JDB Creativity | White Balance - The Color of Light

White Balance - The Color of Light

January 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Palm Tree - WB

The upper left part of this photo is set to 'daylight' while the bottom right is set to 'tungsten'.
Shot at ISO 400 at F/2.0 at 1/30th of a second.

 

One often overlooked aspect of photography that a lot of newbies don’t think about is setting the appropriate white balance on their digital cameras. What exactly is white balance, and why should I care about it you might ask?  White balance is what your digital camera does to correct the color balance so that objects that are white appear white rather than yellow-white or blue-white. To understand this concept, you have to understand that the color temperature of light varies depending on the time of day (morning, afternoon, evening), weather conditions (sunny days, cloudy days, being in the shade on a sunny day) and the type of light (incandescent bulbs, daylight bulbs, fluorescent bulbs, etc).

color_temperature_1

To understand white balance fully, you have to understand a color temperature. Color temperature is measured in Kelvins. You may remember this term from Physics class. Basically the lower the values (1000-2000 K) the warmer the color of the light is (yellow), while the higher the values (5000 - 6000 K), the cooler the color of the light (blue). 

 

Our eyes do a really great job at adapting to whatever lighting conditions that we are in. No matter what type of light we perceive, white looks white. Digital cameras aren’t as sophisticated as our eyes, and can often be fooled when set on the AWB (auto white balance) setting. So camera manufacturers cleverly put in several presets that can help. 

 

AWB  - Auto white balance is great for general use, but only is accurate within a certain range (3000 - 7000 K). It can be fooled at times, especially when your shooting in mixed lighting situations, for example if you have daylight streaming through a window and have the lights on in your house.

 

Custom - pictured with two triangles and a rounded rectangle, custom is where you take a picture of something white or neutral gray, and the camera uses it as a reference so it knows what the color should be (most accurate)

WB table

Kelvin - pictured with an upper case ‘K’, for advanced users that know what color temperature is, and can be used creatively to dial in a color they want.

 

Tungsten - pictured as a bulb, this setting is generally used when taking photos under household light bulbs that are generally warm in color.

 

Fluorescent - pictured as a long rectangular light fixture, this is used a lot in buildings with fluorescent lighting such as schools, offices, commercial buildings, etc.

 

Daylight - pictured as the sun, daylight is used when its sunny outside typically during the the mid part of the day, not as useful during the sunrise or sunset hours.

 

Flash - pictured as a lightning bolt, is used when the your camera’s flash, (built-in, or one you attach to your camera, or triggered remotely) is the main light source.

 

Cloudy - pictured as a fluffy cloud, is used when its overcast and the sun is blocked by clouds. 

 

Shade - pictured with a little house giving shade, is used during sunny conditions and you are shooting under open shade.

 

So what do I do you may wonder, when it comes to white balance. I always shoot Auto White Balance (AWB) because I save all my photos in RAW format. Shooting RAW enables me to choose whatever white balance I want when I get the photos back to my computer. If you shoot your images and save them as Jpeg’s then its far more important to choose the correct white balance setting in advance. Because once you do, its much more difficult to change your mind after the fact.

 

Sea Lion - Custom

White balance set to 'tungsten' which matched the
lighting here. Its okay.

Sea Lion - Tungsten

White balance set to 'daylight' although not exactly
accurate, I like the look a bit more.

 

Sailing-Daylight

Sailing the Bay - White balance set to daylight. Shot at ISO 100, at f/9.0 at 1/320th of a second.


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