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White balance in photography

Learn how to adjust the white balance on a camera in photography.

This tutorial will educate you on what white balance in photography is, and also how you can adjust it to make your photos look better.

What is white balance?

White balance is one of the essential adjustments you need to make. It is the most important factor if you want your photos to be as close as possible to the reality of the scene you are photographing.

In order to understand white balance, we will first talk about colour temperature. 

What is colour temperature?

To emphasize this phenomenon, it is necessary to know that each source of light has a different colour. For instance, a candle will produce yellow-orange light while an electronic flash will produce blue light. 

Besides, the light outside changes colour depending on the time of the day and the weather. During the beginning and end of a day with a clear sky, the light will often have an orange hue; thus, it will be termed as warm light

Similarly, in the middle of a day with a cloudy sky, the light will have a blue tint, and it will be termed as cold light.

Each source of light, therefore, has a different colour temperature, and in order to classify these temperatures of light, we refer to a colour temperature scale measured in Kelvin (K)

Warm light has a low colour temperature (i.e., 1850 K from a candle) while cold light has a high colour temperature(i.e., 6,500 K in cloudy weather). 

Light is composed of three primary colours: red, green, and blue – RGB. Depending on the source, one colour will dominate the others; however, these three colours must be balanced in order to produce white light. 

That is why it is necessary to calibrate the white balance in photography.

colour temperature White balance in photography

Different camera settings for the white balance in photography

1. Automatic white balance

Nikon: “AUTO” for “Automatic”

Panasonic and others: “AWB” for “Automatic WB”

The automatic white balance is the default setting on most cameras; therefore, the camera will manage the white balance on its own according to the sources of light.

However, the automatic WB setting may be different from one shot to another depending on the frame used and the light in the scene.

If you want to have a stable colourimetry in this case, then it would be better to choose a preset white balance setting.

2. The preset settings for white balance in photography 

The preset white balance settings allow you to manually select a colour temperature that best matches the scene. 

You will tell the camera what light conditions you are in at the time of taking the photo, then the camera will apply a preset correction according to the chosen mode. 

For example, if you choose the artificial light mode “Tungsten lighting”, then the camera will expect warm light and cool the photograph by moving the temperature up into the blues. 

However, if you change rooms or go outside and forget to change the setting, then your next photos will be bluish; therefore, it is essential to choose the correct setting for each colour temperature when shooting. 

colour temperature when shooting in white balance

3. Setting the white balance in kelvin

On many cameras, it is also possible to adjust the white balance in Kelvin

The operation remains the same. If you choose a high value, say 7,000°K, you will tell the camera that the light source is cold, and the camera will compensate by warming up the photo so that the blanks will appear white. Some of the commonly used colour temperatures are:

Photo edited in Lightroom.

4. Adjusting the white balance in manual mode

The white sheet method is used in order to adjust the white balance manually. This can be quite useful if you don’t have a white balance tool, and it can be done by performing these four easy steps:

This setting is valid as long as you are working with the same lighting conditions. However, if these conditions change, then you will have to do it again.

Adjustments in RAW and post-processing

If you shoot in JPEG, you can make some adjustments in a retouching software, such as Lightroom, but you will not have much leeway because it could degrade the quality of your photos. 

You can correct the white balance at will and without any loss of quality if you shoot in the RAW format. This is one of the many advantages of this format. See more in the tutorial RAW or JPEG format.

By working in the RAW format, you will never have to worry about setting the white balance in photography when shooting. 

Photo editing software, such as Photoshop or Lightroom, has high-performance colour management tools, and by using these tools correctly, you can easily correct the white balance while editing.

To find the original colours in your retouching software, select the Eyedropper tool, then click on a neutral white dot in the image. Your photo will regain its colours. 

White balance Adjustment in RAW and postprocessing

Conclusion

Adjusting the white balance in photography is a rather important element that should not be neglected. 

The easiest way to do this is to use the Auto mode and let the camera decide. You will be guaranteed to have the most neutral photos that will suit you in most cases. 

Take your photos in the RAW format, and you will certainly have the full freedom to choose the settings that best suit you in post-processing

Do you want to learn how to adjust the WB in Lightroom? Check out the Ultimate Lightroom course.

So, now you know how to adjust the white balance in photography! 

Please give us your opinion, and also share your experience in the comments. 

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