What is white balance?
You might have noticed when examining shots after taking them that at times images can come out with an orange, blue, yellow etc look to them – despite the fact that to the naked eye the scene looked quite normal. The reason for this is that images different sources of light have a different ‘color’ (or temperature) to them. Fluorescent lighting adds a bluish cast to photos whereas tungsten (incandescent/bulbs) lights add a yellowish tinge to photos.
White balance is the tool that allows you to capture the real colour of the scene in front of your eyes and camera. As seen during a rainbow, light can take multiple variations of colour. This is important to achieve vibrant and accurate colours.
Here are some of the basic White Balance settings you’ll find on cameras:
- Auto – this is where the camera makes a best guess on a shot by shot basis. You’ll find it works in many situations but it’s worth venturing out of it for trickier lighting.
- Tungsten – this mode is usually symbolized with a little bulb and is for shooting indoors, especially under tungsten (incandescent) lighting (such as bulb lighting). It generally cools down the colors in photos.
- Fluorescent – this compensates for the ‘cool’ light of fluorescent light and will warm up your shots.
- Daylight/Sunny – not all cameras have this setting because it sets things as fairly ‘normal’ white balance settings.
- Cloudy – this setting generally warms things up a touch more than ‘daylight’ mode.
- Flash – the flash of a camera can be quite a cool light so in Flash WB mode you’ll find it warms up your shots a touch.
- Shade – the light in shade is generally cooler (bluer) than shooting in direct sunlight so this mode will warm things up a little.
The automatic white balance works well under most situation in a modern DSLR.
Use auto white balance for every situation except for tungsten light (orange lights from home). While in a tungsten environment, you want to put your white balance mode in tungsten since you will achieve better white balance which will not give you the tendency to underexpose your images. When you correct the white balance in post production, once the yellow cast is gone, the image tends to be and look under exposed. To recover you add exposure via software hence add digital noise to your image.
Put on an CTO gel in front of your flash when using it in a tungsten environment to create a more realistic look. Put your camera in tungsten white balance to achieve proper white
Custom white balance
You can always use tools to achieve proper white balance with your camera. The best tool that I found for such a job is a grey card. The 18% card is the neutral colour and exposure control to be used to achieve the best custom white balance settings. I use the Color Checker by xrite to achieve the best WB, exposure and colour profiling for commercial work.
TIP: Proper exposure will be crucial to achieve the proper custom white balance.
My color checker gives me control over my colors to produce a product shot with the precise and vibrant color without any cast.