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Understanding White Balance

White Balance

White balance is an important tool of your camera and even some professional photographers are sometimes not sure how to get it right. They simply keep the white balance to auto and shoot away. But auto white balance can be wrong so often, especially when you are shooting in different lighting conditions.

Let’s say you are shooting at a party and there are tungsten, halogen, fluorescent lights and everything in between. How do you think that the auto white balance feature of your camera be able to adjust to that mixed lighting scenario and successfully get the right color tone?

Setting the Right White Balance

Understanding white balance is all about getting the right color tone, regardless of the type of light under which you are shooting in. There is a built-in white balance adjustment option in all digital cameras (even your point & shoot camera and your smartphone has it!).

Selecting the right white balance preset basically tells the camera that this is the type of light under which it is shooting and so it should adjust the color tones accordingly.

Color Cast

Every type of light has its own color tone. So while tungsten is warm yellow, fluorescent is cooler blue and so on. Even the ubiquitous light of the sun has a particular color tone and that changes as per the time of the day when you are shooting. Sunsets are normally very warm (golden yellow), while sunrises are more pink. The built-in preset white balance options can correct the color cast in most lighting conditions, however in some cases it fails because the adjustment ends up being either too high or too low.

 White Balance: Corrected Color Cast
White Balance: Corrected Color Cast

Using a Gray Card

Some DSLR cameras have a way to manually select a color that is neutral and tell the camera that you want it to adjust its white balance to this. The best option is by using a gray card.

18% gray card is something that you should keep with you if you are shooting in JPEG and are serious about your photography. Before clicking the actual pictures take a shot of the gray card and set it for reference. Then take the remaining images.

Remember, if the light changes, you will again have to take a shot of the gray card and then resume taking images. When post processing just select the picture that you shot of the gray card as the reference for setting white balance and apply the setting to all the relevant images. This is going to save you oodles of time trying to adjust white balance for each picture separately.

Other ways to achieve more accurate results

  • If your camera has a Kelvin white balance option and you are aware of the light you are working with, then you can set the temperature of the light
  • The custom white balance setting of your SDLR camera (watch the video below to learn how to create a custom white balance setting using your camera).

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