White Balance

Most photographers overlook white balance and D-lighting because they don’t understand them. We can say with almost certain that after trying the experiment we outline in this lesson, you’ll see an amazing difference in the color of your pictures.

What is white balance? White balance is the process of removing other colors so the whites in your pictures appear the way they should. Different sources of light cast different tones on white. Place a white napkin next to a red rose and the napkin will almost look pink! Fluorescent lighting can make white appear to have a green  or blue tint. White balance involves attempting to correct the other factors so your whites appear to be white.

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Most photographers overlook the white balance settings on their cameras. Unless you have a cheap point-and-shoot, your camera probably has white balance settings.  Find the settings before continuing with this lesson!

By default, most digital cameras are set on auto white balance. That’s fine for most pictures, but there are times when you need to manually adjust the settings. By telling the camera what type of light you’re shooting in, the camera is better able to set the exposure of the picture.

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Besides auto, most cameras have white balance settings for incandescent light, fluorescent light, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, and shade.  I use both a Nikon D3100 and D3200. In addition to the settings mentioned above, the fluorescent light is further broken down into sodium-vapor, warm-white, white, cool-white, day white, daylight, and mercury vapor. That’s a lot of types of fluorescent lighting! Each setting also allows you to create a custom color. Simply click the right arrow next to the type of lighting and you’ll see the color options.

Here’s a neat experiment that will blow your mind. By now we’re assuming you’ve figured out how to set the white balance on your camera.  Find a subject you can photograph multiple times without changes.  Take a picture with the white balance set on auto.  Next take a picture with the white balance set on cloudy.  Then take a picture with the white balance set on flash.  Take a picture using each of the white balance settings including all of the fluorescent settings.  Did you notice any difference? The contrast among the pictures should be astounding!

The white balance settings do more than just adjust the tones of the whites.  Some of the settings completely change all of the colors! I discovered this secret while in Vermont photographing the amazing fall foliage. I happened to pick a rainy weekend and thought both days would be lost. Rather than drive hundreds of miles home, I decided to experiment with the white balance. The results were simply amazing! The camera took better pictures in the rain that it would have in bright sunlight!  I won’t say which white balance setting I used.  You can figure that out on your own. Recently I photographed 30 of the United States National Parks.  The weather at the Grand Canyon was absolutely horrible.  What I thought was thick fog ended up being smoke from a nearby wildfire. Remembering the white balance, I started toying with the settings.  Sure enough, I was able to snap some great pictures of the Grand Canyon even in the smoky haze!

Receive a free Certificate of Completion for this photography course. Pass a 40-question test on this course with a score of 70 or higher and receive a certificate of completion. Visit our Basics of Digital Photography Certificate of Completion page for more information.

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