In photography terminologies, white balance is defined as adjusting the colors to make a photo look the most natural. It’s the reason as to why some images overdose in yellow when you’re capturing a photo indoors, or why there are instances a photo can appear blue with camera flash.

This is the reason why understanding the very concept of white balance is essential when it comes to digital photography. Once you adjust it or set it incorrectly, it could potentially ruin the outcome of a photo with unnatural colors.

Color temperature

Understanding color temperature is essential in understanding white balance because both are interconnected with each other.

The basic definition of color temperature is the special properties and characteristics of a light source, which is often used during the production phase.

Low color temperature indicates warm colors (yellow to red light), while high color temperatures indicate cooler colors (blue light.)

For instance, if you happen to have a white sheet of paper with you and you took a look at it outdoors, it would look as white as when you look at it indoors. However, this is where the difference between bright sunlight and tungsten light comes in.

Another instance would be if you happen to be a skier or snowboarder, try to have your ski goggles on and observe the snow. You’d find that the color tone of the snow has changed.

If you’re wearing ski goggles with a yellow tint, the snow would then look yellow. Although, once you’ve been skiing for a while, your eyes and brain would then adjust to the color, and the snow would look white again. Once you remove your ski goggles, the snow would look blurry in color.

These instances are indicators of how a sophisticated color system will result in an adjustment of colors due to various lighting situations.

Definition of white balance

In taking pictures, especially indoors, most light sources do not usually give off a pure white color and can give off a certain color temperature. It’s in these instances where white balance takes effect.

The color scheme of what we see compared to what the camera captures is different since our eyes automatically differentiate the actual color temperature of an object. Our brains automatically can distinguish the exact color as compared to digital cameras, whereas they can only assume the color by watching the ambient light.

The concept that most people don’t understand, however, is that the color temperature between bright sunlight and indoor tungsten light is very different.

What is the purpose of white balance?

As mentioned above, the primary purpose of white balance in digital photography is to make photographs look as natural as possible.

The outcome of images in the camera isn’t the same as how we perceive it with our own eyes. Even though it looks natural to us, the image that has been captured may appear to be more orange in color or blue. This is because different images have different sources of light. Thus, they appear as different color temperatures. As compared to our eyes being able to adjust to color temperatures, digital cameras don’t have that ability.

Should you use an auto white balance?

As mentioned, every light source has a different color temperature, which is measured in Kelvin. If you find that your camera is set to auto white balance, it will attempt to estimate the Kevin value point based on a white subject that would then serve as a reference point.

However, this kind of result isn’t always accurate and precise, especially if the environment you’re trying to capture does not contain pure white color or is dominated by just one color.

In this case, it’s still best to manually set your camera to the right white balance or in post-processing.

Shooting in RAW format

Once you shoot in RAW format, you can then convert the RAW image to any white balance. Shooting in RAW format is basically a file format that makes you capable of capturing higher quality images and edit problem images. The RAW format enables you to record the entirety of the data from the sensor.

With this, as long as your camera is set to RAW, you can shoot in any white balance mode.

However, if you don’t use RAW and go with JPEG instead, you would have to learn how to navigate white cards and in modifying the white balance of your camera.

Compared to JPEG, RAW enables you to correct image problems. As already mentioned, the camera does a pretty good job of guessing the color temperature of what you’re trying to capture. In cases where lighting conditions would fool the camera, this is where manual adjustments would kick in.

Manual white balance

As the daylight changes in different parts of hours of the day, it’s important to make manual adjustments to make up for the change in lighting conditions. This is the reason behind as to why you always have to correct the white balance upon shooting.

To manually set your camera to white balance, all you have to do is point your camera at an object with pure white color and adjust the exposure and focus accordingly. Then, you turn on the white balance by just clicking the button. It may only take a few moments for it to take effect, but it will activate this color setting until the next white balance shot.

White balance presets

Most DSLR and other varieties of point and shoot cameras have balance white presets, which are set to a specific Kelvin number by the manufacturer. These white balance preset vary depending on factors such as the camera model. The following is a list of some white balance presets for most Nikon DSLR cameras:

  1. Auto: This is known as the default white balance setting and is recommendable to be used in shooting RAW. The camera automatically estimates the white balance depending on the ambient light and use of the camera flash.
  2. Tungsten (light bulb): You should use this preset strictly just with the presence of tungsten light bulbs, or else, the photo would end up with a blue color instead.
  3. Florescent (glowing tube): It’s recommendable to use this once the images look too green or with the presence of fluorescent light when indoors.
  4. Direct sunlight (sun): This preset is commonly used upon shooting outdoors, with the sun’s rays shining on the object.
  5. Flash (lightning bolt): This is used when the camera flash is active.
  6. Cloudy (cloud): This is used on cloudy days or humid days. This will cause images with warmer colors than sunlight.
  7. Shade (house with a shadow): This is warmer than that of cloudy, which would add orange colors to the image. This is perfect for sunsets and photographs with different shades.
  8. Continuously variable (K): This lets you manually adjust the Kelvin variable from 2,500 to 10,000.
  9. Preset (PRE): This is used for images with color matching with a white card.

With these various presets, you can distinguish which are the right presets to use in different sceneries and different objects. You can also find that you can experiment with different presets before shooting, and this will help you with figuring out which is the right preset to use in shooting.

Changing white balance in Lightroom

Lightroom is a top-rated photography app known for editing and improving the overall quality of your photos. With Lightroom, it’s easy to change the white balance presets. As you’re in the “Library” module, look at the right panel, and all you need is to choose a preset among the “White Balance” button under the “Quick Develop” setting.

You could find that the temperature and color are also adjustable in Lightroom. Merely switch to the “Develop” module and go to the “Basic” menu. You have the option of typing in the color temperature or the tint you want, or you can adjust accordingly with a mouse.

Challenges with auto white balance

There are some instances wherein there can be challenges in using the auto white balance.

An example will be if the image happens to contain an overabundance of either warm or cold colors. Generally, auto white balance takes more effect with white colors or colorless element of colors

In mixed lighting, however, different challenges may occur with varying temperatures of color. Certain lighting situations don’t have an accurate white balance and will, therefore, vary on color accuracy.

In the end, whether you’re an experienced photographer or not, the important thing with white balance is learning everything about the basics before you can apply this with capturing and shooting photos.

Color temperatures are really important in digital photography, and that’s why white balance is one of the essential techniques you can master when it comes to your photos.

You’d then know how to make the most out of white balance and make it seem the most natural that it can, and making the most out of white balance presets.