If colour temperature is lowered, we will get more orange or red light and if increased, we will get more blue light.

How had colour temperature effect photography?

It is a fact that each source of light casts the light of different colour temperature. We don’t generally notice this difference in temperature because our eyes adjust automatically for it. Digital camera measures light in the red, green or blue spectrum. They are not so smart to automatically adjust this change. So many a times we need to tell them how to treat different shades of light. And to tell this, manufacturers have given us some standard white balance settings.


Sources of light and respective colour temperatures.

Adjusting white balance and Presets

The light source produces light of specific colour temperature. For example, tungsten light adds a yellowish cast to the photo while fluorescent light add the bluish cast. The image gets the nearly white tone in daylight while it gets the red light cast at evening time. So considering all these aspects, different white balance presets are defined to adjust the white balance for acquiring true colours.


White Balance Settings.

Auto – In this setting, the camera makes its best guess to adjust white balance. It even works in many situations, but not always.

Tungsten – This mode is used for light source just like the light bulb, similar to the indoor condition. It cools down the colour temperature in the photo.

Fluorescent – It is used for getting warmer and brighter tone than original fluorescent light to compensate it.

Daylight – Used under normal daylight in outdoor.

cloudy – It warms up the image more than daylight.

Flash – Light from the flash are generally much cool. So this setting warms up the image a little.

shade – Shaded areas are generally cooler. Thus, this setting warms up the image.

Manual white balance

Many DSLRs also provided with the facility where you can adjust white balance manually. Digital cameras get confused while trying to pursue perfect white balance in varying shades of light. We manually set the reference at that time to get correct white balance. to do this, you first point your camera at a pure white object, set the exposure and focus. Now, activate the white balance on the object by pressing the button. It may take few seconds for the camera to perceive the shot, but it will store this colour setting until the next white balance is performed.


Setting white balance manually by taking reference of white background.

True colour or pure colour, is key to the good image. Colours characterise our image, making it more lively.  So practice more and more on white balance. Yet it is a “regular practice” of photographers to go against the rules. So it’s also interesting that how white balance settings can be used against standard rules. Sometimes photographers also set the white balance, not to correct the colour change, but to fill various colour shades to over exaggerate image and to cast some special tone. After all, it’s up to you how you see the world!

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