What is it?
It’s a technical term that measures the colour of the light we are seeing. As always, our eyes and brain change to our surroundings and make adjustments to what we see without our knowledge. As a result of this, we don’t see the difference between light from a candle and light from the sun. The light from a candle is very yellow (warm) and the light from the direct sun is quite blue (cool). These are two very opposite ends of the scale in colour balance. This is the reason why, when you take a photo indoors without the flash, the pictures can look very yellow.
How do I use it on my camera?
There is a button or menu for the white balance. Generally the camera defaults to AWB (Auto White Balance), which in truth, gets it right most of the time. If you are shooting jpg only, and the white balance is incorrect, there is little you can do to correct it. So it needs to be right 100% of the time. To achieve this, you need to set it yourself.
Below are the icons. Its best to pick the light that you are taking pictures in, with the exception of “Custom” as this is used when taking pictures with studio flash lighting. There is also “K” that is where you select a number, that and “Custom” will be another blog post.
What does it do to my pictures?
If you pick the wrong white balance your pictures with either look too yellow or too blue. Generally, skin tones will not look right, making people look like they have a fake tan. It can make sunsets look more vibrant or yellow, which could be what you’re looking for too. So picking the right white balance is best done before you take the picture.
The screen on the back of the camera is a great guide to see what you have taken looks like what you are seeing. The RBG histogram is another way, but that’s a topic for another blog post.
The images below were taken in a RAW format and were processed to show how the white balance changes will affect the result. The icon in the bottom corner of each photo shows what white balance it was processed with.
Joey in the diner; this image was an ambient light shot with a very little amount of flash. The accurate white balance is closer to “Fluorescent” than it is to “Flash”. You can see though that “Sunny” white balance gives the skin a just tanned look.
Christmas lights; As there are so many light sources in this photo, which includes the moon, the white balance was hard to get right. It is somewhere between “Fluorescent” and “Incandescent”. The grass in the “Sunny” setting looks too yellow and the sky has a brown yellow cast.
Take the same picture with each of the white balance settings, and see which one you think is the closest to the light you are taking pictures in. If you have any interesting findings, feel free to post your comments below.