White Balance – What is it??

All digital cameras have the ability to adjust the White Balance. Unfortunately this is one of those areas that people adjust then forget what they did. Or worse yet where it was set when they started. Like all changes that you do to your camera you should always write down the setting that the camera was at to begin with. That way if you get lost, confused or interrupted then you know how to get back to the start.

What is white balance?

In years past when you went to buy a roll of film, most film sold was set to a daylight balance. Most photographers didn’t even realize the film they were buying was specifically balanced to take pictures in daylight only. Very few photographers knew that you actually could purchase film that was balanced for incandescent lighting, as well as fluorescent lighting. With digital cameras the manufactures have given each photographer the ability to select what the white balance is set to.

So why is this important?

When you would buy a roll of film that was balanced to daylight it would take great pictures outside on a sunny day. On overcast days the color would be slightly blue, in the shade and the color would actually be even bluer. If you took your film to get developed at a good quality lab they would correct this when printing. So grandma’s white sweater would look the same, or close to the same, color in all the pictures. But then people would take that same roll of daylight balanced film inside. They would take pictures under incandescent light (screw in light bulbs). Or fluorescent lights (the longer type bulbs used in schools, businesses, garages and churches) and the pictures would look horrible. If under fluorescent light the subject would have a sickly green/yellow cast. If under incandescent light the subject would have a yellow/red cast.


So when digital cameras came along the manufactures gave photographers the ability to select the white balance that they wanted. But without knowing what white balance is many photographers are getting pictures that have major color issues. They do not realize it is as easy as changing a setting on the camera.

So what are the choices (please note that some cameras have a lot more choices than what I am listing below and some have less, also all the sample pictures are taken in daylight. If you would select other combination’s for other light sources you would get different results).


Auto white balance (AWB) When the camera is set to auto white balance, the camera will read the color of the light entering the camera and set the white balance accordingly. This is great in changing light conditions such as moving inside from taking pictures outside. Or when you’re taking pictures in a mixed light situation. Works in 90 – 95% of the time.

Auto White Balance setting

Still more

Sunny or Daylight Balance – setting the camera to the sunny setting sets the camera so it will take great pictures when pictures are taken outside under bright sunlight (colors will look correct). The problem with this setting, is that when you move inside and take pictures under artificial light. The images tend to come out either very yellow, or very green depending upon the light source.

Sunny White Balance

Incandescent lights – This setting is designed for taking pictures inside with artificial light cast by the screw in type of light bulb. With this setting the camera adds cyan and blue to the image, It compensates for the yellow cast from a light bulb. If you use this setting outside, under natural sunlight in your images would turn very blue. People would look like Smurfs.

Tungsten White Balance

Fluorescent lights – This setting is designed for taking pictures inside with artificial light cast by a fluorescent bulb. With this setting the camera adds magenta and blue to the image, This compensates for the green cast from the fluorescent light bulb. If you use this setting outside your images would be very purple and red.

Fluorescent White Balance

and more

Cloudy balance – This setting is designed to add a little bit of yellow, and a little bit of red to the images that you take. When you take pictures on a cloudy day the images tend to look a little cold if you had used the daylight balance. If you selected shadow balance the images will look a little warm.

Cloudy White Balance

Shadow balance – the shadow balance is similar to the cloudy balance. It adds red and yellow to the image to compensate for the shade that you are taking the picture in. (Similar look to the above image)

Flash balance – camera manufacturers have added a white balance that sets the camera to the color that the flash. As camera flashes are designed to be close to daylight this setting is close to a daylight balance.

Custom white balance – custom white balance is used by photographers that shoot in the studio. Or use studio lights on location. This setting allows the photographer to set the camera white balance so that the lights make the image look like it was shot during the daytime. Unless you are using studio lights this setting will really not benefit you. It can be used in difficult lighting situations as well but is for the more advanced photographer.

Kelvin – this setting is not on all digital cameras. It tends to show up on the higher end cameras, or cameras that are used by professional photographers. This allows the photographer to actually set the white balance manually. Best if used with a light meter that can read the color of the light, again for the more advanced photographer.

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